Sunday, 27 June 2010

Some Thoughts on Violence and its Consequences

It has been a long while since I updated this blog … overtaken by various duties and obligations I’ve neglected my posts, but lately I’ve been paying attention to events in two countries, my birthplace and my present home. As I write this the City of Toronto is reeling from the destruction caused by a small group of anarchists, calling themselves the Black Bloc, who have managed to hijack the peaceful protests against the current G20 meetings taking place in the city. Can such anarchist and nihilist behaviour ever be justified? Not always. I don’t deny the right of peaceful protest to those who disagree with the leaders of the G20, who think that they do not care for the average person, and who deplore the amount of money that has been spent on this summit and the security to protect the leaders themselves. They have the right to express their opinions peacefully, but what we have seen this weekend is not peaceful protest but anarchy.

At the same time, not too long ago, in Jamaica we saw a state of emergency declared and a police and army raid on Tivoli Gardens in downtown Kingston, all in order to arrest one man, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, a notorious gang leader, in order to turn him over to United States authorities. There was violence there too – much more serious than what we are seeing in Toronto at present – as more than 75 people were killed in the raids. “Dudus” has now been captured and extradited to the U. S.

Many of the comments I have seen about the violence in Toronto in the various online news sources are to the effect that this is not how Canadians behave – that it gives Canada a bad name, and so on. But this country has seen violence against authority in the past. As George Santayana said: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The rebellions of 1837 are a case in point. William Lyon Mackenzie and his supporters rebelled against the government of the day, the Family Compact, in Upper Canada. For this he was forced to flee the country, many of his supporters were arrested, a few hanged and others transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The consequences of the 1837 rebellions was the appointment by Great Britain of Lord Durham

who was sent to investigate the situation in the Canadas and proposed changes to the status quo which led to the establishment of responsible government. Not only that, but Mackenzie himself, the Firebrand, became Mayor of Toronto and part of the establishment.

There have been many cases of violence in Jamaican history, some of which has brought changes for the better. I think particularly of the 1831-32 slave revolts, also called the Baptist war, in the western parishes, which was led by Sam Sharpe

and which were to lead eventually to the abolition of that pernicious institution, slavery, in the British colonies in 1834. Reviled as Sharpe was in his day – and he was hanged for his pains – he was declared a National Hero of Jamaica in 1975 and there is a statue commemorating him in the square in Montego Bay.

Nor should we forget the 1865 Rebellion in Morant Bay, led by Paul Bogle, which protested the treatment of a poor black man who had been put on trial for the crime of trespass on a long-abandoned plantation. Here there was violence on both sides but more so on the part of the Government under the leadership of Governor Edward John Eyre who put the rebellion down with the utmost brutality. Bogle and many of the rebels were hanged, some without a trial, and so was a member of the House of Assembly, George William Gordon, who had opposed Eyre but who had not taken part in the rebellion. And the consequences? Well, Eyre was recalled to England, the Jamaican House of Assembly renounced its charter and Jamaica became a Crown Colony. Clinton Black, in his book, The Story of Jamaica (London: Collins, 1965), sees this as a turning point in the island’s history as it gave the governors of this period the opportunity to push through various reforms and improvements. Both Bogle and Gordon were declared National Heroes of Jamaica.

I realize all this is very far from what I’ve been writing about in this blog, My Jamaican Family. One thing I’ve realized is that Jamaica, as it exists now, is not the Jamaica I grew up in. At the same time I feel it is important to remember the past, because we, and Jamaica, are products of that past. I cannot say what the end result will be of the raid on Tivoli Gardens, any more than I can say what may come from the violence in Toronto this weekend. That is probably very far in the future. For now I plan in my next post to return to the 1831 slave revolt and its consequences – the abolition of slavery and what it meant to the family I have been following, the Cunhas and a connected family, the Fords.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor