11, 1848 - THE FIRST DAY OF COLLECTIVE POLITICAL LIFE IN
POST EMANCIPATION GRENADA?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
"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!"
Taylor January 11, 2008. All rights reserved.