By RON FANFAIR
Almost 180 years ago, Samuel Sharpe instigated an eight-day rebellion in Jamaica that many feel hastened the end of chattel slavery in the British colonies in the Caribbean in 1832.
Just 31 at the time, the educated slave and Baptist deacon was hung at the Parade in Montego Bay which has been renamed Sam Sharpe Square. The Jamaican government proclaimed him a national hero in 1975 and his face is on the $50 bill.
The other Jamaican national heroes are Paul Bogle, Marcus Garvey, George William Gordon, Sir Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley and Nanny.
Retired Toronto District School Board (TDSB) English and history teacher and vice-principal, Fred Kennedy, who considers himself a “history buff”, spent the past decade researching and documenting Sharpe’s short, but impactful life. “Daddy Sharpe: A Narrative of the Life and Adventure of Samuel Sharpe, A West Indian Slave Written by Himself, 1831″, was launched in Canada last week.
In the keynote address at last week’s launch at A.Y. Jackson Secondary School in Toronto, poet and non-fiction writer Rachel Manley said the new book adds to the growing body of Caribbean literature.
“With Daddy Sharpe, Fred Kennedy joins the company of West Indian writers who are trying to recreate the historic voice for us,” said Manley, the daughter of former Jamaica Prime Minister, Michael Manley. “Although he’s a historian, he has decided not to confine his research and learning to the halls of academia and to the limited access of scholars.
“In this historical novel, he has opened up a valuable chapter for us. We know the name Samuel Sharpe as one of Jamaica’s national heroes. We know him for his bravery, innovation and leadership in the December 1831 slave rebellion. But Kennedy has taken the mind and the man behind that slave rebellion and given him life, blood and being. Samuel Sharpe will no longer be just a name we recite in school or at Heroes Day celebrations or just a face we see on our paper money or on a postage stamp.
“He has recreated the circumstances behind that breaking point as they were lived by both colonizer and slave alike…Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Kennedy’s work is to be found in his treatment of language in creating voice, the very tool we have been deprived of historically. He uses language to create landscapes.”
Vice Consul Andrea Anglin represented the Jamaican government at the launch.
“In this narrative, Fred Kennedy reminds us of how suffocating and brutal slavery was,” she said. “Let us keep the memories alive of those who fought for our freedom.”
Kennedy, who graduated from the University of the West Indies and the University of Toronto and taught for nearly 30 years, said his debut work is an artistic interpretation of Sharpe’s life and it also represents the story of a people who fought for freedom and later broke the chains of slavery.
“I have maintained close ties with Jamaica and have always wanted to tell a Jamaican story,” said Kennedy who migrated to Canada in 1976. “What better story to tell than one of our national heroes.”
Kennedy, who returned to Jamaica to serve as principal of his alma mater – St. George’s College – from 2004-2006, is working on his second novel that looks at the early Spanish colonial period in Jamaica and the relationship of the Spaniards with the indigenous Taino people.