Who should we honour during emancipation?

  • Speaking from the past: a Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation archaeologist shows artefacts and discusses what is known about one of the first enslaved Africans to live in Virginia in 2018. The first Africans in English continental North America arrived 400 years ago this month, on The White Lion and The Treasurer, which also brought to Bermuda a small number of Angolans, seized from the Spanish and Portuguese off Brazil. The Treasurer’s cargo were not the first Africans in Bermuda (Photograph by Steve Helber/AP)

    Speaking from the past: a Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation archaeologist shows artefacts and discusses what is known about one of the first enslaved Africans to live in Virginia in 2018. The first Africans in English continental North America arrived 400 years ago this month, on The White Lion and The Treasurer, which also brought to Bermuda a small number of Angolans, seized from the Spanish and Portuguese off Brazil. The Treasurer’s cargo were not the first Africans in Bermuda (Photograph by Steve Helber/AP)


It is often interesting, sadly interesting, to see persons attempt to twist the reality of any given situation to justify a gross wrong.

Once again, during our emancipation celebrations, the topics of the enslaved writer Mary Prince and Sir George Somers, the English privateer, has come up for discussion.

Various viewpoints, highlighting vastly different perspectives, have been fielded from a myriad of Bermudians.

That, in itself, shows that we are a diverse and vibrant society. However, as diverse as we are, there simply is no room for diluting the truth about colonisation and slavery.

Over the past few days, I read some things that go beyond the imagination.

“I understand the sentiment but how do you curse the root but want to bless the fruit? Sometimes we have to slow down and provide some real thought behind our statements. Somers was a coloniser, Somers was more than likely a pirate. However, Bermuda, in fact prison island Bermuda, certainly benefited from piracy and also had a colony. We colonised Turks [and Caicos] for our salt business. We ran the blockades and hosted both sides of a war. Without Somers, there is no Prince. We have to put the components in their correct place. We could have been Spanish, we could have been Portuguese ... we are British currently because of Somers.” — C. Anthony Francis

“Mr Rolfe Commissiong, had George Somers not discovered or got shipwrecked in Bermuda, which led to the British colonising Bermuda, you, your family, mine and countless others including our slave champion, Mary Prince, would not have this legacy within slavery to hold in great esteem. Had Bermuda been colonised by another European country how slavery would have played out is anyone’s guesswork.” — Valirie Marcia Akinstall

It seems, at first glance, that there is a narrative that we should be happy that we were enslaved and colonised by the English and not some other European nations such as Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands or Denmark.

OK, let us get something straight. Western Europe’s dominance of the Americas was built on the genocide of millions of indigenous persons from what is now known as Canada, all the way down to what is now known as Argentina.

Essentially, the aboriginal persons of an entire continent were annihilated by the Europeans, including the English, via disease, torture and outright mass execution.

In the Caribbean, untold millions of Arawaks, Caribs and Taino people were slaughtered and enslaved by the Dutch, English, French, Spanish and Danish.

There was no nation that treated the natives with respect.

“Bloody Point is a headland in Trinity Palmetto Point Parish, Saint Kitts. The Stone Fort or Bloody River runs towards Bloody Point. In 1626, English and French invaders massacred most of the Carib population at Bloody Point.”

“In 1797, 5,080 Caribs, the majority of St Vincent’s population, were forcibly removed from the island by British troops and banished for ever to Ruatan Island, off the coast of the Republic of Honduras.”

Those same European nations, along with Portugal, then instituted the Transatlantic Slave Trade, during which tens of millions of Africans were transported to the Americas, to toil on plantations that grew sugar cane, cotton, onions, tobacco and all other forms of crops used to feed the growth of modern Europe.

Enslaved Africans were often treated harshly. First they had to survive the appalling conditions on the voyage from West Africa, known as the Middle Passage.

“The death rate was high. One recent estimate is that 12 per cent of all Africans transported on British ships between 1701 and 1807 died en route to the West Indies and North America; others put the figure as high as 25 per cent.”

“In August 1626, Thomas Warner returned to St Kitts with over 100 more English settlers, enslaved Africans and provisions.”

The British Empire has the dubious record on a large number of islands of having slaughtered the natives, colonised the land and then enslaved Africans. Here is a list of places colonised by the English:

• Anguilla, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Virgin Islands (British)

Does anyone think for a second that the native people just handed over their islands willingly to the English?

The reality is that the English, the colleagues of the privateer, Sir George Somers, went around the Caribbean slaughtering the natives and taking their land and natural materials by force. So for anyone to say “had Bermuda been colonised by another European country, how slavery would have played out is anyone’s guesswork”, beggars belief.

Slavery is slavery, no matter the slave owner. They were all equally as evil.

The facts of Sir George Somers’s role in English colonisation truly are undeniable. What is often glossed over is that he was shipwrecked on Bermuda, while he was actually heading to Virginia to colonise land that did not belong to England.

Lest we forget, that land belonged to the Native Americans, who were slaughtered and enslaved in order for England to achieve colonisation of North America.

In Bermuda, the original people of St David’s, the Pequots, are a living testimony to that enslavement, as they are the descendants of those same persons who were taken from North America and exiled to Bermuda.

So, in conclusion, history reveals the true barbarism of how the British Empire was built by genocide, land theft and slavery.

Now, let’s ask ourselves this singular question: “Who should we honour during emancipation? The coloniser or the liberator?”

Christopher Famous is a government backbencher and the MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at cfamous@plp.bm

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Published Aug 9, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 9, 2019 at 8:19 am)

Who should we honour during emancipation?

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