Recently I had the opportunity to witness presentations by students at the Antigua State College on a series of rebellions and/or revolutions of that period during the colonial era when the enslavement of Africans was legal. Have you ever thought of what it might be like to be owned by another person to have even the way you think of yourself (slave/not human) be defined by them? Have you ever thought what it must have been like for our ancestors, those of us of African descent living in the Caribbean, to bring children into this life, to look into the future and see nothing but this life, to maybe make a kind of peace with this life in order to survive it? What about the person who can’t make peace with it, the person who feels the rattle of the invisible chains with each restless step, each crack of the whip? What would be that person’s breaking point, the point where they’d had ENOUGH!!!
The presentations I saw at the College were specific to uprisings in Berbice, Jamaica, and Haiti (an earlier presentation had also touched on the thwarted Antigua revolt of 1736). I had the opportunity to return to the classroom and share my assessment of the presentations – the good, the bad, the could’ve been betters. I’ll keep most of those comments between me and the students. But I will share that I was pretty impressed with the group that used the technology at their disposal (their iphones and ipads, lap tops and of course the projection screen) to create and broadcast a mini-documentary about their chosen revolt. They went the distance with visuals, sound effects, and sound track…not groundbreaking necessarily but not bad at all for a wholly amateur student production. What I liked though was that they chose to be creative in presenting on the revolt, enlivening it.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Well, it made me think of the ways we can breathe new life into history with a little creative reimagining. Sometimes how we reimagine that history can change fictional reality, think the alternate realities of the sci fi genre, the ‘what ifs’ of speculative fiction in general. Our history in the Caribbean (though obviously not the entire history of our personhood) begins on the plantation, a place where brutality was normalized, the impact of which we’re still unraveling. Confronting that past like confronting anything can help us make peace with it, and in time move on from it, don’t you think? So, here’s my workshop exercise. This snippet (from the Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion Volume 1 by Dr. Junius P. Rodriguez)…
…gives an explanation of what sparked the Berbice rebellion.
Using this excerpt to ground you, can you create a fictional tale of an uprising; it can be on an island, a carrier, a netherworld wherever. You’re establishing a setting, whether historical or invented, writing of the inciting incident and the hero or heroine who steps to the fore. Go forth and imagine.
If you’re up for an even bigger challenge you might want to research one of the actual revolts mentioned and write a tale that imagines how society might be different today if the outcome of the uprising had been different. Like, what if the 1736 revolt in Antigua had succeeded? What if?