Remembering the ‘hero’ of the Republic
FOR most of the year 1763, Berbice was embroiled in a massive struggle. More than 2500 enslaved Africans on Plantation Magdalenenberg on the Canje River in Berbice revolted against the injustice meted out to them. At the forefront of this was Cuffy, who later became Guyana’s hero of the Republic.
Examining historical records and accounts, Kofi Badu or “Cuffy” as he is better known, was a ‘house slave’ at Plantation Lilienberg, another plantation on the Canje River. Throughout my years as a history student, I recall being told that house slaves were the ones that were often more loyal to the colonial masters because of the special privileges they enjoyed from living closely with the enslaver. Cuffy, clearly, felt disinclined to be loyal to his master, or any colonial master for that matter.
On February 23, 1763, the catastrophic events began. The enslaved persons who were brought together into a ‘military unit’ of some sort by Cuffy, burnt structures and wreaked havoc on the then colony of Berbice, in an attempt to dislodge the white ruling class. This was their way of resisting and revolting against the injustice that had been meted out to non-white people throughout the Caribbean at this point.
For about a year, this group managed to dislodge the white ruling class and establish some degree of governance over themselves. A collection of circumstances and occurrences, including internecine strife, however, led to the failure of the 1763 revolt.
But, in my opinion, Cuffy’s story is not an isolated event of just an African man getting people to come together to fight against the injustice meted out to him and people like him. Rather, Cuffy’s struggle is microcosmic of the wider struggles that have characterised much of Guyana’s history- as a developing nation. Cuffy was willing to lead his people towards a common goal, aimed at enabling a more just life for them all. It was this same impetus that was reflected in the 1823 Uprising in Demerara, where about 10,000 enslaved persons tried to fight the system of injustice.
And though the circumstances are definitely different, Cuffy’s struggle was intrinsically reflected in the struggle of Cheddi Jagan and Linden Forbes Burnham as they fought for Guyana’s independence. The nation’s patriarchs recognised that the masses of people living here ought to have the autonomy to have their own decisions, in the best interests of themselves and thus, the nation came together to push for independence. Years later, now, we are celebrating the action taken to solidify our independence by becoming a Cooperative Republic.
But did you know that Cuffy also influenced revolutionary action throughout the rest of the Caribbean?
“The Berbice Revolution of 1763 struck the first blow for Guyanese independence. It was a blow that the theoreticians of human subjugation will never forget,” Eusi Kwayana (formerly known as Sidney King) wrote. However, he added that this event was also “part and parcel” of the Caribbean movement of disbanding penetration and domination.
Occurring in 1763, this revolt preceded the Haitian Revolution (influenced by the French and American revolutions which both occurred after the Berbice Revolt), and the other major revolts that took place across the various Caribbean islands. Kwayana contends that Cuffy’s revolt was the nexus between the Maroon and Bush Negro movements, and the revolution and revolts of the Caribbean. It was a watershed movement for Guyana and perhaps influenced the wider Region.
Cognisant of his role in Guyana’s history, when Guyana became a Cooperative Republic on February 23, 1970 (the same day the Berbice Revolt began!), Cuffy was declared the Hero of the Republic.
“Cuffy was the first revolutionary in our land and of our nation, and though his struggle then ended in failure, his courage, his vision and his example marked the beginning of success and stamped him as worthy of recognition as the Hero of this Republic,” Former President Burnham posited.
As we are exactly one week away from our 50th Jubilee celebrations for our anniversary as a Cooperative Republic, I believe it is important to remember this hero and all those who functioned to create the Guyana we live in today. This country is still undergoing its development, and perhaps it has a long way to go, but our history illustrates that we have been able to effect changes through collective action.