In the 1990s a Guyanan-born sculptor by the name of Karl Broodhagen unveiled his memorial to the 1816 slave rebellion (also known as Bussa’s Rebellion): a statue of a slave, crouched and with broken chains hanging from his wrists, in the middle of the JTC Ramsey Roundabout just north of Bridgetown. It was, to put it mildly, a source of controversy. Why might this be?
Some historical exegesis might be in order. On Easter Sunday of 1816 a surprisingly well-coordinated slave uprising broke out on the island of Barbados. A slave on Bayley’s Plantation by the name of Bussa (or Bussoe) was given the credit for leading it. He was killed during the fighting but many of the other leaders (including a freedman by the name of Washington Franklin) were executed by imperial forces after the rebellion was put down.
Despite the truncated nature of the rebellion Bussa became a cultural hero of sorts, particularly after the 1830s Emancipation. Subsequent rebellions by dispossessed black tenant farmers called upon “General Bussa” as inspiration, and one of my informants described Bussa as a “national hero.” Bajan students learn about him and his contributions in school even if, as my driver put it, “noone really knows about him.” I will go more into memories of Bussa himself in a subsequent post but for now suffice to say that cultural memory of slave resistance, embodied in Bussa, exists in a very circumscribed place.
The statue reflects this. Even though, as one of my informants said, “being placed in a roundabout is an honor” one cannot help but notice that Bussa is not nearly as easy to approach as Nelson. Getting up close to see the statue and take pictures required sprinting across several lanes of traffic (much to the amusement of my driver). While the statue is largely associated with Bussa (even though it was intended to be a “figurative” enslaved African), and the roundabout has been (un)officially renamed “Bussa Roundabout,” the statue is less a monument and more a landmark partially due to its inaccessibility. Bajans will often say “meet me at Bussa” or “drop me off at Bussa.” Compare this to Nelson who is both visible and accessible.
Even this highly proscribed spot was a source of controversy for a lot of people. Newspaper editorials at the time of the statue’s unveiling noted how “bestial” and “primal” it looked, “crouched” with “chains still dangling from his wrists.” Many advocated replacing it with a memorial that spoke less about racial oppression, a “synthesis of all racial types in Barbados.” Some even suspected that people with “agendas” were trying to reignite discussion of the slave trade, much to the disquiet of potential tourists.
So how does this tie into the Nelson statue? What does this say about the tension between “official” historical narratives and “cultural” memory? We’ll find out in future posts! You’ll just have to stay tuned, (surely) on the edge of your seats.