The Freedom Fighter
Although not much is known about the man, Bussa was born a free man in West Africa.
There is no biographical information available about Bussa; his actual birth name remains a mystery, as does the majority of his life.
What is known is that African slave merchants captured him in the late 18th century, sold to the British, then transported as a slave to Barbados.
What is also known is that Bussa had the strength of character and a passion for enforcing change. It is this courage and sheer determination that is recorded in the history books.
The man Barbadians fondly remember as ‘Bussa’ played an integral role in changing the social and political climate of the island forever.
Note: Existing records do show there was a slave called ‘Bussa’ who worked on a plantation in St. Philip around the time of his rebellion.
‘Bussa’s Rebellion,’ as it is known, was the first of three large-scale slave rebellions in the British West Indies in the years leading up to emancipation. It was followed by the massive revolution in 1823 in Demerara (now part of Guyana), and by an even more enormous rebellion in 1831 – 1832 in Jamaica.
Did you know?
This group of rebellions is otherwise known as the ‘late slave rebellions.’
The revolts arose at a time when the British Parliament was working to improve the conditions of Caribbean slaves. The House of Assembly discussed and rejected the Bill which would have registered colonial slaves, and hence Bussa’s historical rebellion began soon after.
On 14 April 1816, Bussa lead a large-scale revolt against the Barbadian elitist ‘plantocracy.’
This resulted in a tremendous battle between the slaves, the planters and the West India Regiment (a part of the British Army), and had a significant impact on the historical development of Barbados.
It was the most massive slave revolt in Barbadian history, lasting two days, whereby hundreds of slaves rose in rebellion under the leadership of Bussa.
The planning was undertaken at several sugar estates, and among his collaborators were Washington Franklin, John, and Nanny Grigg, a senior domestic slave, as well as many other slaves and black revolutionaries.
Carefully executed by approximately four hundred slaves (400), the Bussa Rebellion was geared towards overthrowing the white planter class in an attempt to regain freedom, restructure the politics of the island, and create a better life for black and people of color.
Bussa was killed in the revolt battle, forced into submission by the Regiment who had an armory of superior weapons at their disposal. Fifty enslaved people also died in the struggle, and seventy were executed in the field.
Note: Another three hundred were taken to Bridgetown for trial – one hundred and forty-four (144) were executed, and one hundred and thirty-two (132) sent away to another island.
This slave rebellion is documented as the most significant revolt in the history of Barbados.
Bussa’s Legacy Lives On
In 1985 (169 years after the revolt) a giant bronze statue, the ‘Emancipation Statue,’ was erected on a roundabout situated on the ABC Highway in Barbados in honor of Bussa.
The statue represents a slave breaking free from chains, symbolizing the strength of emancipation and is a nod to the courageous freedom fighter, who is now a Barbadian household name.
In 1998, by an act of Parliament, Bussa was again publicly honored by being named as one of the ten official National Heroes of Barbados for his significant contribution to the island’s history and development.
This influential and historical figure in Barbadian history represents emancipation and freedom to many, and his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of Barbadians for generations to come.
Author: Brett Callaghan