A Heather Cole Article – Canepiece to Cask: Stories from Nicholas Abbey Must be Stopped!
Open Letter to:
The Director, Tourism Product Authority
The Director, National Cultural Foundation
The Chief Labour Officer
RE: Cane Piece to Cask: Stories from Nicholas Abbey
It is February and it is Black History month. It is the month when black people celebrate the little that we know of Africa, the persons who have paved the way for the rights that we enjoy today and the dignity of our people.
I was therefore horrified when I read an article which was carried in both local newspapers on the 8th of February, 2018. In Barbados Today the title was “From Canepiece to Cask” while in the Nation Newspaper the title was ‘Hard Life on Plantation.’ Both articles were with regards to a production of the Barbados Tourism Product Authority in association with the National Cultural Foundation. The production was entitled “Cane Piece to Cask: Stories from Nicholas Abbey.” In the production, several individuals are cast as slaves.
Quoting Barbados Today, the Director of the skit Allison Sealy Smith said the purpose of the re-enactment was “to tell the story of plantation life through the slave’s perspective.” It may have been cute because I was not there to see it but based on the debauchery recorded in the history books; this was nothing more than a distortion of the truth.
In 2016 one Elizabeth Dolson in Brazil had the same brilliant idea of using persons employed as slaves on a plantation in Brazil and it was a tourist attraction.
Just imagine that Barbados is re-opening the gates of hell to descend on us just as it did to our ancestors. Slavery was not pretty. That skit can never repaint it in another colour. It was cruelty to blacks beyond measure and stripped them of their dignity. The slaves were abused, tortured, ravished and worked to death from morning till night on the sugar plantations and lived under conditions not fit for human habitation.
How can we find the sorrowful plight of our ancestors entertaining? Something has to be fundamentally and psychologically wrong if we are going to parade our people under the word “slave” to get a tourist dollar. It is dehumanizing. The entire idea of this is so offensive. It is an affront to every black Barbadian. It was a painful part of our history and no one should be so insensitive as to try to bring it back to life. Some may wish to glory in that former heyday but it no longer has a place in modern Barbados as we are all equal under the law. There are no masters and no slaves.
What is bothersome about this skit is that apart from distorting history it is normalizing slavery and is repackaging it as culture. It is nothing more than labour exploitation disguised. If it is not halted now, it will take root and we may very well find ourselves in a situation similar to Brazil where persons are hired to act as slaves for their employment at a local plantation to the whims and fantasies of the tourist. Slavery was abolished by the Emancipation Act of 1834. It is therefore illegal for anyone to work as a slave; skit or otherwise in Barbados. Does the Chief Labour Officer know that persons were hired to play the roles as slaves?
I am therefore seeking to have the production halted and never again be enacted in Barbados. It is disturbing on so many levels.