Freemen

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Freemen
Frimantsu
African American Family (MSA) (5788379697).jpg
A portrait of a Freemen family in Port Fitzhubert, c. 1890s
Total population
~70,000
Regions with significant populations
 Rwizikuru42,195
 Estmere19,912
 Nuvania5,897
Languages
Estmerish, Estuary Creole, Rwizi
Religion
Sotirianity
Related ethnic groups
Bahio-Imaguans

Freemen (Estuary Creole: Frimantsu) are an ethnic group descended from freed Bahio-Asterian slaves in Estmere's colonies who repatriated to what was then Riziland from the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century with the assistance of the Saint Geoffrey's Company, which sought to relocate freed slaves from the reacquired Estmerish colonies in the aftermath of the War of Asterian Independence to help them escape discrimination by the Eucleo-Asterian population.

The Freemen would develop a distinct identity separate from their Bahio-Asterian cousins residing in the Asterias as a consequence of their geographical separation. However, as they were descendants of freed slaves and those liberated from the illegal slave trade, as opposed to being descended from native Bahians, the Freemen have been treated largely as outsiders, although the Freemen played a role in the early development of Pan-Bahianism. However, their westernised mores were an asset to Estmerish officials, which led to Freemen playing a major role in the evangelisation of the Rwizikurans, and to being the dominant educators in schools during the colonial era.

While traditionally residing in Rwizikuru, since independence, a number of Freemen have emigrated from Rwizikuru due to political and economic reasons, as the status of the Freemen declined, particularly during the Republican era and the reign of Izibongo Ngonidzashe from 1964 to 1979. While their status has improved under the reign of Kupakwashe Ngonidzashe and his successor, Munashe Ngonidzashe, Freemen have remained a small community, only comprising 0.1% of the Rwizikuran population as of the 2011 census.

Etymology

The term Freemen refers to the fact that they were freed from slavery by the Estmerish colonizers in 1771, after the conclusion of the War of Asterian Independence, which saw Estmere retake colonies in the Arucian Sea, including Imagua and the Assimas.

History

Repatriation

Following the conclusion of the Asterian War of Independence in 1771, and the seizure of the Colony of Imagua and many of Estmere's colonies in the Arucian Sea from the Gaullicans, slavery was initially maintained on Imagua, although the slave trade was now made illegal pursuant to Estmere's abolition of the slave trade in 1741.

In 1773, Joseph Fitzsimons proposed that "all blacks present on Imagua should be repatriated to their ancestral homeland, in order to reduce conflict, and further technological innovation." While Fitzsimons' suggestion was not taken seriously by the colonial government, Fitzsimons managed to persuade investors to establish the Saint Geoffrey's Company, with the idea to repatriate "all willing blacks" back to Bahia, by 1786.

In 1787, Fitzsimons made an expedition to the "Rizi coast," partially to ask for the approval of the local governor at Port Graham, but also to scout for "suitable sites to establish a plantation so that the returnees may create a new society free from persecution by the white population." After returning the following year, he noted three prime candidates, with the "best" candidate being in the present-day district of Chekumabvazuva, as the area had a small stream, was on the coast, had "no hostile natives," and most importantly, would help deter Gaullican expansion westward across the Maghedi Corridor to the eastern shore of the Rwizikuru River.

The company's members accepted Fitzsimon's findings, and decided to fund a voyage for "all willing blacks wishing to return home."

Establishment of Saint Geoffrey's

Depiction of Saint Geoffrey's c. 1800

In May 1789, 373 "freemen" departed Cuanstad to establish a settlement in that area, with Saint Geoffrey's Company funding the cost of the voyage: of the 373 freemen, there were 189 men, 157 women, and 27 children. Although 37 died during the voyage, enough survived that they could establish a colony. After arriving in June, the freemen began establishing a settlement, naming it Saint Geoffrey's after the company who paid them to establish the settlement.

From the beginning, conditions were tough for the Freemen at Saint Geoffrey's: relations between the settlers and the natives quickly deteriorated, as the location of the settlement was built on the hunting grounds of one of the chiefs. In addition, their arrival during the wet season made it difficult to build buildings, or to grow crops, with one Freeman, Milton Nisbet, writing in his diary that "every day is a torrent of rain: it is scarcely possible to build things quick enough to keep ourselves dry, let alone our property."

