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Barbados, and a History of Resistance: From Bussa’s Rebellion to Removing Queen Elizabeth as the Head of State

Dec 02, 2021 11:00AM ● By Oga Africa
busy Barbados street with locals and tourists. the buildings are bright and colorful and street lined with small palm trees

(Bridgetown, Barbados. Image by Loozrboy via Flickr )

Today is a funny night”, a popular quote from the 1937 Labour Rebellions of Barbados

Happy belated Independence Day, Barbados! On November 30th, 1966, this Caribbean country gained independence from the British. To celebrate, we are exploring the country’s resistance to colonialism, from the colonial period until now.

Slavery was notoriously harsh in parts of the Caribbean like Barbados. During the British colonial era of Barbados, the economy, which was built on sugarcane, initially relied on indentured European servants who migrated to the island, and transformed to reliance on the forced labor of enslaved Africans, who were brought to the island from countries like Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast.

Enslaved populations on the island resisted the condition of slavery, notably through Bussa’s Rebellion of 1816. In 1815, governing Barbadians dismissed an act that aimed to stop the illegal trafficking of African slaves. In retaliation to the lack of progress towards freedom, a group of ambitious enslaved people and Black freedmen planned an island-wide revolt. This event was multifaceted, and included a series of meetings, and the election of leaders on various plantations. Known collaborators included: Dick Bailey, Johnny, and Bussa of the Bailey Plantation, Jakey, Nanny Grigg and Johnny Grigg of the Simmons Plantation, and Roach, Richard Sarjeant, and Cain Davis. Roach, Sarjeant, and Davis, who were free Blacks with the ability to read and write, helped to market, recruit, mobilize, and develop insurrection plans.  

(A statue of freedom fighter Bussa in Barbados. Image by Dogfacebob via Wikimedia Commons)

On April 15th, 1816, enslaved groups began to burn the plantation fields, with an impact that reached over seventy plantations. Due to the shortcomings of group members, and a lack of adequate arms, on April 16th, 1816, the rebels were overpowered by colonial armed forces. In the wake of the rebellion, over 200 people were killed, and more than 150 were deported to various Caribbean countries. The freedom fighters managed to destroy over USD $198,000 worth of crops. Although the rebellion was unsuccessful, it catalyzed more acts of resistance in the Caribbean, including Guyana and Jamaica, which led to the abolition of slavery in the British Caribbean, which occurred through the Emancipation Act of 1833.

(A Barbados beach. Image by Loozrboy via Flickr

The country continues to push for independence. On its 55th anniversary of independence, Barbados will remove Queen Elizabeth as the head of state. With this decision to relinquish its colonial ties with Britain, Barbados will officially become a republic, and Bajan jurist Sandra Mason will become the nation’s first president. Stay tuned for the progress of Barbados, as it will continue to set trends and carve its own paths.

Works Cited

Learn more about Barbados:

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