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 JANUARY 11, 1848 - THE FIRST DAY OF COLLECTIVE POLITICAL LIFE IN POST EMANCIPATION GRENADA?

Caldwell Taylor

Today we commemorate Tuesday, January 11,1848, that mighty day when labourers from various estates (plantations) in the St Patrick's - area came to the town of Sauteurs to protest against a planter-imposed wage reduction and the many ordeals of a "free labour" regime that criminalized labourer breaches of their contracts of employment.

Coming just nine years following the abolition of chattel slavery in Grenada and the rest of  the British West Indies, the Sauteurs protest pitted ex-slave workers-"labourers"- against their former masters on a strip of ground that was hallowed in an earlier contest, which gave the little town its name and a battle- bruised memory.

That earlier contest ended in victory for France, for Christianity and for [European] civilization: it spelled the destruction of
the Kalinagoes (Caribs), who pelted themselves into a militant martyrdom while the French stood on the scrubby promontory and watched as the azure waters below turned crimson with the blood of "savages" ."Sauteurs" (Jumpers)! they crowed with Gallic pride.

Karl Marx, in his Eighteenth Brumaire (1852), tells us that history repeats itself: in its first showing as tragedy and in the
second as farce.

But the 'Second Battle of Sauteurs' was no farce.  Indeed, we must strive to make clear this truism :the stage is never the sole
determinant of the colour and the content of historical drama. To see history as a stage-determined affair is to deny the
agency of human actors.  And so we return to Sauteurs. The protest of January 11, 1848 was the high-noon of a 'strike action' that predated the trade union in Grenada by roughly one hundred years. Lacking the specialized idiom of the trade unionist, the labourers would have used the word "war" to describe their response to the tyranny of the estate owners.  It was war because they, the labourers, were trying to smash the chains of their Emancipation.  And it was a "war" even though the fighting was more symbolic than real.

It was war because this was a violent clash of  the two worlds (and worldviews) then inhabiting a small island colony: the world of Baykays, on the one hand, and that of the Negres, on the other.

It was war because this was an epic confrontation between the world of the Great House and the world of the Yard; the world of the Christian and that of the drum-worshipping pagan; the oral world of "irrationality, superstition and black ignorance"
versus the scribal world of European logic

The angry labourers waved leafy branches-signifying defiance -they made obscene gestures and extemporized a barrage of carisos of ridicule and recrimination, so-called banter songs. It bears stating that banter songs are "woman songs,"
and we have every reason to believe that women were in the forefront of this protest, giving it lyrical and moral and emotional leadership.

Banter songs are simple refrains that "give des faux" or fatigue"; they poke fun at the "enemy".  It is more than likely that the banter songs heard at Sauteurs on that historic day were sung in French creole (French patois). Some of these songs would have recalled the horrible cruelties of slavery and others would have articulated the labourers' sense of freedom, justice and fairness.   Doubtless all of these songs would have been richly peppered with parables and other sayings- "La lin kouwe, jew barray", comes vividly to mind.

In the face of the labourers' carnivalesque subversion the colonial state deployed special magistrate Romney, a posse of soldiers, and a Roman Catholic priest, representing sources of  condign power, compensatory power and conditioned power.  Ultimately the state and its planter-merchant allies prevailed and the majority of the St Patrick's labourers were driven back to work.  But going back to work was neither defeat nor surrender; frankly, it was a sensible response to superior firepower.

Going back to work was also no defeat because the action at Sauteurs opened the first day of collective political life in post-emancipation Grenada.

And let it be said that the Sauteurs labourers' protest placed Grenada in the mainstream of early post-emancipation agitation in the West Indies: It was contemporenous with strike activities in Trinidad, British Guiana (Guyana), Jamaica ,St Vincent, St Lucia and elsewhere in the Caribbean.  Significantly, it came just four years after Charles Mckay formed his Free Labourers' Association on the banks of the Couva River in neighbouring Trinidad. Even more significantly, it foreshadowed Jamaica's
Morant Bay Rebellion (1865),which is immortalized in Third World's "1865", a song that is far better known as "96 Degrees in the Shade":

Said it was 96 degrees in the shade Ten thousand soldiers on parade Taking I and I to meet a big fat boy Sent from overseas
The queen employ Excellency, before you I comeWith my representation You know where I'm coming from

Morant Bay and Sauteurs are inevitable in a places where the majority is denied citizenship, political representation and constitutional means of protest. Governor Eyre's response to the Morant Bay uprising was swift as it bloody.   Over 600 were killed, an equal number received floggings, and more than one thousand houses were destroyed; George William Gordon and
Paul Bogle were executed after hasty show trials.

The British forces boasted the wanton cruelties that they visited upon the Morant Bay rebels and other poor Jamaicans.From the Royal Commission that was subsequently appointed to inquire into the reasons for the disturbance, come these chilling admissions:  'I the morning I first flogged four and hung six rebels' The regiment passed through this beautiful spot firing every house in it, except three..a man named Connolly never ceased firing , killing a man at every shot' 'This is a picture of martial law. The soldiers enjoy it; the inhabitants have to dread it; if they run on their approach , they are shot for running away'.

Morant Bay inspired an international outcry and in England public opinion lined up in favour or against the arrogant Governor Edward John Eyre. One of Eyre's great champions was Britain's top historian of the day,  Thomas Carlyle- author of that nasty little book called "Occasional Discourse on the Nig.ger Question" . In what is easily his angriest and most polemical work-British Historians and the West Indies- Eric Williams denounced Carlyle,  calling him a "negrophobe" and a "proto-fascist".   "Carlyle caricatured the emancipated Negro as idling in the sun up to his ears in pumpkin", wrote Williams in "British Historians and the West Indies".

Morant Bay is an integral part of Jamaica's history and living tradition and so also must Sauteurs be in Grenada's. But why is
January 11, 1848 so little known? I put that question to Martin Felix, a US -based scholar of Grenadian and Caribbean labour history. 

His response:

"Sometimes we miss the point that as important as it is for us to tell our own story so is it important to the owners of capital
to hide it or minimize its value or impact. The fact that January 11 is one of the most hidden episodes of our history, attests to an early success of the Grenada's colonial authority at editing our story".

Felix challenges us to recover the parts of our story that have been edited out.

Let's remember Sauteurs. It is a deathless victory of agency over conditioning. It is the sentinel that watches over the sacred
remains of "Amerindian" proto-nationalists. It is the cradle of trade unionism in Grenada. Calypsonian the "Inspector" is well
right:" Sauteurs have it!" 

 Caldwell Taylor January 11, 2008.  All rights reserved.

             

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