When a boat owned by Saint Geoffrey's Company returned in 1790 to provide supplies, it was reported by Captain Turner that "there were only 78 men, 69 women, and 18 children," with Nisbet reporting to the captain that "the local tribes raided our village, kidnapped our girls and children, and killed those who tried to resist."

However, Captain Turner described the settlement as "comprising of eleven houses along one street, and seven on the coastal road, of which two were abandoned, and three destroyed."

With Turner's report of the situation, it was decided that it was necessary to "fortify" Saint Geoffrey's, in order to protect it from further attacks. It was also decided to bring more settlers to Saint Geoffrey's. Thus, in 1791, a ship carrying 400 freemen (194 women, 165 men, and 41 children) sailed from Cuanstad to Saint Geoffrey's: only 16 died during the voyage.

Upon their arrival at Saint Geoffrey's in September, another raid had reduced the existing population to only 66 individuals, of whom 26 were men, 21 were women, and 19 were children, including "two newborns." However, with the arrival of the 384 freemen to help reinforce the colony, the population rose to 450 people. Houses were built and rebuilt, and by October, Nisbet noted that "there were now four streets, including a central High Street running north, and four cross streets parallel to the coast, with a church at the heart of the town." To deter attacks by the native tribes, the freemen at Saint Geoffrey's built a palisade surrounding their village, and established a "watchmen."

Despite raids in 1791 and 1792, the freemen at Saint Geoffrey's were able to repel them "with minimal casualties." By 1793, it was reported by Milton Nisbet that "since the reinforcement [of Saint Geoffrey's] in 1791, we now have 204 women, 190 men, and 66 children living at Saint Geoffrey's, including nine newborns." Nisbet also noted the existence of farms around the settlement, although they "were frequently raided by the natives," as they were outside the palisade.

By 1800, Saint Geoffrey's became a thriving settlement: with more migration from the Estmerish Asterian colonies, there were now around 2,000 people in the settlement. As the original palisade constrained expansion, the newcomers sought to create "small villages" near Saint Geoffrey's, such as Fitzsimons, with a population between 50-100 people, compared to Saint Geoffrey's 1,000 people: thus, Saint Geoffrey's became home to a settlement bloc of around thirteen settlements, including Saint Geoffrey's itself. By this point, Milton Nisbet became the de-facto administrator of the settlement bloc.

Establishment of the Western Settlements

Depiction of Bencombe, c. 1805

With the growing success of the settlement of Saint Geoffrey's, the Saint Geoffrey's Company was now confident in investing more funding to create another settlement for the freed Bahians.

Thus, in 1800, Joseph Fitzsimons once again sailed across the Vehemens Ocean to Port Graham, in order to ask permission from the governor to establish two settlements "east of Port Graham" but west of the Rwizikuru River. Upon his arrival, the Governor gave his approval for the plans to establish two settlements. After scouting, he decided to choose two areas, as they were both close to one another, had a reliable source of water, and the "tribesmen were unlikely to attack any potential settlement." In order to ensure that they would not have an attack, Fitzsimons signed an agreement with the local chiefs to allow for two settlements of freemen in the region.

After the agreement was signed, and the deals approved by Saint Geoffrey's Company, two ships departed Cuanstad for the settlements in 1801, carrying "approximately 200 people each." These residents sailed to the areas of present-day Bencombe and Shaw, where they established "the same grid pattern as created in Saint Geoffrey's Town" of having four cross streets and four avenues, with one central road (High Street).

Unlike the first settlement, the freemen did not face as much difficulty, partially due to their arrival at the start of the dry season, the agreement signed between Fitzsimons and the local chiefs, and the lessons learnt from the first settlement at Saint Geoffrey's: by 1804, the population of the Western Settlements (Bencombe and Shaw) comprised of 203 people in Bencombe (93 men, 91 women, and 19 children, including four newborns), and 211 people in Shaw (101 men, 88 women, and 22 children, including seven newborns).

