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“Between the powerful and those they dominate my daily habit there is no limit to the lengths they may go to maintain their supremacy.” – Professor Vincent Brown
The annual Chief Tayki Lecture was held on April 8, 2021, in a virtual space. The lecture was hosted by the Centre for Reparation Research, the University of the West Indies (UWI), in collaboration with The Tayki Foundation (St. Mary) and The Department of History and Archaeology (UWI). The co-hosts of the lecture were Professors Verene Shepherd and Carolyn Cooper. The lecture was delivered by Professor Vincent Brown; Professor of American History and African and African American Studies at Harvard University.
Professor Brown spoke on the topic of Tacky’s Revolt or the Coromantee War. Regrettably, the teaching of history education in Jamaica is not compulsory; as a result, many Jamaicans have never heard of Tacky. Even those of us who have heard about him know very little about this great military organizer and freedom fighter of the 18th century. Those from the parish of St. Mary might however be aware of the military prowess of Tacky. Tacky, also spelled Tayki was a Coromantee chief, from what is known as present-day Ghana before being enslaved. The most important slave revolts in Jamaica’s history occurred in 1760 following 20 years of relative peace under treaties between the British and the Maroons.
The rebellion first broke out on Tuesday, 8 April 1760 at a plantation in the northern parish of St Mary. According to Professor Brown, the Coromantees were closely structured people who spoke multiple languages and who had experience with militarism. Professor Brown referenced Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies quoting him from a 1982 journal “resistance of the enslaved in the Caribbean should be considered part of a 200- year war against the institution of slavery.” Professor Brown’s presentation examined the broader context of Tacky’s war and the consequences of this uprising on the entire Atlantic world in solidifying the regions together. He began his presentation by stating that in 1760 the most important colony of Great Britain, Jamaica, was on the verge of insurrection.
Jamaica, according to Professor Brown was at a critical juncture with the British entry into yet another imperial war with other European powers. The moment appeared right for a slave uprising and as such Tacky seized the opportunity to gain freedom not only for himself but for the other enslaved.
However, the plot was betrayed and unraveled.
We must be reminded that during slavery there were two distinct categories of slaves; house and field slaves. While both were enslaved undoubtedly, there were some of the house slaves who did not view their condition through the same lens as the field slaves. According to the article “The Social World of the Slaves” published in Encyclopedia.Com, “although house servants lived under the constant supervision of their masters, field hands-on large plantations and the slaves on smaller farms did have some time on Sundays and late at night to themselves.
They then could gather in the slave quarters, the center of their social life, and share stories, dance, play music, sing, and perform “shouts,” descendants of African tradition in which dancers formed a circle and chanted.”
Professor Brown declared that Tacky staged an uprising and over the eighteen months which followed the rebels thwarted an initial crackdown by the colonial British. Interestingly, the Coromantees were stereotyped as best suited for agriculture while on the other hand they were also feared. That fighting spirit that embodied Tacky still remains with us as Jamaicans centuries after the death of a great hero.
Professor Brown said the Transatlantic Slave Trade dispersed people from Atlantic Africa throughout the Americas. The Professor added that the massive dispersal from the motherland, transplantation, and adaptation to a new and strange land is familiar to students of cultural change. He cited music as an example and spoke of the interconnectivity of historians with others aspects of the culture as a necessary alliance to record black history.
Professor Brown pinpointed three consequences of Britain’s brutal response in crushing Tacky’s 1760 rebellion. These are; an amplification of anti-black racism, the emergence of an anti-slave trade movement, and a reorganization of the British Empire. Professor Brown identified four (4) convergent points of slave wars in a riveting and thought-provoking presentation.
These he named as a race war, slaving war, communal war, and imperial war. Brown added that each point of convergence was in Jamaica in the 1760s.
By the time Tacky’s rebellion was finally crushed some 500 black men, women, and children were killed; many of whom were publicly executed. Other participants of the 1760 rebellion were transported to be enslaved workers in Saint Domingue, known as Haiti, British Honduras, later known as Belize, South Carolina, and Virginia.
