On August 1, 1998 –– Emancipation Day –– I experienced the tremendous thrill and honour of sharing a public platform with one of the greatest “world historical personalities” of all times –– Comandante Fidel Castro!
And what made the experience particularly special for me was that we were both addressing a crowd of my fellow Barbadians with the imposing statue of the Right Excellent General Bussa towering over us.
In all likelihood, Fidel Castro was seeing the Bussa statue and being exposed to the inspirational story of the 1816 Bussa Rebellion for the very first time on that brilliant Emancipation Morning. But when I had the good fortune to be able to converse with Fidel later that evening at a Government House reception, it became clear to me the Right Excellent General Bussa had made a lasting impression on the great Cuban statesman.
When President Castro spoke to me at that Government House reception, it was evident he wanted to learn as much as he could about the story of General Bussa. And finally –– after prying out the relevant details of the Bussa story from me –– Fidel assured me that in the years to come, Bussa and the other outstanding anti-slavery revolutionaries would emerge as our most important historical personalities and national role models –– even more important than our outstanding anti-colonial or pro-Independence fighters.
Fidel Castro explained to me that in the years ahead, the greatest battle we would have to fight would be the “battle of ideas”, and in that epochal contest, the strongest and most compelling ideas and ideals we would have at our disposal would be those championed by the heroic men and women who were prepared to do everything in their power to destroy the evil institution
of human slavery.
And so, as far as Fidel was concerned, one of the greatest and most important historical personalities of our civilization was the great General Bussa!
Like Fidel, I too share this assessment of the importance not only of Bussa, but of the seminal historical event with which Bussa’s name is eternally linked –– the glorious Bussa Rebellion of 1816.
We Barbadians would therefore be doing ourselves a tremendous disservice if we failed to properly commemorate the looming bicentenary of the Bussa Rebellion.
We have a mere nine more days to go before the April 14 anniversary date is upon us, and it therefore behoves us to use every possible academic and artistic discipline at our disposal to acquire a profound understanding of Bussa and the Bussa Rebellion.
In the three articles I have –– thus far –– written on this topic, I have invoked political analysis and historical documentation to explore the Bussa story. Now, I wish to avail myself of the discipline of poetry and of the literary vehicle of our very own Barbadian “nation language”.
Our national master griot and poet laureate Kamau Brathwaite has produced the definitive “nation language” poem about General Bussa. Please enjoy (and learn from) this slightly abridged version of Kamau’s powerful and moving poem:
So one day leapin ahead a de governor dogs turnin militia on to itself
wrappin dem up in de hickey like hell
cutting de tongue a de backra man bell
was dis short stoutish fella who come
penny hole in sin philip
wid a big bushy head duh call bussa
gorbli he cud crack yuh cuss words like
a curnul yuh hear: no
stopping him hey since washington come
I remember de nite two days after we brek up outta dis meat
box an de war declare from evry hill top a de thundery heaven
dat ringing we rounn from long bay right away dounn to shark
rock an we cramp up an waitin under de mangrove near heddins
not a soul in de sky but a few star fish
an de scar of a bleedin moon:
not a clink in de fire fly night:
not even no stamp nor a stammer a
horse: no body not even ridin a hearse in
dis brave tomorrow, we grave yard . . . .
when dis man who tomorrow dem lick
off de horse e was ridin
an ketch an chop off e head wid a plax
at one blow when dem ready
jess grumbellin dat e getting no sleep
cause de mosskitoes bitein
wid never a scare dat de governor come
an de said white peepull vex dat we fightin
wid dem an sharein out licks instead
a flight in from dem in de crabgrass an sticks
jess because a dis short ibo man
wid dis lion eye vision who cdnt care
less about shame or blame or pain or defeat
wha name so bozie bo? e mane bussa
(David Comissiong is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)