By this point, as the fort at Port Graham was abandoned, the Saint Geoffrey's Company became the most important authority in the territory of present-day Rwizikuru. During this period, Estmerish forces who caught illegal slave ships would free the slaves at one of the settlements controlled by the Saint Geoffrey's Company, contributing to the growth of the Freemen population, although despite efforts by the Saint Geoffrey's Company to encourage the "liberated slaves" to join them, few of them did, as many ventured back to their home communities.

In 1811, the population had risen to 4,297 people in the Eastern Settlements, compared to 2,015 people in the Western Settlements, with around 1,497 people living in Saint Geoffrey's. However, with finances growing tighter, particularly after a failed establishment of a settlement near Port Graham in 1817, Saint Geoffrey's Company transported its last 329 "freemen" from Cuanstad to the town of Shaw in 1822, and focused more on the governance of its settlements.

Zenith

Depiction of Saint Geoffrey's, c. 1850

Due to the fact that most of the registered population in the settlements controlled by the Saint Geoffrey's Company were either "freemen" from the Estmerish Colony of Imagua, their children, or "liberated slaves," as opposed to Eucleans, from the 1810s onward, the Freemen rose to high positions within the local settlements, although the executive positions were still run by Estmerish residents.

Missionaries from these settlements would spread towards neighbouring territories, which would lead to increasing tensions between the Freemen and native Bahians, particularly as many natives viewed the Freemen as being "too Eucleanised in their identity." This would lead to clashes between the Freemen and neighbouring tribes, but also to the spread of Sotirianity across present-day Rwizikuru, particularly of the Embrian Communion, which most Freemen were adherents of, but also of Catholicism, due to a sizable minority of Freemen being Catholic.

By 1831, the population of the Freemen was counted at 9,104 people residing in the settlement blocs administered by the Saint Geoffrey's Company. At this point, the Freemen held significant roles in the governance of the territory, with only the highest positions still being filled by Estmerish residents. Such involvement in the day-to-day governance of the territory was seen as empowering to many Freemen, with Bevill Nisbet, son of Milton Nisbet wrote in 1833 that the Freemen "were now masters in our own home."

In the late 1830s, as concerns mounted about the potential for Gaullican expansion east from the Colony of Quigomba, the Saint Geoffrey's Company sent a party of seventy Freemen (of twenty-six men, thirty-three women, and eleven children) to Fort Chandler on the Nemvura Peninsula, where they were to establish a settlement near the former fort. This was successfully achieved in 1841, with the Freemen successfully taking over the abandoned fort from the nearby tribe, leading to tensions between the settlement and the nearby Rwizis. Despite this situation, by 1851, the Freemen numbered 14,209 people, of which 7,557 lived in the Saint Geoffrey's bloc, 6,331 in the Western Settlements, and only 321 at Fort Chandler.

In 1856, a Freeman finally became the head of the Saint Geoffrey's company, with the son of Bevill Nisbet, Cornelius Nisbet assuming the position. Under Cornelius' leadership, he sought to promote the integration of the native Bahian population into the Freemen community. This led to an expansion of missionary schools, although the Saint Geoffrey's Company directed the schools to assimilate children into the Freemen identity, particularly as Nisbet, among with many other Freemen believed that by shedding their traditional tribal and ethnic ties, they would be able to "step forward into civilisation, and be able to stand our own."

Such attitudes, although popular among the Freemen, were concerning to Estmerish authorities in Morwall, particularly as there were concerns that such a development would lead to Estmere losing control over the territory, while some, including TBD, argued that the Freemen were, although more civilised than the Bahians in the outermost circle, were less civilised than even the Episemialist Marolevs in western Euclea.

Colonial rule

In 1863, Estmere revoked the charter of the Saint Geoffrey's Company to govern the area, and established the Colony of Riziland. The new colonial government established itself at Port Fitzhubert, due to its location at the estuary of the Rwizikuru River and on the banks of the Rwizikuru River, which led to many Freemen moving to Port Fitzhubert for work in the colonial government.

Unlike the Saint Geoffrey's Company, Estmerish officials were in charge of day-to-day governance, with the Freemen largely becoming secretaries and assistants to the Estmerish officials, in addition to becoming police officers to help "enforce the law on native Bahians." However, despite their relatively privileged position, they were sidelined by the varungu politically, which led to resentment against the Estmerish authorities among the Freemen.

