News
September 7, 2010
Slaves played greatest role in Emancipation

The three speakers at the University of the West Indies (UWI) lecture on Emancipation are of the consensus that slaves played a greater role in the freeing of themselves than did the abolitionists.{{more}}

Speakers Oscar Allen, Paul Lewis and Dr Adrian Fraser were the presenters at a UWI lecture to commemorate 176 years of Emancipation as they spoke on August 31 to bring the curtains down on Emancipation month.

Allen, who discussed the Haitian slavery experience, noted that the French speaking nation fought a struggle that was not only about slavery, but a revolution that was also about the end of imperialism and a colonial world order. He said to survive this brutal experience, the Haitians relied on their religion which was voodoo, but which has been deemed as satanic by the colonialists.

Allen said that this was of consequence to the Haitian people, who then, as he described it, had an “image contamination”, where to this day, Haitians are ill spoken and many Caribbean people are embarrassed to call them neighbours.

The eloquent speaker noted that Haiti was critical to the liberation process throughout the Caribbean and that they became a model for advocacy. He explained that for too long, Haiti has been degraded instead of celebrated and this was a cultural aftershock of the Haitian revolution.

Second lecturer at the event, Paul Lewis, gave a comprehensive overview of the Brazilian experience, where he noted that while slavery in that nation had more privileges, such as slaves had the right to marry and assemble in church, the actual slave experience was no better than that experienced elsewhere.

The informative Lewis said besides the rebellion by slaves which made it difficult for the planters to make money, the emergence of the Industrial Revolution was also critical to the emancipation of slaves. Lewis pointed out that slave labour was expensive and machines were replacing manpower, hence the need for the Europeans to rid themselves of a slave system to grow crops.

He emphasized that the church was one of the pillars of colonization and slavery and that they also used religion as an effective tool to control and subdue the slaves. Lewis said contrary to popular belief, they never really played a major role in emancipation, as slaves were encouraged to serve their masters with goodwill and told that they would be rewarded in heaven.

Lewis also pointed out that the British wanted to end the slave trade and cripple the Portuguese economy when they realized that Brazil was doing well. He noted that laws and ordinances were established and overtime, the monarch who realized that the industrialization age was booming did more to end slavery in that country.

The third and final speaker for the evening, Dr Adrian Fraser, dispelled the view that slavery had ended because there was a group of morally minded European individuals.

He referred to the writings of the late Trinidadian Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams who pointed out that slavery had ended because of the severe difficulty in the sugar industry.

Dr Fraser also reinforced that slave labour was expensive and that emancipation resulted more from an economic than a moral issue.

The Head of the UWI Open Campus highlighted that many people in Britain were not interested in the abolition movement until the white missionaries who had joined the movement were brutalized.

Dr Fraser concluded that the turn in the climate was assisted by the passing of legislation to free slaves and that many of the prominent families in Britain who had themselves made money from slavery were now more sympathetic to the sufferings of the slaves.