Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Thursday | December 27, 2012
Home : Commentary
Sam Sharpe's special significance
By Devon Dick

TODAY, THERE will be a lighting ceremony for the Sam Sharpe Emergence at the Croydon Heritage Tour in the hills of Catadupa, St James. The event is of great historical significance, and is being organised by Croydon Tours with support from JAMPRO.

Sam Sharpe being linked to Croydon is significant because Philip Wright, in Knibb the Notorious, claimed that there were two Sam Sharpes: one who was a head man in Croydon, and the other who worked as a domestic slave in a house in Montego Bay (p.77). Philip Curtin, in Two Jamaicas (1955), had a variation to that theory, that apart from Sam Sharpe, there was a "shadowy figure of 'Daddy Ruler' Tharp" (p. 86). And at the 2012 Sam Sharpe Conference, Larry Kreitzer of Regents Park, Oxford, in examining slavery records, came to a similar conclusion. It would be good if we could settle the issue surrounding our national hero as to whether there were two Sharpes. And recent history books have not been helpful on this matter.

There are others who are trying to create a controversy about Sharpe. Thorold DeMercado, letter writer, in response to my article 'Sam Sharpe: Greatest Jamaican' (July 26) claimed that Sultana Afroz has new information on Sharpe which will debunk the "history" that we have about him. However, Maureen Warner Lewis, historian and linguist, has already debunked Afroz's claims in 'Jamaica's Muslim Past: Misrepresentations', Journal of Caribbean History 37 (2003): 294-316. She showed that the linguistic argument was of no merit, to put it mildly.

WHAT JIHAD?

Afroz and Dale Bisnauth, former Guyanese minister of education, claimed that Sharpe was a Muslim and the protest was a jihad. How could it be a jihad when there was no evidence of such Muslim paraphernalia in the Sam Sharpe-led protest? In addition, no evidence emerged from the trials and their public hangings that anyone was a Muslim, and there was also no mention of the word Islam or the Koran. All the records show that Sharpe was a Baptist and most of the protestors identified themselves as Baptists.

Furthermore, it was not a jihad because Sharpe eschewed violence and planned a peaceful strike. According to Findlay and Holdsworth in The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1921), the fires were accidental, in that they were not started on Sharpe's instructions. In fact, it was the beating of an African woman on December 24, 1831 that angered her husband and which precipitated the estates being set ablaze. There was a minority in Sharpe's movement that believed armed struggle was the only voice to which backra would listen. Sharpe, however, would not bear arms, even though he agreed to self-defence. It was no jihad. Apparently, there is a third 'Sam Sharpe' who was a Muslim, but not the one who was hanged and was a deacon of the Baptist church.

HISTORIC DAY

It is significant that this ceremony is being held on December 27 because this is the day (midnight), some historians claim, the strike for wages and freedom should have started. Sharpe's resistance was intended to be peaceful and passive. And as Jamaicans, that is how we ought to perceive it. We need to allow this non-violent model to inspire our resistance today. We need to emulate the Sharpe strategy in the quest for better working conditions for employees.

Let us hope that this movement at Croydon will lead to better research on Sharpe and inspire us to follow Sharpe's strategy of passive resistance for peace.

Rev Devon Dick, PhD, is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'From Rebellion to Riot'. Send comments to columns@gleanerjm.com

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