It is obvious that the impact of Tacky’s rebellion was not confined solely to Jamaica. Due to the balance of forces in favour of the British, Professor Brown declared the revolution was doomed to a failure. Professor Brown posited that the 1760 Tacky rebellion anticipated both the American and Haitian revolutions. The rebellion has doomed a failure due to the balance of forces.
The Ambiguities of the 1760s
Among the ambiguities outlined by Professor Brown are, black people were left divided; the association between blackness and social danger gained strength; the reluctance to acknowledge slave revolts as an act of war, and the Coromantees augmented their reputation as formidable fighters. Professor Brown commented that we must recognize how events in far places shaped the history of the Americas.
He reiterated the importance of folklore as he mentioned the enslaved people carried their stories with them, they told the stories to others when they were deported from Jamaica to Saint Dominigue, Virginia, British Honduras, and South Carolina.
There are some sections in the society that still discounts the importance of oral history and it was instructive to hear Professor Brown speaking about the vital role oral history and folklore play in reserving our natural.
Until our history is told by our own people we cannot remove the historical misguided version of our history.
Professor Brown states that black political history must origin from a black perspective. Brown spoke of an oppositional political history of Jamaica, taught and learned on Jamaica’s plantations in St. Mary by the enslaved.
It gives a sense of satisfaction and pride to know that in Jamaican society we still have high regard for the rich oral history. It is important that we continue to give institutions, such as the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank and the Jamaica Conservation Development Trust all the support needed in order to have them assist in the preservation of Jamaica’s oral and cultural history.
Post Slavery Societies
Among the legacies for post-slavery societies is the ability for us to build on the legacies of those who have gone before us. The history of Tacky while overlooked by some is an enormous birthright to the construction of modern-day society.
Professor Brown started a reform of the colonial slavery system in the British colonies was a direct result of Tacky’s 1760 rebellion.
Brown during his brilliant and informative presentation painted a picture that Tacky’s rebellion and the fight for our Emancipation which finally occurred in 1838 and as well as the struggles for political independence in 1962 are all interconnected. In fact, Brown referenced the Maroon Wars which occurred prior to the Tacky rebellion as being interwoven in shaping our society. Professor Brown argued that antimilitarism did not necessarily end with slavery.
Black people according to Brown were subjected to a greater amount of violence in post-slavery societies because of the habitual practice of committing violence to keep blacks in their place. To keep us in our places crimes against humanity were the order of the day in post-slavery societies. Blacks were viewed as chattel and treated as such. Brown surmises that few things terrified the wealthy and powerful more than the prospect of losses to the poor and the weak which would signify a world turned upside down.
Eventually, the white man’s world was turned upside down as that indomitable spirit of Chief Tacky propelled generations of blacks to challenge the unjust and suppressive status quo which was in the form of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.
Professor Brown said African warfare was reconstituted as an outgrowth of emigrant experiences. He identified this as collective violence which equates to black lives which are devalued even for other black people.
He cited Jamaica, Brazil, and the United States of America as examples where black lives are devalued. When one examines the history and historical facts we realize that nothing happens in a vacuum. Let us fast forward to the 21st century and we have the Black Lives Matter movement. Professor Brown shared that the turmoil of enslavement and the daily hostilities of life in plantation societies generated a military response that traveled and took root in rebellions across the Americas.
It must have taken great courage by Tacky to organize and carry out this uprising knowing very well what his fate would be if he failed. No one wants to be enslaved all his life so Tacky risked it all. Although he failed, the reverberations of that uprising went far and wide and eventually helped this society in which we live. Society owes Chief Tacky a debt of gratitude. We have not given Tacky the recognition due to him. It is time we right this wrong. Undoubtedly, the work of Chief Tacky makes him a prime candidate to become Jamaica’s eighth national hero.
Luta continua – the struggle continues!
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. [email protected] @ WayneCamo ©