Column: Slavery, Heritage & 400 Years Of History

February 10, 2016

[Opinion column written by Chris Famous]

“Old Pirates yes they rob I” - Bob Marley

If one were to ask any given Bermudian of African descent which part of Africa their ancestors originated from they would most likely not be able to give an answer.

If one were to ask any given Bermudian of African descent what was the original African name of their ancestors they would not be able to give an answer.

This is the sad stark reality that those of us of African descent face.

“The first record of slavery in Bermuda occurred under Daniel Tucker’s administration when the governor sent a ship in 1616 to the West Indies to find “An Indian and a Negar” to dive for peals in Bermuda making the island the first English Colony to import blacks” Over the ensuing years more blacks would come to the island in greater numbers, brought on ships from America and the Caribbean” - Bermuda Five Centuries by Rosemary Jones

The majority of Blacks imported to Bermuda as enslaved persons came via the West Indies and some directly from Africa. Ironically, this puts paid to the stupid notion that Black Bermudians were somehow magically not biologically related to Black West Indians.

Bermuda west indies mapp Bermuda Feb 6 2016

Sir Robert Rich [Earl of Warwick] was one of the first slave owners who had slaves farming his 600 acres of land. During the early 1600s several laws were put in place in an attempt to control the black population:-

  • “Insolencies of Negroes” which prevented Blacks from freely travelling around the island without permission from their master.
  • Bans on blacks buying and selling the very same tobacco that they shed blood sweat and tears for.
  • Banning of Blacks from the island [stop list] if they were deemed mutinous. Sound familiar?

slaves tabacco Bermuda Feb 6 2016

Get up stand up, stand up for your rights

In 1656 some blacks conspired to take over the island from the English, but somehow were found out. In their infinite “British politeness” the English promptly hung two of those who were seeking their freedom as a lesson to any other slaves looking to be free.

Again in 1661, blacks and enslaved Irish plotted together to do in the Brits who enslaved them. Unfortunately once again they were thwarted by their masters finding out their plot. However this did not deter blacks to continue to look for ways to break out of this hellish night mare of being a slave to the English colonialist.

Time and time again the English slaves owners, some of whom  who went by the surnames; of Tucker, Trimingham, Conyers, Outerbridge and Frith  repaid these acts of rebellion by  putting laws in place to strip them of human rights along with;  branding, rape and outright executions .

Gibbets Island in Flatts has been drenched in the blood of executed Africans.

With this form of cruel barbaric set of laws and punishments, it is no surprise that many Bermudians of African descent cannot trace their heritage, the most that many can trace is which slave masters owned their forefathers.

Gombey Festival Bermuda, September 12 2015-95

Apart from our skin tone and hair textures we have lost many concepts of our connections to Africa. Most traces of our African cultural heritage have been erased centuries ago, with the Gombeys as perhaps our sole remnant.

For many, it seems ironic that whenever Blacks mention years of slavery and the injustices of colonialism, they are told that they should not bring it up as that is old history. Is the narrative now that we should celebrate being brought here as enslaved persons 400 years ago?

- Chris Famous can be contacted via email at or Twitter at @ryderz777


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Comments (11)

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  1. inna says:

    Is this only half of the op-ed??

    Everyone one of your pieces starts off with a song, a few words and phrases to arouse one race or the other or blame someone else for the worlds problems, and finally, abruptly, finish off the story with a question.

    I understand the idea of freedom of speech, but jeesums! Provide something constructive rather than just tid-bits of information that makes you feel good about yourself i guess.

  2. hmmm says:

    You also know that there are quite a few that came from Africa to work here. I’ve met Ethiopians, Kenyans and people from Ghana. there are also many people who came from the Carribean as free peoples too.

    You need to paint the whole picture.

    We are a wonderfully diverse country.

  3. San George says:

    Whine, Whine, Whine. Get your own economic power. Poured a little water on my soul – alright now.

    Quo Fata Ferunt

  4. Vulcan Trash Cleaner says:

    as usual,this guy twists the truth,never a mention of who really started slavery.
    Like many of many different skin shades,we are tired of hearing someone play the race card,it’s a loser’s card to play because not as many as you think as interested anymore…look around and open your eyes to how diverse people are now…people of many shades living with each other as partners whether married or not…and openly too.
    Nobody really cares anymore because they want to move forward…it’s time you did too or become a dinosaur!

