IMG_20160414_124327_20160414_124632Bussa /ˈbʌsə/ (died 1816) was an African-born Barbadian slave who in 1816 led a slave uprising in Barbados popularly known as Bussa’s Rebellion. Bussa was born a free man in Africa, possibly Igbo, and was captured by African slave merchants, sold to the British, and brought to Barbados in the late 18th century as a slave. Not much is known about him and there are no records of him prior to this date. Since slave owners almost never bothered to keep detailed records about the lives of their slaves (who were considered property), virtually no biographical information about Bussa is available. Records show a slave named “Bussa” worked as a ranger on ‘Bayley’s Plantation’ in the parish of St. Philip around the time of the rebellion. This privileged position would have given Bussa much more freedom of movement than the average slave and would have made it easier for him to plan and coordinate the rebellion.

The rebellion he led is often referred to as the “Bussa Rebellion” which began on Sunday, 14 April 1816. Bussa’s Rebellion was the first of three large-scale slave rebellions in the British West Indies that shook public faith in slavery in the years leading up to emancipation. Bussa’s Rebellion was followed by a large-scale rebellion in Demerara in Guyana in 1823 and then by an even bigger rebellion in Jamaica in 1831-32. Collectively these are often referred to as “late slave rebellions”. Late slave rebellions in the British West Indies were distinct from early slave rebellions in their scale, goals and composition. Early slave rebels had generally been people born in Africa who organized themselves along ethnic or geographical lines. Late slave rebellions, on the other hand, tended to be dominated by creoles (people born in the colonies) and by acculturated Africans. So even though Bussa was apparently born in Africa the majority of his followers and other rebel leaders may have been Creole.

To some extent Bussa’s Rebellion seems to have inspired the later rebellions, especially the Guyanese insurrection. “Bussa’s Rebellion” was planned by such collaborators as Washington Franklin and Nanny Grigg, a senior domestic slave on Simmons’ estate, as well as other slaves, drivers and artisans. The planning was undertaken at a number of sugar estates, including Bayley’s plantation where it began. Preparation for the rebellion began soon after the House of Assembly discussed and rejected the Imperial Registry Bill in November 1815. By February 1816, the decision had been taken that the revolt should take place in April, at Easter. Bussa led the slaves into battle at Bayley’s on Tuesday, 16 April. He commanded some 400 freedom fighters and was killed in battle. His troops continued the fight until they were defeated by superior firepower. The rebellion failed but its impact was significant to the future of Barbados.

Legacy

Bussa remains a popular and resonant figure in Barbadian history. In 1985, 169 years after his rebellion, the Bussa Emancipation Statue was unveiled in Haggatt Hall, in the parish of St. Michael. By an act of Parliament in 1998, Bussa was named as one of the ten National Heroes of Barbados.

 

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