Economically, the Freemen would compete with the Mirites, particularly in Port Fitzhubert, where they primarily dominated industries involving trade with Euclea and the Asterias. However, for the most part, the Freemen were not as economically dominant to Rizilander society compared to the Mirites, particularly due to their small population: by 1901, the census only recorded 21,603 Freemen residing in the colony of Riziland, of which 12,544 Freemen lived in the settlement blocs of Saint Geoffrey's, the Western Settlements, and Fort Chandler, 7,201 resided in Port Fitzhubert and 1,858 in the rest of Riziland.

In 1902, the Freemen were allowed to vote in municipal elections, which gave the Freemen a greater say in political affairs compared to the situation before, where only the varungu were able to vote. In the settlements where the Freemen formed the majority of the population, the Freemen were once again able to run their local governments. This privileged status that they shared with the Mirites led to growing resentment from many native Bahians, which were exacerbated with the Great Collapse in 1915, culminating in riots in 1921.

During the Great War, many Freemen were resistant to Gaullican occupation, with Freeman poet Barett Henley comparing the Gaullicans attacking Riziland with "the Gaullicans who occupied our ancestral lands in the Asterias, who kept us under slavery under Estmere liberated us." This led to many Freemen joining resistance organisations, and in turn to Gaullica cracking down on the Freemen.

Following the war's conclusion, many Freemen began to advocate for independence from Estmere. While many, such as Zophar Bohannon, advocated for the independence of the colony "in its current form," some activists, such as Nehemiah Millikan advocated for the creation of an "Estuarine Republic" around the Rwizikuru estuary to serve as the home of the Freemen, with Millikan believing that the Freemen would be "persecuted by the natives because they think that we were making them lose their culture, when we merely wanted them to escape the chains that bind them."

When the colony was granted self-government in 1937, the Freemen found themselves placed in the black electoral roll: unlike most natives in Riziland boycotted the 1937 elections, Freemen participated in the elections, with many Freemen backing the Movement for the Advancement of Bahians in Riziland, led by Zophar Bohannon.

By this point, as the Solarian War drained Estmere's coffers, combined with agitation from many prominent Rwizis, including Samhuri Ngonidzashe and Shungudzemwoyo Nhema of the Rwizikuran National Movement to give the country independence, Estmerish rule was coming to an end: in 1945, the Movement for the Advancement of Bahians in Riziland lost all of their seats, and the following year, Riziland was given independence.

Post-independence

Justice Minister Garvan Wilbram, 1956

Upon Rwizikuru's independence on 2 December, 1946, the Freemen were optimistic that Rwizikuru's independence would lead to a "Rwizikuran Rwizikuru," as described by Zophar Bohannon. At the 1946 legislative elections, the Movement for the Advancement of Bahians in Riziland won enough seats to form a majority government, while Zophar Bohannon became the first President of Rwizikuru.

Due to the Freemen's experience in the colonial civil service, the Freemen initially maintained a relatively privileged role in the Rwizikuran government post-independence. However, government policies by his successor, President Vudzijena Nhema to nativise the civil service and to use the Rwizi language spoken by the Rwizi in lieu of Estmerish led to many Freemen being "pushed out" of the civil service: while in 1950, 64% of the country's civil servants were Freemen, by 1960, only 3% of the civil servants were Freemen. In the National Assembly, the Freemen presence sharply declined after the 1954 election, until by 1958, only Wilbram remained in the National Assembly.

Following the 1964 coup that established the National Salvation Council, Freemen were removed en masse from government positions, as Izibongo Ngonidzashe perceived the Freemen to be "little more than dark-skinned colonisers," particularly after the Garamburan War of Independence in 1969. In 1973, as part of a greater crackdown on "elites," Freemen-owned land and properties were seized, including Freemen-owned businesses in Port Fitzhubert, leading to an exodus of Freemen from Rwizikuru, primarily to Estmere and Nuvania. Thus, while in 1961, there were 51,108 Freemen in Rwizikuru, by 1981, there were 32,906 Freemen, or a decline of 35% of the Freemen population, largely attributable to emigration from Rwizikuru.