  5. Rhonnda aka Blue Familiar says:

    Mr Famous,

    You ask “Is the narrative now that we should celebrate being brought here as enslaved persons 400 years ago?”

    I am certain there are people who would say ‘Yes. Celebrate it, look at the wonderful place you’re in now because of the course of history.’

    I am also certain there are people who would say ‘Celebrate it? No. Let’s just forget about it. It’s no longer relevant.’

    What I think is that we have to remember it. We have to teach the history to our children so they know the full truth of Bermuda’s story. That which we should celebrate as well as that which we must acknowledge regardless of how ugly it is. Both have lessons for us all.

    What I also think is that you’re as aware as I am that not every black person who came to Bermuda was a slave. The same as not every white person was a slave owner.

    Our origins are diverse.

  6. it says:

    “If one were to ask any given Bermudian of African descent what was the original African name of their ancestors they would not be able to give an answer.”

    As with a lot of slaves in the old Roman empire, their descendants might not ever know their original name because there is a good chance their ancestors did not *have* an original name in the sense you and I refer to our surnames.

    Surnames are a relatively recent phenomenon in much of west Africa (where most black Bermudians trace their genetic lineage), particularly in societies that were pre-literate, and, for that matter, Britain.

  7. N/A says:

    @Vulcan Trash Cleaner must be white, because only white people say things like, “Nobody really cares anymore because they want to move forward”. You and whites like you don’t care! Please don’t speak for me. That’s what your ancestors did, reason being why blacks are in the state we are in today. You complain about someone playing the race card without admitting who dealt the card in the first place! Who created racism and used it to their benefit?? Cause it certainly wasn’t blacks. It baffles me why people tell us slavery is no excuse for black people’s current state, as if slavery isn’t why white people are in their current state. The reason racism still exists is people want to sweep it under the carpet and act like it’s a thing of the past, without discussing it out front and finding ways for justice.

    • African Wisdom says:

      N/A, racism is the only thing that Edomites (white/pink/albino/non-melanated alien beings/people) invented and they never want to receive credit for. Indeed, Black world is in a sorrowful state because of them. I wish our people would cease observing their religions and holidays. I wish our people would become unified and economically fortified and cease supporting them. They readily attempt to draw our attention to diversity (yes, many colours but inequality reigns supreme), and yet so-called integration was actually an illusion of inclusion. It remains so today. My call is for 100+% separation.

  8. steve says:

    Why do you continuously quote Bob Marley(I love his music)? Is it because those who follow you do not read?

  9. JUNK YARD DOG says:

    Over the past 50 years the Gombey’s drum beat and dance step appears to have changed ?

  10. David says:

    Throughout history whenever civilizations have collided the resulting direct damage is usually obvious but the collateral damage has sometimes been difficult to codify and slow to fully resolve. 400 years later we are seeing fully the effect that total subjugation and repression can have on any group of humans it has been visited on. Only a fool would think that the historically repressed could simply shake off the damage and just get on with it – on mass.
    It’s really death by a thousand small cuts to some in modern Bermuda – some so small it might be easy to dismiss them as simply a scratch. I watched a special by TV comedienne Chelsea Handler the other night (I know she’s outrageous huh?)in which she looked at racism in America and her own lack of understanding about it. In speaking to Rev Al Sharpton in one segment he recounted traveling to his ancestral home town in South Carolina and seeing his surname plastered all over town on street names and landmarks. He then realized that now whenever he signs his name it is not his and in fact belongs to his great+great grandfathers owner. Powerful stuff and it resonated deeply in me like shining a powerful light on something dimly lit does.
    I’ve known Chris for more than 20 years and know him to be be a very articulate and thoughtful individual capable of conversing (and disagreeing!) on practically any subject. I’ve met his children before and he had the pleasure(I hope!)of meeting my son at a gathering during the holidays. I know without question that Chris knows that he and I are equal beings in every sense of the word – My hope is that one day everyone who looks like me and everyone who looks like him know the same and act accordingly.
    Nice piece Chris.

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