Barbadians now have an opportunity to learn more about one of the bitter chapters in the island’s history, through the latest publication by noted historian, Vice Chancellor of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles.
Sir Hilary launched his newest book, The first Black Slave Society: Britain’s Barbarity time in Barbados 1636-1876 last night at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination. The launch coincided with the celebration of Barbados’ 50th anniversary of independence.
It explores Barbados’ history, detailing the barbarism of British colonialism on the island.
According to Sir Hilary, the slave trade and treatment of slaves was at its most brutal in Barbados, compared to other islands in the Caribbean.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the African people on this island went through a kind of terrorism that Africans did not go through in other places.
“If there is a scale through which we can measure terrorism on one to ten, Barbados is ten. And if we went to Jamaica it would be five or six. Because there was an opportunity to break free temporarily and move to the hills and mountains, so all of those societies had an alternative form of existence . . . This island was what you called a total prison. There was no place to go, there was no frontier,” he said.
Pointing to Barbados as the birthplace of the British slave society, Sir Hilary said the legacy of slavery laid the foundation for modern society.
However he told the audience that despite the inhumane treatment of the enslaved workforce, there were far fewer slave rebellions in Barbados compared to other islands in the Caribbean.
“Black people in Barbados do not move suddenly and aggressively towards injustice. They don’t respond suddenly and eruptively to an injustice. But there comes a point when they move, they move decisively. They are slow to move but when they do, they move very decisively and very conclusively,” Sir Hilary said.
He pointed to the island’s “unique” history, adding that the slaves were the most oppressed and brutalized in the Caribbean.
“And that history has been driven under the carpet for 200 years. So now it is incumbent upon all of us to explain this, to show what it is and to show what Barbados has been, an island of terror for the Africans who have had to live here,” Sir Hilary said.