What Emancipation Day and Jamaica Independence Really Means to Me Going Forward

August 8, 2015

I have always ruminated on the Independence of Jamaica over the years, and while I value the significance of this momentous occasion in prideful celebration, the legal transition of sovereignty leaves me just a bit less dignified every time.

Britain to GIVE Jamaica Independence on August 6

’Yuh Backside fi know”…okayfirstofall

In this rather matter-of-factly piece I found in the archives of the New York Times, on August 6, 1962, “the island, ruled by England since 1655, would become a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as its sovereign”. It represented the opening of doors to a newfound freedom and a complete closure from a brutal slavery past, however one door in particular was left slightly ajar for the monarchy to rear its…well lets say royal head of steadfast privilege and wayward homage.

What is meant by constitutional monarchy means that Jamaica remains a part of the Commonwealth realm of the United Kingdom, Britain, with the Queen as Sovereign. The commonwealth term is quite allusive and confounding when you think about it and it gave me a number of headaches during discussions and arguments. This commonwealth arrangement spans all continents. It is for this reason that the saying…

“the sun never sets on the British Empire”

…is valid till this day. As long as Jamaica has a Governor-General there remains this undeniable influence and servitude towards the head of state. Quite plainly this is all pomp and circumstance for historical effect but really and truly the reserve power as it were, only used in emergencies and in some cases war, but much internally to keep watch over parliament by appointment or discipline in some manners and act on such through its own discretion, is an avowed entitlement to an astronomically absurd degree.

This vestigial of British imperialism and colonial rule remained unchallenged for some 50 years until our first female Prime Minister Portia Simpson declared that “… I think time come” when she began “the process of detachment” from Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.

How we have come to be Jamaicans is both a malfeasance and tragic encroachment giving rise to the massacre of the Arawaks, the aboriginals of Xaymaca, who were ill-treated upon showing great welcome to that ill-fated visit by Christopher Columbus who subsequently forced them into slave labor and brought brutal torture to their bodies. It is widely documented that the introduction of European diseases also aided the Arawak’s demise.

The Spanish occupation also introduced something else that was novel to the natives and that was a life of great strife and destitution. The original inhabitants were known to be a mild and simple people of nature, by many historical accounts.

When the Spaniards came under attack by the English and fled to Cuba what ensued was nearly 173 more years of imported and enslaved Africans for an illicit sugar industry that gave rise to nearly 430 sugar estates on Jamaica.

It wasn’t enough that the few years that preceded this slave trade, an earthquake of great magnitude destroyed what was then widely known as the “wealthiest and wickedest city in the world”. Port Royal was the base for the buccaneer and privateer Henry Morgan whom was knighted by king Charles II of England and appointed Lieutenant governor of Jamaica in 1673, this wicked city remains under the sea consumed by a subsequent tsunami in 1692.

Undeterred, the English moved inland and the settlers and colonists flourished by profiting from the Atlantic Slave Trade. Most of the island became inhabited by Africans from the western coastal areas of the continent of Africa through a horrific journey known as the “middle passage”.

Many, many slaves rebelled during this period with many documented rebellions and many joined the maroons in the mountainous regions of Jamaica who were descendants from the earlier slaves (Arawak and Africans) freed by the Spaniards. These rebellions were constant threat to the British slaveholders on the island over the years.

Several slave rebellions stand out in Jamaica’s history for example, the Easter Rebellion of 1760 led by Tacky; and the Christmas Rebellion of 1831 which began on the Kensington Estate in St. James, led by Sam Sharpe. He has since been named a National Hero.

The Maroons also had several wars against the English. In 1739 and 1740 after two major Maroon Wars, treaties were signed with the British. In the treaty of 1740, they were given land and rights as free men. In return they were to stop fighting and help to recapture run-away slaves. This treaty resulted in a rift among the Maroons as they did not all agree that they should return run-away slaves to the plantations.

The frequent slave rebellions in the Caribbean was one factor that led to the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Other factors included the work of humanitarians who were concerned about the slaves’ well-being. Humanitarian groups such as the Quakers publicly protested against slavery and the slave trade. They formed an anti slavery committee which was joined by supporters such as Granville Sharp, James Ramsay, Thomas Clarkson and later on, William Wilberforce.

On January 1, 1808 the Abolition Bill was passed. Trading in African slaves was declared to be “utterly abolished, prohibited and declared to be unlawful”. Emancipation and apprenticeship came into effect in 1834 and full freedom was granted in 1838.

Many years of socioeconomic isolation and the juxtaposition of enslavement in the new world versus third world nations undermined Jamaica for many years to come until this very day. Some of this continues today and is felt in geopolitical ways because it was learned and now is self-inflicted by a torrent past of slavery, racism, and classism.

Some may see the New York Times article as a an artifact of the prevailing times held some time ago in the form of reporting, but it is simply allusions to resentment in the form of sincere fiction. This still happens and I don’t only want to seem as if I am picking on the New York Times. A more salacious and denigrating article titled: Republic of Jamaica: Why Ditching the British Queen Isn’t Enough was written by Tim Padgett and published by Time magazine, in an condescending and patronizing tone. You sir should just mind your business, especially if you cannot write objectively, this is substandard journalism and after reading this I am left baffled as to why an acclaimed publication would view such cognitive bias as fit to print.

In more obvious terms what Portia Simpson-Miller has initiated was more of an affront to the status quo and disruption to this white privilege — a movement that once it begins to trend more globally would upend the undeserved social and economic capital of anglo-saxons around the world.

I commend the Prime Minister in respectfully dismissing the notion reportedly that…

“We are ‘one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown’. We cannot become a republic just by replacing the Queen with a president/politician without dire consequences. In our constitution, certain powers that are not explicitly allowed to the federal or state governments are reserved for the Crown. These are called Reserve Powers, and they include the ability to dismiss governments and veto legislation.”

…If Canada, New Zealand, Australia and any other territory where the sun doesn’t set for the British Empire feels that way, then so be it, your past isn’t an experience shared and what resulted from it is quite different today in terms of equality and quite measurably economically.

Prime Minister Simpson-Miller, I emphatically concur and support the detachment for it is nothing more than psychological warfare aimed at predating the Constitution of Jamaica. She said it best when she spoke in retort…

“There is no doubt that she has been a gracious and engaging Queen and a model of dedication to duty, which has been a feature of her entire reign,” she said. “In our 50th year of political independence, the government of Jamaica announced a decision to act on the aspects of constitutional reform, which has been in serious contemplation for almost 20 years. We decided to ensure that all the elements and symbols of our governance system are fully representative of Jamaica. This is why we are beginning the process to have a Jamaican national as our ceremonial president and our official head of state. It is now time for Jamaica to take a stand on our system of government, after 51 years of political independence,”

I am hoping that the sun sets more beautifully for Jamaica, and also in honor and memory with pomp and circumstance for our aboriginal inhabitants of over a century past.

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