Exactly 200 years ago, on April 14th, 1816, a revolt was ignited by what seemed like the unlikeliest of leaders in the unlikeliest of places. The place was Barbados, a British-controlled plantation colony worked by enslaved Africans that had not seen a rebellion for 123 years; and the leader was Bussa, a slave who had been promoted to the level of manager. Managers were not supposed to revolt; indeed one of the major reasons for promoting intelligent slaves to such relatively privileged positions was to co-opt those with leadership potential into the system, providing an incentive for obedience. But Bussa was not to be co-opted; the rebellion quickly spread to 12 plantations, with almost 4000 enslaved Africans joining the revolt.
The whole region had been set ablaze by the Haitian revolution of the 1790s, which defeated French, Spanish and British troops to declare the first Black republic in 1804. To prevent further such imperial disasters, the British had abolished the slave trade and established a new code in an attempt to ensure slaves were not pushed to the point of rebellion elsewhere. Bussa’s rebellion, in a small and previously calm Caribbean island, showed that none of this was going to work; slavery itself would have to go. From this point on, it was just a matter of time, and in 1833 the abolition of slavery was formally declared.
Bussa’s rebellion should be remembered, for it holds important and pertinent lessons for our current rulers: 1, that attempts to co-opt people into supporting injustice do not always work and 2, Rebellions can emerge in the most unsuspected of places, amongst even the most apparently obedient subjects.
(Thanks to MXM coordinator Dan Glazebrook)