Reli­gious inf lu­ences on the Morant Bay Up­ris­ing

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Rev Devon Dick is pas­tor of the Boule­vard Bap­tist Church in St An­drew. He is au­thor of ‘The Cross and the Ma­chete’, and ‘Re­bel­lion to Riot’. Send feed­back to col­umns@ glean­

TO­DAY, I de­liver a lec­ture at the In­sti­tute of Ja­maica on the reli­gious in­flu­ences on the Morant Bay Up­ris­ing. An ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this per­spec­tive is im­por­tant be­cause it helps us to un­der­stand more ac­cu­rately what hap­pened and it tells what was the main mo­ti­va­tion be­hind the protest.

The reli­gious in­flu­ences on the protest were largely ne­glected un­til Clin­ton Hutton, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, in his PhD the­sis (1992) posited that Paul Bogle’s ap­proach was to use the Bible for po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal ob­jec­tives in or­der to jus­tify black op­po­si­tion to the racist colo­nial so­cial sys­tems and in­sti­tu­tions. Hutton also be­lieves that African reli­gious ex­pres­sions such as Myal­ism, Ku­mina and Con­vince in­flu­enced the protest. And, in Hutton’s re­cent book (2015) he ar­gued for the in­flu­ence of an­ces­tral spir­its based on an oath-tak­ing cer­e­mony de­scribed by po­lice­man James Foster [p. 149.] Of sig­nif­i­cance also was the au­thor­i­ties’ ex­e­cu­tion of Arthur Welling­ton, a re­puted obeah man among the peo­ple of Som­er­set. Colonel Hobbs said the ex­e­cu­tion was to dis­suade the peo­ple of the folly of their be­lief in obeah.

Su­tana Afroz, a for­mer UWI lec­turer, ar­gued for a Mus­lim in­flu­ence.

W.J. Gard­ner, mis­sion­ary, had spec­u­lated that ‘the su­per­sti­tious re­gard which so many of the early Chris­tian con­verts had for that day [Friday], and which the Na­tive Bap­tists in some places still re­tain, may be traced to the in­flu­ence of these peo­ple [Mus­lims].’ How­ever, no ev­i­dence emerged from the tri­als of Paul Bogle or Ge­orge Wil­liam Gor­don, their pub­lic hang­ings, their letters or the JRC Re­port that any­one was a Mus­lim, and there was also no men­tion of the word Is­lam or the Ko­ran.

In 1865, Stephen Cooke, Angli­can cler­gy­man, tes­ti­fied that while he was ex­hort­ing the con­gre­ga­tion not to at­tend the Underhill Meet­ing, about 120 per­sons of African an­ces­try who were nor­mally at­ten­tive to him qui­etly walked out. David East, pres­i­dent of the Cal­abar Col­lege, was against the ac­tions of the Na­tive Bap­tists while prais­ing Gover­nor Eyre. The Angli­can lead­er­ship aligned them­selves to Eyre’s ac­tion. The mis­sion­ar­ies in Ja­maica had no direct sup­port­ing in­flu­ence on the protest.

Sev­eral wit­nesses tes­ti­fied that when the protesters marched into Morant Bay on Oc­to­ber 11, it was ac­com­pa­nied by mu­sic, dancing, singing and mer­ry­mak­ing. The na­ture of the cel­e­bra­tion was con­sis­tent with a march for jus­tice or an­tic­i­pa­tion of vic­tory in the name of God.


Af­ter the march, Bogle re­turned to Stony Gut and there was a ser­vice in the chapel in which he gave thanks to God that he ‘went to this work’, and that God had suc­ceeded him in ‘his work’. Bogle be­lieved that he was ‘ap­pointed in­stru­ment in the Lord’s hand’. The prayer af­ter the event and the feel­ing of be­ing an in­stru­ment of God were signs that Bogle and his fol­low­ers were in­flu­enced by the Chris­tian faith.

Henry Bleby, a mis­sion­ary, said that acts of vi­o­lence were com­mit­ted against the ‘un­armed and un­re­sist­ing peo­ple’ leav­ing ‘a mul­ti­tude of wid­ows and fa­ther­less chil­dren with­out a shel­ter’. Another per­son iden­ti­fied only as H. R. stated the mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties en­gaged in a ‘car­ni­val of tor­ture and slaugh­ter’. Af­ter this mas­sacre, the sur­viv­ing peo­ple gath­ered at the lo­ca­tion where a Na­tive Bap­tist chapel stood be­fore it was de­stroyed by the au­thor­i­ties, and held a wor­ship ser­vice. Ge­orge B. Clarke ad­dressed the con­gre­ga­tion, say­ing, ‘My friends, all the wrongs which so many of us have suf­fered un­justly at the hands of the au­thor­i­ties and sol­diers — I know I speak your sen­ti­ments as well as my own when I say we freely for­give, as well as all who have in­jured us in any way.’ The Na­tive Bap­tists dis­played a for­giv­ing spirit in spite of the car­nage ex­pe­ri­enced.

It was the hermeneu­tic of lib­er­a­tion of the Na­tive Bap­tists’, that is, their re­flec­tion on their lived ex­pe­ri­ence in the light of the scrip­tural teach­ing on equal­ity and jus­tice (as they un­der­stood it), that shaped the na­ture of their prac­tised re­sis­tance.

They tried peace­ful means at first but never ruled out re­sis­tance. The glue that held the move­ment and protest to­gether was the strong Chris­tian faith of the Na­tive Bap­tists.

Ja­maica is cry­ing out for such an un­der­stand­ing and prac­tice of the Chris­tian faith.

Devon Dick

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