While watching Django Unchained, I embarked on a journey to capture these glorious and often untold stories of heroes and freedom fighters in a song called, Django Untold.  This celebratory song highlights their tremendous legacy and significance as their actions played a major part for the movement of emancipation. The song is my gift to honour their lives and preserve their legacy.

Remember when Django Unchained came out? All that furore surrounding Tarantino from the overuse of the n-word in the film to whether or not a spaghetti western was the right vehicle to talk about the horrors of slavery! I can’t lie – I’m a big Tarantino fan and I love Westerns too.  I remember watching it and feeling good when the Jamie Foxx character took his deadly vengeance on his former captors and then rode off into the proverbial sunset. Amidst all that carnage, I left leaving the cinema reflecting on the Real Life Djangoes. The men and women that took arms for real against their oppressive slave masters.

I started off by researching rebellions and revolts and found there were numerous incidents where this occurred in the Americas, Caribbean and Africa.  My aim was to document this in song form through rap.

We begin with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. This amazing woman guided over 300 slaves to freedom. Taking them over the Mason-Dixon Line to the free states of the North.

Nat Turner, who has been recently documented in the film, Birth of a Nation, was another who overthrew the shackles of slavery.  He took his freedom by force!  Whether it was as a result of a vision of him leading his people out of bondage or the impending sale of his wife, either way, his rebellion had a powerful impact on the society of The South.

Moving further south, to Brazil, you have the Quilombos, a settlement of runaway slaves who formed their own community and were free for almost a 100 years.  Some of the well-known leaders were Zumbi and Ganga Zumba.

Staying in South America, you had the Guyanese Jack Gladstone who, in 1823, incited a rebellion, known as the Demerara Revolt, of over 10,000 slaves.  This rebellion was brutally crushed, but some say because of the large scale revolt it entered the debate for the abolition of slavery as it pierced the consciousness of the British parliament.

The next place we are going to was said to have inspired Jack Gladstone – Barbados. Known as Bussa’s Rebellion after the protagonist himself.  It took place in 1816 with Bussa commanding over 400 freedom fighters.  It was planned so thoroughly that it caught the British off-guard and, therefore, the rebels were able to burn a quarter of the sugar crop and cause intensive damage to property.

Now on to that small but great island of Jamaica and where else but can I start with but Nanny and the Maroons. The Maroons were so fearsome that the British colonial power were forced to negotiate a treaty with them and give them not only their freedom but land too. Other rebellions in Jamaica were Tacky’s War and The Baptist Rebellion.  Tacky was a paramount chief from Ghana and led his uprising in 1760 for two months.  One of the leaders of The Baptist Rebellion was Sam Sharpe, a preacher who believed slavery was wrong.  His demand for a general strike led to the biggest slave revolt of Jamaica with over 50,000 people.

On to Cuba which was known to have frequent slave rebellions.  Between 1812 and 1844 official records documented no less than twenty slave rebellions.  Carlota, a female freedom fighter, was one of the leaders of such a rebellion; the Triumvirato rebellion which lasted for a year.

Then the mother of all rebellions, the revolution of Saint Dominique in Haiti.  Led by the “black Napoleon”, Toussaint L’Overture, this rebellion started in 1781 and culminated in the revolution and independence of Haiti in 1803.  Toussaint L’Overture and subsequent leader, Jacques Dessilines’ feats were more impressive as they defeated the dominant power in the world at that time, France.

Queen Nzinga, ruler of the Ndongo and Matamba people (now present –day Angola) also defeated a European power and through her lifetime ensured her people were free from enslavement. Not just through military tactics, but diplomacy, strategic alliances as well as agitating political tensions for the benefit of her people’s freedom.

So there it is, some real life Djangoes and there are numerous more (only so much I can fit in a four-minute song!) so please do comment on the ones that I did leave out.

Article by Segge Dan


Download Segg Dan’s tribute Django Untold here.

References:

[1] slate.com

[2] Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History

[3] Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841–1844 by Aisha K. Finch.

[4] Harriet Tubman Historical Society, n.d. Moses Underground Railroad.

[5] thefemalesoldier.com

[6] blackpast.org

[7] naturnerproject.com

[8] nationalarchives.gov.uk

[9] wikipedia.org – Baptist War

[10] wikipedia.org – Palmares

[11] wikipedia.org – Tacky’s War

[12] folklife.si.edu