BY Stephen Nartey, 1:30pm September 26, 2022,

How the enslaved of Berbice used Sundays to gain freedom from Dutch rule

Photo Credit: Dan Lundberg (Flickr)

Rebellion was one of the means of protest employed by the enslaved to register their displeasure against the harsh working conditions and their desire to be free from the chains on the plantations. 

Although many failed, one of the successful ones recorded in the history of the transatlantic era was in the Dutch-controlled plantations in Berbice, present-day Guyana. This rebellion was successful largely to the innovative approach adopted by the agitating slaves. 

They worked out during the weekdays and launched their attacks on Sundays when slaveowners were fellowshipping at the church. Those that intended to escape did so on Sundays after burying their possessions at sites known to them. 

What fueled the desire to fight for freedom was the long working hours they were subjected to, poor treatment after taking ill and gross abuse of slaves including children, according to CBC News

Author Marjoleine Kars, who wrote a paper on the rebellion, said many years after the Berbice worked on the plantations, their footprints are still visible in the pottery and artifacts buried in the ground. She said the objective of the rebellion was to create a free slave colony that would trade with the Dutch in years to come. 

But, unmet expectations and civil unrest among the escapees collapsed this vision. Kars indicated that it’s understandable why the slaves embarked on the deadly mission they undertook. 

This is because slaves who attempted to flee the plantation were mistreated and abused. She said the enslaved retaliated when the slaveowners targeted and sexually assaulted women. The rebellion in Berbice was initiated by one enslaved leader called Cuffy.

He wanted to build a colony where the Black man would be respected by the colonial authority and initiate trade relations with them. But, the free slaves’ dream turned into a mirage when they could not meet the basic necessities of the escapees as well as provide the weaponry needed to push their campaign.  

Instead of providing the escapees with comfort, the leaders were pushing their colleagues into forced labor. This sparked dissent because the free slave colony was mirroring life on the plantation. 

When external support failed, the escapees began to dissent and rebelled against their leadership. Deliberations on establishing trade relations with the Dutch failed, further increasing the disenchantment among the free slaves and dampening the spirits of many. 

A coup was staged and Cuffy was overthrown. Unable to stand the shame, he killed himself to save his face. He dreamed of a new world order that had less support from his comrades who couldn’t persevere to the end.  

The Dutch launched an onslaught and recaptured the slaves with scores of them slaughtered. 

Kars indicated that the slaves were tortured with their arms crushed with iron bars and left to die in pain. Some had their skulls struck several times leaving them to die from head injuries. The fortunate ones died by hanging but many were either burned alive or had their skin peeled. 

Berbice, according to historians, never regained its glory under Dutch rule again.

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: September 27, 2022


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