Cuffy (variously Coffy, Kofi or Koffi) was an Akan slave who was transported to the Dutch colony of Berbice; present-day Guyana. He led a slave uprising of over 2,500 slaves on 23 February 1763 known as the Berbice Slave Rebellion.
In Guyana, the African slave population grew as plantations expanded. The main concern of the White plantation owners was to extract the greatest amount of labour from the slaves. Little effort was ever made to improve the wretched and degrading living conditions under which they were forced to live. With the harsh treatment and brutal punishments inflicted on them by their owners, some of them rebelled while others, from time to time, escaped into the forests. Those who were recaptured suffered horrible deaths as punishment, meant also as a deterrent to other slaves who might have also planned to escape. Some of those in Berbice who escaped managed to reach Suriname where they joined up with Bush Negro colonies.
In 1762, a slave rebellion of 36 male and female slaves occurred on Berbice, then a Dutch colony. But after the slaves repelled a militia force sent by the Governor, Van Hoogenheim, the rebellion was finally repressed by a stronger force of the Dutch militia. Some of the slaves escaped but at least one was executed. But the repressive techniques of the planters were bringing matters to a boiling point.
On February 23, 1763, a slave revolt broke out in the Dutch colony of Berbice in what is now called Guyana. At the time, the colony consisted of approximately 350 white colonists, 250 enslaved indigenous people, and almost 4,000 black enslaved people. Should a rebellion gain any traction, the colonial rulers would therefore find themselves in no small amount of trouble. And that’s exactly what happened.
At the Lilienburg Plantation, a house enslaved person named Cuffy (variously Coffy, Kofi or Koffi) of West African origin joined the revolt. He became the leader of the rebellion, training the rebel forces to fight as a unit against the Dutch militia.
He took the wife of the manager of Plantation Bearestyn as his wife, and soon declared himself Governor of Berbice.
Despite taking control of Berbice, Cuffy and the rebellion were ultimately undone by internal conflict. Cuffy had selected a man named Akara as his deputy, but Akara was a more aggressive leader and disapproved of Cuffy’s attempts to establish a truce and make terms with the Dutch. Akara formed a group to oppose Cuffy, and when Cuffy lost he took his own life. About a year after the start of the rebellion, troops from neighboring French and British colonies arrived to assist the Dutch and the rebellion was defeated.
Despite this defeat, Cuffy became a national hero of Guyana, and a symbol of the fight against colonial powers.
In 1976, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Guyana’s independence, a statue of Cuffy was unveiled on the Square of the Revolution in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown. The statue is officially called the 1763 Monument but is often referred to as the Cuffy Monument.
The statue, which stands at 15 feet tall and weighs two and a half tons, was designed by Guyanese sculptor Philip Moore and cast in England by the Morris Singer Foundry.
The figure of Cuffy bears many symbols: his pouting mouth is a sign of defiance; the face on his chest is a symbolic breastplate giving protection in battle; and the horned faces on his thighs represent revolutionaries from Guyanese history.
the Berbice Slave Rebellion (as it is known) was perhaps a watershed moment in the history of rejection of colonial rule in Guyana, and the Caribbean.
“The Berbice Revolution of 1763 struck the first blow for Guyanese independence. It was a blow that the theoreticians of human subjugation will never forget,” Kwayana (formerly known as Sidney King) wrote. However, he added that this event was also “part and parcel” of the wider Caribbean movement to reject the domination of the white colonialists and termination of their penetration in the Region.
Kwayana, however, bemoaned that Cuffy’s efforts have not been largely recognised in the Caribbean.
Despite that, the Berbice Slave Rebellion and Cuffy have both become embedded in the bedrock of the Guyanese society. On February 23, 1970, independent Guyana was officially declared a Cooperative Republic. By no coincidence, this was on the 207th anniversary of the Berbice Slave Rebellion. And more importantly, Cuffy was then honoured as ‘The Hero of the Republic.’