Column: The Beginnings Of Cup Match In 1835

July 28, 2015

[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

Cup Match’s history gives insights into old Bermuda while showing much about modern Bermuda.

Originally, Cup Match involved only black Bermudians. It started in August 1835 with recently freed black Bermudian slaves taking an unofficial day off work to celebrate their August 1st 1834 Emancipation.

Taking that annual unofficial day off continued. What began as family gathering time quickly combined with a slap-up cricket game. The improvised cricket game grew into a formal game arranged between black Friendly Societies, and the one day expanded into two.

In 1901, the Friendly Societies put up funds for a silver Cup Match trophy. From 1902, two black cricket clubs, the Somerset and St George’s clubs became the organizers for the cricket game that was now played over the two day period with the winning club holding the Cup for the year. That’s how 1902 became the ‘year that Cup Match started.’

Even in 1902, sixty-seven years after Emancipation, those two days off work were unsanctioned. This unofficial annual two day ‘strike’ by thousands of black Bermudian workers was an irritation to white business bosses and an affront to Bermuda’s powerful white political establishment.

It stayed like that until 1947. A 112 year stand-off between black Bermudians and Bermuda’s white political and business establishment.

In 1947, after 112 years, Bermuda’s white political establishment finally surrendered. They decided to recognize and formalize the now 112 year old unofficial strike as well as recognize and accept the origins of black Bermuda’s unofficial holiday.

Bermuda’s political establishment enacted legislation that recognized the Cup Match holiday by naming it and making it an official public holiday. They caused it to appear, for the first time ever, as one of the two now legally sanctioned days off work.

Their action gave the black ‘Cup Match’ holiday the same national value as New Year’s Day, Good Friday, His Majesty’s Birthday, Remembrance Day, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and what was then called “Empire Day” – 24th May.

So in 1947, for the first time, Bermuda’s political establishment publicly recognized black Bermudian history and the existence, in Bermuda, of a significant black Bermudian population.

However, Bermuda’s political establishment added a twist. Their 1947 legislation decreed that the first day of the two day holiday would be known as Cup Match Day. The second day would be known as Somer’s Day, commemorating the 28th July 1609 hurricane caused sinking of the Sea Venture, bringing with it Sir George Somers and Bermuda’s first permanent but accidental settlers.

There was a twist within the twist. The first day would tend to be the day furthest away from Emancipation Day. The second day of the holiday, would be the day furthest away from Somer’s Day.

Did that make sense? No. But neither does racial discrimination and segregation.

Today’s ‘Cup Match’ grew out of a purely personal and individual human response. Since 1902, in black Bermuda, it has just and always been ‘Cup Match’.

The 68 year-old interposition of Somer’s Day has not taken hold – except in official Notices – which very few people read. However, all the rest of us 50,000 [or so] Bermudians who are here on the Island along with the 18,000 [or so] Bermudians diaspora-ed all over this globe – but maybe not in Syria – only know that two day period as “Cup Match”.

However, the odour from the carcass of that old pre-1947 era lingers on in our laws. After a 1999 PLP amendment, the true origin of the holiday was finally recognized and the first day was legally re-named as: “…. Emancipation Day.”

The PLP’s 1999 amendment finally closed one chapter in our history by decreeing that: “… [the] two days shall together be known as “Cup Match”. It had taken 107 years for Cup Match to become Cup Match.

Cup Match started as one thing. Through four generations of strong opposition, it evolved into another thing. Initially an all-black affair, from the 1980’s, it evolved into an all-Bermuda affair with many white Bermudians attending and setting up traditional family camps.

When I see the camps and the mixing of our range of beautiful Bermuda skin colours, I see all our people remembering a moment when others realized that a socio-economic model was no longer workable and there was a great awakening of common sense. I also see a celebration of human decency.

Like my ancestors of 1835, I’ll park politics and economics. I’ll just chill and celebrate that 181 years ago Emancipation Day when a great and still ongoing awakening began.

Enjoy Cup Match … And may St George’s – my ancestral team – win!

- Larry Burchall

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Comments (9)

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  1. I along with countless others want to thank you Mr. Larry Burchall for that bit of relevant history…Now I do have a somewhat personal question to ask of you, (or anyone else) My wife asked me and I didn’t know how to answer, so maybe you can help. She’d wanted to know, “how did camping, during this special period come about?”

    • Larry Burchall says:

      Why and when did camping begin?

      Very early on.

      In 1835 and for many years thereafter, just freed ex-slaves would have had to walk everywhere. So a family gathering would entail family members starting off at dawn and walking one, two, or three hours (4, 8, 12 miles) to assemble.

      Then they’d party.

      After a ‘nice’ party. who was going to walk back home, that evening?
      Black Bermudian ex-slaves and freemen didn’t have much in the way of horse or donkey carts until much later in the century. Even then, there would be no rush to rush back home the ‘day after’.

      There are, of course, no carefully kept records of those first decades of all-black celebrations. But since human nature has not changed all that much, it’s reasonable to assume that overnighting became the norm and simply expanded when the cricket game kicked.

      It goes on from there and today’s ‘family camping’ is the logical and actual outcome.

      The ‘family camp’ was also the place where one would go to meet others. That’s the big feature today. Today, each family ‘hosts’ everybody else at their Cup Match ‘camp’.

      By the way – I suspect that even that first day in 1835 might have been more of a two-day-er. However, I must confess that I cannot find the records to support that.

      Hope that helps….

      Larry.

      • I thank you Mr. Larry Burchall for the, “eye-opener” in reference to the history / “his-story” lessons…
        Hoping you, (and yours) have an extremely happy time this Cup Match.

    • Really, Really Bettty says:

      The Premier of Bermuda missed the mark in his presentation last night. This article reflects what should have been spoken. History of the day is most important……..Burchall…..

    • Originally, Cup Match involved only Black Bermudians, This unofficial annual two day strike by thousands of Black Bermudian workers was an irritation to white business bosses and business establishment.
      After 180 years later, these statements are the same we hear and see today.
      The only difference is it seems that Black Bermudians had more b@lls back then.

  2. San George says:

    Good job Mr. Burchall!

    Bernews should publish this every year!

    Real heroes put themselves in the place of their fellow men – like the young man in Charleston N.C. who stood in front of his grandma so that she would not be shot.

    We will make you a hero on this one, but let’s make sure our future heroes are real heroes.

  3. Accurate says:

    Nice.

  4. Rhonnie aka BlueFamiliar says:

    It’s interesting to read the description of the events that brought us to this holiday as it is now.

    I’ve never really worried about the naming of the days, it was simply ‘Cup Match’ and it began as a celebration of the emancipation of the slaves.

    I always thought that the fact that it had grown to be the Island’s most important and all inclusive holiday a wonderful example of who we, as Bermudians, are.

  5. Future says:

    Larry, you craft another good reminder to all and we thank you.

    One correction:

    “…recently freed black Bermudian slaves…”

    Before enslavement, we were not slaves. After enslavement, we were not slaves. How then can this 2.5 second period in our history define us….forever? A “freed slave” is an eternal contradiction, an unintended yet thumping assault on true identity through permanent chaining to temporary conditions.