The legend of Bussa’s Rebellion (April 14-16, 1816) is a key element of Barbadian history and culture. Particularly for the formerly enslaved Africans of that island, Bussa has taken on the shape of folk hero and/or saint for his efforts in rebelling against oppression and tyranny of the Barbadian planters. Moreover, Barbados has a rich history of rebellion, which has fed in to the culture and ethos on the small island for over two centuries. This essay will discuss the events of Bussa’s revolt and how it has reverberated throughout history. Further, this essay will briefly exam how Bussa’s rebellion helped to usher in the emancipation of enslaved Africans of Barbados. Of critical important for this discussion is the process of hero making that takes place in the Black community, a religious experience that requires the deification of mortal beings. Simply put, this essay will inquire on how does one become a folk hero in the black community, the sacredness of this position and the ethics that such heroes must exhibit.
There is not much biographical information on Bussa, but what is known provides important clues as to how and why he organized this revolt. First, Bussa was born in Igboland of Nigeria. At an unknown age, he was captured by African merchants and sold to English traders who transported him to Barbados. Second, it is likely he was an older man with a significant amount of influence on the planation as a driver. Evidence to this point rests in the fact that the slave trade for Barbados ended in 1807; if he was African-born he had to have arrived sometime before then. Further, for him to be African, master the language, and gain respect as well as influence 1) among the enslaved who followed him into battle and 2) among the enslavers to trusted him as a driver, he had to have been in Barbados for a significant amount to time. Further, according to Hilary M. Beckles author of “The Slave-Driver’s War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion”, Bussa commanded respect and had a following of close to four-hundred men and women, ready to face the planter class head-on.
Among the enslaved of Barbados there were a number of issues that contributed to the rise in animosity towards the planter class. Beyond the notion that institution of slavery was already problematic, there were issues with keeping the enslaved “employed”. That is to say, with Barbados already being a small island, there were not enough plantations (farming space) to keep the involuntary African migrants fed and occupied. This allowed space for dissention among the working class as well as opportunity to plan and organize an uprising. However, this too would prove to be problematic for the enslaved population. To elaborate, because of the topographical dynamics of Barbados, any insurrection that was to be would be hard fought and arduous for Africans. Insurrections, like Turner’s or the German Coast uprising had the advantage of the environment – swamps, wooded areas, forests – which would allow for a guerilla-esque engagement. Barbados does not have such guerilla-friendly environment.
Barbados itself has an interesting history regarding African uprisings. Meaning, up until Bussa’s rebellion in 1814 there were no large-scale rebellions on the island, only minor skirmishes and riots. There were a number of small uprisings and strikes which took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, however, none were particularly impactful. Beckles elaborates: “There had been aborted insurrectionary attempts in the earlier years, such as the small scale and localized affairs of 1649 and 1701, and the more general conspiracies of 1675 and 1692, but throughout most of the eighteenth century, a period now seen by many historians of West Indian slave resistance as characterized by endemic conflict in master-slave relations, the society seemed internally more stable and the slaves subdued.” This only meant that the pressure-cooker-situation that had been simmering up to that point was about to blow.
The planter class, not having experienced many large rebellions historically, felt that they had successfully kept their enslaved population in check. This was a point of pride for the planter class; their biggest worry was random runaways or small-scale strikes, but nothing that would threaten their power on the island. Beckles elaborates: “Evidence produced by prominent members of the white community suggests that the uprising was sudden and unexpected. Whites generally believed that their slaves, not having attempted any insurrections since the minor aborted Bridgetown affair in 1701, were more prone to running away, withholding their labour in protest, petitioning estate owners, attorneys and managers concerning conditions of work and leisure, than to armed insurrection.” The planters seemed to be almost haughty in their posture towards the working class, confident that there would not be an uprising, and if there was they (the planters) would be able to quell the unrest with relative ease.
From the perspective of the working class, the enslaved of Barbados believed themselves to be the owners of the island and its destiny, despite being under the yoke of the British empire. As well, because of the planters’ inability to accurately gauge the sentiment among their enslaved, there was a high level of dissention that had been brewing in the slave quarters for years. Much of this dissention was based on the overall feeling among the enslaved, that emancipation was being held from them by the imperial colonizers. There were rumors that widely circulated the slave quarters that freedom had already been granted by the crown in England, but the enslavers of Barbados were withholding this information in order to satisfy their greed. The power of these rumors as well as the general yearning for freedom, set in motion the chain of events that would result in the drafting of the emancipation proclamation for the Caribbean.
During the uprising, Bussa and many of his constituents (army) were killed and the rebellion was quelled with relative ease, however, the legacy of Bussa and his efforts continue to live on. Among the Africans who still occupy the island, Bussa is a name that brings strength and his legacy continues to inspire the push for freedom on the island. The government of Barbados has also recognized the importance of Bussa’s legacy and have erected a statue in his honor in the parish of St. Michael. In addition, Bussa was given a place of prominence in the Hall of Heroes in the Barbadian Parliament. However, despite the legacy of Bussa, Barbados remains, like many nations that began under the yoke of enslavement, a place of poverty and struggle.
The religion of folk heroes of not a widely studied phenomenon among the African diaspora, nevertheless it is a critical issues that deserves in depth analysis. In the US there are folk heroes with continue to resonate, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Marcus Mosiah Garvey, just to name a few. Haiti has their heroes of the Rebellion, Jamaica has Haile Salassie and Bob Marley and Barbados has Bussa. In each case ordinary human beings with extraordinary stories are placed on pedestals as examples of strong moral conduct, ideological fortitude and uncompromising ethics. As such, these ancestors become deities, whose examples continue to guide those of us still struggle against white supremacy.
 Emily Allen Williams. The Critical Response to Kamau Brathwaite. (Praeger Publishers, 2004), 235. K. Watson, The Civilized Island, Barbados: A Social History, 1750-1816 (Barbados: Caribbean Graphics, 1979), 125-135. R. Schomburg, The History of Barbados (London, 1971), 393-400. M. Craton, 'The Passion to Exist: Slave Rebellion in the British West Indies, 1650-1832' Journal of Caribbean History vol. 13. (1980), 1.
 Hilary M. Beckles " The Slave-Driver’s War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion." Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 39 (1985), 90. The record suggests that Bussa was likely African-born and his name may have actually been Bussoe.
 Ibid., 90. Beckles argues that he was likely a driver.
 Ibid., 90.
 Ibid., 90. It was suggested that he may have had military experience as a young man in Igboland.
 Ibid., 90-91.
 Hilary M. Beckles " The Slave-Driver’s War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion." Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 39 (1985), 86. ““Barbados was the very worst field for such an experiment, since in no British colony was success in an attempt to obtain even a short lived freedom by insurrection so hopeless… there are no mountains, no fastnesses, no forest. European foot, and even horse, can traverse it in all directions.”
 Throughout history one of the most potent threats to a large standing army is small groups of guerilla fighters. However, for those small groups to be successful they must take advantage of the environment – trees, bushes, rivers, swamps, hills and so forth. Therefore, any insurrectionists would not be able to rely on the environment, thus nullifying a critical ally for any oppressed people.
 Hilary M. Beckles " The Slave-Driver’s War: Bussa and the 1816 Barbados Slave Rebellion." Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 39 (1985), 85.
 Ibid., 85.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 86.