Monday, December 12, 2005

Article for the Western Mirror published Dec. 10

Christmas and Mobay: Season of resistance and rebellion

There has been only one Christmas - the rest are anniversaries.
~W.J. Cameron

From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it.
~Katharine Whitehorn

Roses are reddish
Violets are bluish
If it weren't for Christmas
We'd all be Jewish.

~Benny Hill

Christmas is the season when you buy this year's gifts with next year's money.
~Author Unknown

The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants.
~John Andrew Holmes

We must not seek the child Jesus
in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs.
We must seek him among the undernourished children
who have gone to bed tonight with nothing to eat,
among the poor newsboys
who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways.

~Romero December 24, 1979

Jesus was not born on December 25. The Christian liturgy chose that date in order to give a Christian meaning to the Roman feast of the unvanquished sun. The pagans of the Roman Empire celebrated the sun's rebirth during the longest night of the year. That midnight was considered as the starting point of the sun's march, which then began to overcome the darkness. It was easy for the Christians to substitute Jesus Christ for the sun and to make the birth of Christ, Sun of Justice, coincide liturgically with the pagan celebration of the birth of the sun.
~ Author Unknown

Well… the year is winding down and as is tradition the world is moving to a more reflective and mellow state. People are probably seeking to call loved ones; whoever is in “farrin” is probably breaking their neck to reach home. Some households will be graced with the proverbial “barrel” from England, Cayman, Uncle Sam or whichever other destination Jamaicans usually head in search of better incomes. The remittance dollars are surely rolling in, and Western Union is making a killing, not to mention the various other cambios. Some people are eagerly anticipating their bonuses and of course TVJ (or JBC the name that refuses to leave my mind) should have “Greeting from the UK” in full swing (What would a Jamaican Christmas be without it?). Mr. Chin and Kin straight out of Hong Kong probably are starting to see their accounts at the bank reach the size of King Kong as they peddle cheap wares on every street, corner and lane. Montego Bay’s downtown is a hive of activity, legal and illegal. Aristocrats, pick pockets and all those in between take to the streets. St. James Street, Barnett Street, “Bottom Road” a.k.a. Gloucester Ave. and Harbour Street, are prime territory. As the 25th of December draws nigh, these streets will see boundless human traffic.

However Christmas has a darker more ominous side. Historically and Biblically this is a season of serious bloodshed. If one is to take in the “Book of the Maccabees” one will see that December is the time when Jews (Jesus’ people) were oppressed by Alexander the Great’s successor Antiochus. He killed some 40,000 Jews and destroyed God’s temple. The Jews celebrate “Hanukkah” as the time when the Maccabees recaptured the temple after many more years of war with the Greeks and Syrians. Montego Bay is not unfamiliar with bloodshed in the Christmas season, seeing that MoBay was the site or focal point of the last great slave rebellion in Jamaica; what is referred to these days as the Christmas Rebellion.

As Christmas a historical season of blood shed draws closer, the murder tally for the island continues to alarming levels, and the murder tally and levels of crime in Montego Bay and St. James reach never before seen levels. This is truly a sad irony, this city the site where Sam Sharpe and some 500 other slaves died after the Christmas Rebellion to set us free, we now turn on ourselves using our freedom not to progress, but to kill each other. And the contribution to a sorrowful history of bloodshed in this season continues; as only Sunday night at “Carwash” (one of MoBay’s “hypest” and “vibesiest” street dances) on Harbour Street (a few yards from where Sam Sharpe died in a struggle for betterment) we unleashed our savagery on each other and someone lost their life. This tyranny of unrelenting killing will no doubt continue even on to and through Christmas day.

For those who have forgotten the Sam Sharpe and the Christmas Rebellion, let me remind you. Sam Sharpe was the main instigator of the 1831 Slave Rebellion which began on the Kensington Estate in St. James and which was largely instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slavery. Sam Sharpe became a leader of the native Baptists in Montego Bay using religious meetings (which were the only permissible forms of organised activities for the slaves) to communicate his concern and encourage political thought concerning events in England which affected the slaves and Jamaica. Sam developed a plan of passive resistance in 1831, by which the slaves would refuse to work on Christmas Day of 1831 and afterwards, unless their grievances concerning better treatment and the consideration of freedom were accepted by plantation owners and managers. Sam explained his plan to his chosen supporters after his religious meetings. They then took the plan to the other parishes until the idea had spread throughout St. James, Trelawny, Westmoreland, St. Elizabeth and Manchester.

On December 27, 1831, the Kensington Estate Great House was set on fire as a signal that the Slave Rebellion had begun. A series of other fires broke out in the area and soon it was clear that the plan of non-violent resistance which Sam Sharpe had originated was impossible and impractical. Armed rebellion and seizing of property spread mostly through the western parishes, but the rebellion was stopped by the first week in January.

An awful reckoning followed. While 14 whites died during the Rebellion, more than 500 slaves lost their lives, the majority of them as a result of the trials that followed. Samuel Sharpe was hanged on May 23, 1832 in what is today known as Sam Sharpe Square.

I have friends that argue that the crime we see today is some sort of rebellion, but I seriously disagree. A rebellion rises against a system of oppression, what we have here is guns rising against black people by other black people, not the system; we have strangely become our own oppressors. I’m sure Sam Sharpe turns in his grave or where ever he lies, and I’m sure he hisses with pain at the step of each murderer and evil doer and black oppressor that steps through his Square in the heart of city. I’m sure somewhere between the honking taxi horns, choir of chirping, the music, and all the other cacophony in the Square he can be heard screaming and howling.

By Yannick Nesta Pessoa
B.A. in Philosophy
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