A little over the past decade, the stories of powerful kings and queens who worked hard at building powerful kingdoms and sustaining them for centuries have been unearthed to redefine the history of Africa as opposed to what has been fed to the masses by the West for several decades.
Tales of Mansa Musa, Prince Nicolau, Queen Ranavanolla III and the one-eyed Queen Amanirenas have been told over and over to elevate African history, sense of pride and identity. Aside from these powerful kings, queens, royals and many who were exiled for resisting colonisation and western oppression, there are also tales of powerful warriors, both male and female who risked their lives to protect their royals, kingdoms and people.
Despite the new energy in the black community to discover and tell their own stories, many stories are still yet to be discovered and told. Through several readings and research, it is safe to assume that the African connection to the Caribbean is an area of research yet to be fully looked into and uncovered.
The Caribbean has a rich presence of African cultures and personalities who added to history through their voice and actions against the slave trade, colonisation, racism and many other black related issues between the 15th century to date.
Here are 8 iconic personalities in Caribbean history who rebelled against white oppressors during the slave trade period.
Sam Sharpe was a slave of an English attorney. At the time, the British allowed slaves to hold religious meetings. Sharpe took advantage of the meetings and started preaching to people about the need for freedom from slavery. When the British parliament began discussing the abolition of slavery throughout the Empire in 1831, Sharpe followed it closely through several newspapers. In December 1831, Sharpe began a protest after his belief that the British parliament had granted freedom to Jamaica but the local planters had ignored it. Slaves agreed not to work and to demand freedom from their plantation masters. This led to some of the slaves marching and torching plantations, an action which was not in accordance with Sharpe’s initial plan of a non-violent resistance. Their strike action had a damaging effect as it to take place at a time when sugar cane crops ripened and were due to harvest. Fourteen plantation masters died in the 10-day clash and over 200 slaves were left dead. Sharpe later surrendered to the military troops and accepted blame for the failed revolt. He was hanged in Montego Bay on May 23, 1832. His revolt is believed to have played a huge role in the British parliament’s deliberations over the following months that finally led to the Slavery Abolition Act.
In 1733, Breffu, originally a Ghanaian woman was sold into slavery in Jamaica and owned by Pieter Krøyer in Coral Bay. She led other enslaved Akans from the Kingdom of Akwamu in Ghana in a massive revolt against slave masters. With the support of Christian, another slave, she empowered over 150 slaves to stand up for their rights, rebel against their masters and take over the West Indies. Many of these slaves were royals and who had hopes of gaining their freedom and enjoying the privileges they enjoyed in the Akwamu Kingdom. The rebellion started on November 23, 1733, when Breffu and the rebels took over Fort Fredericksvaern and killed many soldiers while others killed plantation owners and set several enslaved people free. A few slave masters managed to escape off the island on their boats, and the Akwamu people took control of most of the island. They were successful until early 1934 when the French military had finally agreed to help the Danes regain the Island and their lost plantations. At the death of Breffu in April 1734, many were shocked and mortified that a woman singlehandedly led one of the most extended rebellions and take over known in the New World.
The Barbados Revolt of 1816, also known as the Bussa Rebbelion is recorded in history as the largest slave revolt in Barbados that took place in 1816. Despite being a two-day rebellion, it had a huge impact on the rise of several other slaves to rebel across the Caribbean and put a sense of fear and awareness in the Westerners. Bussa is believed to be of Igbo descent from Nigeria. Slavery had been legal in Barbados sine 1616. Though the British Slave Trade was officially abolished in 1807, it was by no means an end to slavery, as it still persisted in some British colonies especially, the Caribbean. The Act made the buying and selling of slaves from British ships illegal but had no provisions to free people who had already been enslaved. This was misinterpreted by slaves in Barbados who had hoped that the terms included in the Act would cater for their freedom, but it didn’t and led to a series of revolt and rebellion against Barbadian slave masters. Bussa was a freed slave and ranger who was an officer among enslaved workers of an estate. He led four hundred slaves to set several cane fields ablaze and overthrow the white planter class, regain freedom, restructure the politics of the island and create a better life for black and coloured people. Unfortunately, Bussa died in the revolt along with fifty other slaves. One hundred and forty-four slaves were executed and another one hundred and thirty-two slaves were sent away to another island.
