The start of the Rex Nettleford Arts Conference 2017 on Wednesday October 11, 2017 coincides with the 152 nd anniversary of The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica which began on Wed Oct 11, 1865. Sometimes referred to as the Morant Bay Uprising, it is considered a watershed moment in Jamaica’s political development, culminating widespread dis-satisfaction with issues of the lack of representation and economic disenfranchisement of the largely African population following emancipation from slavery in 1838. It is noteworthy that it coincided with the end of the four-year period of the American Civil War, itself an expression of the frustration with the power of the federal government and the injustices of slavery.

The leader of the Rebellion was Paul Bogle, then a Baptist Deacon, entrepreneur, property owner and owner of a bakery, and now a National Hero. George William Gordon, also a National Hero, is credited with co-leadership.

Did you know?

  1. The Morant Bay Rebellion dominated international news headlines in 1865.
  2. The only other news of international significance in that year was the assassination of Present Abraham Lincoln.
  3. Support for Bogle and his team came from virtually every parish in Jamaica.
  4. State reprisals in the form of hanging of the supporters and burning of homes extended to Montego Bay in the west and Portland in the East.
  5. The events of 1865 are embedded in Kumina songs such as “War dung a Monkland” and “Bogle dung a Morant Bay, We a go bail him” and have spawned artistic works including:
    • 96degrees In The Shade from the album of the same name by Third World Band
    • Sixtyfive, a novel by Vic Reid
    • The Riot Act, a play by Michael Holgate
    • The Trial of Governor Eyre, a play by Bert Samuels
    • The Ballad of SixtyFive by Alma Norman

The Ballad of Sixty-Five

The roads are rocky and the hills are steep,
The macca scratches and the gully’s deep.
The town is far, news travels slow.
And the mountain men have far to go.

Bogle took his cutlass at Stony Gut
And looked at the small heap of food he’d got
And he shook his head, and his thoughts were sad,
You can wuk like a mule but de crop still bad.

Bogle got his men and he led them down
Over the hills to Spanish Town,
They chopped their way and they made a track
To the Governor’s house. But he sent them back.

As they trudged back home to Stony Gut
Paul’s spirit sank with each bush he cut,

For the thought of the hungry St Thomas men
Who were waiting for the message he’d bring to them.

They couldn’t believe that he would fail
And their anger rose when they heard his tale.
Then they told Paul Bogle of Morant Bay
And the poor man fined there yesterday.

Then Bogle thundered, This thing is wrong!
They think we weak, but we hill men strong.
Rouse up yourself. We’ll march all night
To the Vestry house, and we’ll claim our right!

The Monday morning was tropic clear
As the men from Stony Gut drew near,
Clenching their sticks in their farmer’s hand
To claim their rights in their native land.

Oh many mourned and many were dead
That day when the vestry flames rose red.
There was chopping and shooting and when it done
Paul Bogle and the men knew they had to run.

They ran for the bush were they hoped to hide
But the soldiers poured in from Kingston side.
They took their prisoners to Morant Bay
Where they hanged them high in the early day.

Paul Bogle died but his spirit talks
Anywhere in Jamaica that freedom walks
Where brave men gather and courage thrills
As it did in those days in St Thomas hills.