Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Re-visiting the Christmas Rebellion
By Dionne Jackson Miller, IPS, 19 December 1999
MONTEGO BAY, Dec 19 (IPS) - At a time when most people are thinking of Christmas trees, carols and puddings, villagers in a small community in the hills of rural St. James want to draw attention to a nineteenth century battle now known in Jamaica as the Christmas rebellion.
"On December 27, 1831, a rebellion took place at Kensington in St. James which forever changed the face of slavery, not only in Jamaica, but the entire Caribbean, and the Americas," says Project Manager in the Office of the Prime Minister Calvin Brown.
"This event was not appreciated for what it was until lately, when Sam Sharpe, who was the spiritual leader of the rebellion, was recognised as having a very poignant role in it, and today he is (a Jamaican) national hero," he says.
The Christmas rebellion erupted against the backdrop of a dying system of slavery. Following the 1807 abolition of the slave trade, abolitionists redoubled their efforts to have slavery abolished.
But resistance from the sugar planters sparked widespread resentment from the slaves, who came to believe that Britain had in fact freed them, and that their masters were withholding the news.
A seething discontent island-wide was literally fanned into flame by a slave Baptist preacher known as Samuel "Daddy" Sharp.
When slaves set fire to the trash house at Tulloch Estate in Kensington on that long-ago Dec.27 night, that was taken as the signal by slaves on other plantations to rise up in turn.
British reinforcements eventually quelled the uprisings, and over 80 slaves, including Sharpe, were sentenced to die. Sam Sharpe was hanged in the town square in Montego Bay that now bears his name, but historians insist that he did not die in vain.
The Christmas rebellion is widely credited with speeding up the abolition of slavery on Aug 1, 1834.
"The rebellion is significant in a number of ways," says Brown. "It took place in St. James, and only last year we actually found the site where it took place. The Member of Parliament along with the Kensington Citizens Association have moved to make this site a shrine to slavery to make sure that what took place at Tulloch Castle lives on."
After the government and the community successfully launched an archaeological expedition to discover the exact site of the Tulloch Estate, Kensington last year officially began to commemorate the anniversary of the Dec 27 rebellion.
"We are hoping that this event will draw attention to the importance of this site. This site, to my mind, is the most important historical site in the island of Jamaica. This is the site where it all began, this is where the flames of freedom were lit," says Member of Parliament Derrick Kellier.
But the annual day-long cultural celebrations showcasing traditional foods, dance and song, and a recreation of the lighting of the "flames of freedom" are only the beginning of the plans for the site.
The community is hoping to tap into the heritage tourism buzz, and attract visitors to the area. A museum and recreations of the estate house, the mill and the trash house are expected to be some of the attractions in the development, slated to cost 1.2 million dollars. The government has so far put 100,000 dollars into the project, and says it is now looking for joint venture partners to invest further.
"The entire development of Tulloch Estates will be on-going for the next couple of years, and we expect that the area will be transformed into a heritage tourism village," says Kellier.
Chairman of the citizens association Wesley Fowles sees heritage tourism as a way of stemming migration from the rural community.
"Kensington and Tulloch Castle has been an agricultural area. Banana has not been doing so well, and (sugar) cane has not been doing so well. The people are migrating to Montego Bay, and the manufacturing (industry) in Montego Bay cannot absorb everybody," Fowles explains. "This is why we feel that we should create this heritage tourism where the farmers can work and earn something from tourism. We are going to train young persons to be tour guides, and all in all heritage tourism will be of benefit to the entire community."
Educator and author Don Carter Henry hopes the development of heritage tourism will highlight the importance of Sam Sharpe's role in ending slavery, a contribution he and other historians in western Jamaica feel has been somewhat overlooked.
"We did not give Sam Sharpe enough attention, the public does not know enough. Other countries can look to us to see a historical perspective to enhance their cultural heritage. They look to Kensington, they look to Jamaica as a leader among those who (fought) for freedom," Henry says.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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