Akua is popularly known as Cubah Cornwallis and she was from the Ashanti Empire in Ghana which was then the Gold Coast. Nothing much is said about her life before being captured and sold off as an enslaved girl to the Caribbean. She was purchased by Captain William Cornwallis who later had an affair with her and made her his house help. William Cornwallis left Jamaica and Akua moved to Port Royal permanently and purchased a house that later became a hospital and short stay hotel. Her hospital and short stay hotel became the most visited in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean. Akua treated people from all walks of life and race and after a while, was recognised and crowned the Queen of Kingston, as elected by slaves in Kingston. It is believed that she is closely linked to slave rebellions, especially the Tacky Rebellion that lasted from May 1760 to July 1760. The British were highly suspicious of Queen Akua’s involvement in the rebellion and were worried about the power she possessed because of her supposed Obeah black magic practises. She was accused of taking the role of resistance force and was almost killed by the British. Rather than be killed, the British ordered that she be transported from the island in order to bring her power to an end. The plan was to sell her off to slavery again, but Queen Akua was successful in bribing the captain of the ship and was left on the western shores of Jamaica where another group of Fantis were. While in the western shores, she joined the Fanti community and later joined the leeward rebels. Unfortunately for Queen Akua, she was recognised, recaptured and executed by the British.
In his home, Ghana Takyi was a chief, a wealthy merchant and slave trader himself until he was captured during the Kommender Wars and sold off into slavery when his state was defeated. In 1759, after years of toiling and suffering on the plantations, Takyi and his allies escaped into a cave far beyond their plantations to plan a rebellion. The rebellion took place a year later to become the second largest and most shocking rebellion 30 years after Breffu led the Akwamus in the 1733 St John slave insurrection. The massive revolt is considered one of the longest lasting rebellions recorded in the history of the Americas. Takyi and his followers started the revolt in the early hours of the morning, starting at the plantation where they worked, killing the owners and thus freeing all the slaves. The rebellion lasted until July when Takyi was gunned down and killed by the British. After he was shot, his head was cut and displayed in the centre of the town to indicate that the rebellion had been stopped and the freed slaves and Takyi’s army were now in danger.
Born in Ghana to the Ashanti tribe, Nanny was brought to Jamaica as a slave and ended up being a Maroon leader in Jamaica during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Along with her four brothers who she had reunited with in the Caribbean, she escaped from the plantations into the mountains and jungles of Jamaica and eventually founded a village in the Blue Mountains, on the Eastern side of Jamaica, which became known as Nanny Town. During a period of 30 years, she contributed towards the escape of more than 1,000 slaves and helped them resettle in the Maroon community. As the Maroons grew in their numbers, the British colonial administration became threatened and upon further calls by plantation owners who were losing slaves and crops, the British forces attacked Queen Nanny’s settlement. In 1733, during one of the bloody battles, Nanny was killed. The war still went on until Cudjoe, a maroon leader and brother of Nanny, signed a peace treaty with the British in 1739.
Even though not particularly in the Caribbean, Guyana is a small country in South America that is closely linked to Anglo-Caribbean countries and community through history, culture and most importantly its people. The country also suffered colonisation and the serious slave trade. Cuffy, also referred to as Coffy, Kofi or Koffi Badu was an Akan slave from Ghana who was transported to the Dutch colony of Berbice which is present-day Guyana. He lived as a slave in a plantation in Lilienburg on Canje river and after a few years of slavery, he led a slave uprising of over 2,500 slaves. In February 1763, Cuffy and his followers seized artillery and gunpowder and proceeded to take over the plantations in his community and those within close vicinity. Though Cuffy and his supporters agreed to cease their operation, they killed many and captured the wife of the Bearestyn Plantation owner with Cuffy keeping her as his wife. The revolt lasted for a while until a civil war ensued between Akara and Cuffy in which Akara won and Cuffy committed suicide in May 1763. Akara was a follower of Cuffy who took orders from him but decided to take actions into his own hands attacking and killing Dutch colonisers. To date, the anniversary of the rebellion on February 23 is celebrated in Guyana as Republic Day.
Born on the island of Martinique, Fedon was the son of a free African woman and Pierre Fedon, a French jeweller who travelled from Bordeaux, France, in 1749 to the island of Martinique. Drawing inspiration from the French Revolution in France, Fedon wanted to make Grenada a “Black Republic just like Haiti”. With his vision in mind backed with the support of several troops formed around 100 freed Blacks, on the night of March 2, 1795, they began attacks against the cities of Grenville, Gouyave, and St John, looting and burning houses and executing British settlers on the streets. In the course of time, between 14,000 and 28,000 slaves supported Fedon’s intentions, as he also got support from French people who wanted the British off the island. By 1796, Fedon and his rebels were controlling the whole island. Towards the end of the rebellion, Fedon’s brother was killed by the British and he retaliated by having 48 British hostages executed, including the governor of Grenada, Ninian Home. Fedon and his group were in the long run defeated in June 1796 but history says tensions remained until slavery was abolished in 1834. He was, however, never captured, with the shared belief being that he died at sea on a canoe.