Striking performances at staging of `Berbician Thunder’ By Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
November 3, 2002

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EXCEPTIONALLY poor attendance did not deter some 28 budding young actors and actresses from the Ancient County of Berbice from putting their best foot forward as 'Berbician Thunder', described by its author as "a stormy dramatic musical commemorating the first major slave uprising in the Caribbean," namely the 'Berbice Slave Rebellion', took to the stage at the National Cultural Centre last Saturday evening.

Among the more striking of the night's performances came from 15-year-old Jarrel Allen, who played Atta; Leroy Wilson, one year Allen's senior who played Cuffy, the leader of the rebellion; 14-year-old Kesha Aaron who played the much-disliked Planter Barkey; and Nakesia Logan, also 14, who played the pipe-smoking Planter George.

Written some 18 months ago by British playwright and educator, Ms Jane Joseph, and dramatised by students of the Sapodilla Learning Centre located at Bel Air, on the West Coast Berbice, all of whom are participants of the President Youth Award Scheme (PYAS), the play is set around 1763 when the historic event took place.

In the opening scene, peals of thunder and the accompanying crack of lightning set the stage for a chance discovery by a slave named Cossala, of a number of rebel slaves from a neighbouring plantation skulking in the bushes.

The story then moves to Plantation Lelienburg, some 80 miles up the Berbice River, where another revolt is in the making, primarily because of the harsh treatment meted out to the slaves there by the estate's manager, Barkey.

In this scene, the audience is allowed to experience first-hand Barkey's inhumanity when he orders the driver of a gang of slaves working in the fields to administer 40 lashes to one of his charges for having the temerity to fall to his knees from exhaustion.

In another, news of the Canje uprising and the havoc the 'raging sickness' was wreaking among the Whites preoccupies a group of planters and their wives attending a slave auction.

Next came the meeting of a group of four slaves in the bushes around Plantation Hollandia to plan a revolt there, followed by the scene in which the pipe-smoking Planter George of Plantation Bearestyn flees his homestead in fear of a revolt breaking out there too.

One of the White settlers allowed to go free during the storming of Plantation Peerboom being received and comforted by fellow settlers on her arrival at Fort Nassau. In her hand is one of the many letters Cuffy sent van Hoogenheim
Back at Plantation Lillienburg, the planned revolt is in motion, under the leadership of Cuffy, a former house slave turned cooper.

From there, the story steadily progresses to the siege of Plantation Peerboom, led this time by Cossala; the subsequent defeat and surrender of the group of planters holed out there; the rebels agreeing to allow their captives to go free then going back on their word and killing all but a few in a hail of gunfire; right down to the capture of Fort Nassau.

Following a series of correspondence between Cuffy, who had by then declared himself 'Governor of Berbice', and the rightful Governor of Berbice, Wolfert Simon van Hoogenheim, with regards to a truce of sorts, matters finally come to a head between Cuffy and his deputy, Akkara, primarily over what tactics they should deploy in dealing with the Whites.

Sensing discord and betrayal, Cuffy takes his own life. "Better I die at the hands of my own people," he was heard to say, just before he plunged the dagger into his abdomen.

From then on, it was just a matter of time before Akkara was killed during an internal conflict among the slaves at Plantation Essendam, and Atta, who assumed the governorship of Berbice upon Cuffy's death, and Fortuijn, the self-proclaimed 'Governor of Canje', are ambushed and taken captive.

The play ends with the execution of Atta and other lead rebels.

Among those present at its staging were Culture Minister, Ms Gail Teixeira and other officials from her Ministry.