After the death of Izibongo Ngonidzashe in 1978, Kupakwashe Ngonidzashe lifted the restrictions against the Freemen in 1980, which allowed the Freemen to once again enter the civil service and to become educators. The business-friendly policies implemented by Kupakwashe Ngonidzashe led to many Freemen establishing businesses, particularly in Port Fitzhubert, where they benefitted from growing investment into the city. By the late 1980s, the situation for Freemen have improved, as emigration numbers decreased.

By 1991, the number of Freemen rose to 34,159 people, largely concentrated in their traditional blocs of settlement, as well as Port Fitzhubert. During the 1990s, the Freemen's economic situation improved further, although not to the extent of their Mirite counterparts. In 1993, it was reported that the Freemen comprised five percent of Rwizikuru's civil service, although many of them were based in Port Fitzhubert, with only a handful based at the nation's capital, Guta raMambo. In the late 1990s, a cultural revival began to take place, led by Silas Brannon and Fidelity Bradshaw, with both Brannon and Bradshaw promoting the Estuary Creole and traditional Freemen culture.

Twenty-first century

In the 2000s, the cultural revival of the Freemen continued: in 2001, Fidelity Bradshaw published the first book written entirely in Estuary Creole, while Silas Brannon became a popular musician, singing songs that were both "traditional Freemen songs" and translations of popular songs into Estuary Creole. This cultural revival was supported by Kupakwashe Ngonidzashe, who in 2002 said that "the Freemen were, and are a people who have and will shape our country and its trajectory."

In the political arena, Freemen began to be more involved in politics, with Tomtenda Nisbet becoming an outspoken anti-corruption activist and a supporter of establishing a constitutional monarchy, and Comfort Livingston running against incumbent mayor of Port Fitzhubert Munaki Nhiwatiw in 2006 and 2010 on a platform of reducing corruption and improving the city's position in global affairs. These efforts drew increased attention to the Freemen in the country, with the Rwizikuran government-in-exile saying in 2005 that "the acts of the Freemen show that Rwizikuru as it stands right now is unacceptable to Rwizikurans."

By 2011, the population had numerically risen to 42,195 people, but had fallen percentage-wise to 0.10% of the population. The Freemen were largely split "roughly evenly" between Port Fitzhubert and "areas of traditional Freemen settlement" (i.e. the Western Settlements, Saint Geoffrey's, and Fort Chandler).

In the 2010s, Silas Brannon lost ground to Truth Moffat, who melded together traditional Rwizikuran music with Brannon's style. While Truth Moffat was by far the most popular singer among the Freemen, many new singers and artists appeared in the decade, including literature, where Fidelity Bradshaw faced competition with Tariro Eaton and Veneka Irwin, who proved more popular with readers of Estuary Creole literature than Bradshaw.

Politically, Freemen became more critical of the absolute monarchy, with many Freemen activists, including Comfort Livingston advocating for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Although prominent figures, including Tomtenda Nisbet and Comfort Livingston were arrested by the Rwizikuran government and charged with lese-majeste in 2013 and 2017 respectively, most Freemen activists were left alone by the Rwizikuran government.

Following the agreement with the Global Institute of Fiscal Affairs in August 2019, Kupakwashe Ngonidzashe resigned in favour of his son, Munashe Ngonidzashe, who helped reform the country into a constitutional monarchy with the passage of a constitution in January 2020, and pardoned all convicted of lese-majeste. Elections held that year saw the election of five Freemen to the reconstituted National Assembly, including Tomtenda Nisbet, who became Minister of Foreign Affairs under Tsuru Mawere's government.

Culture

Art

Due to their origins among Bahio-Asterians, predominantly the formerly enslaved Bahians on the Colony of Imagua and those liberated from the illegal slave trade in the nineteenth century, the artistic style of the Freemen community has been greatly influenced by Bahio-Imaguan art, particularly with regard to music and basket-weaving, with the latter taking their roots from both traditional Bahian and indigenous Imaguan styles.

Music has traditionally played a key role in shaping Freemen culture: while the upper class of the Freemen listened to Euclean music, such as opera and classical music, lower class Freemen tended to maintain their traditional music, which was influenced by traditional Bahian music and the Euclean music of their slavemasters. This would diverge from Imaguan music, particularly as the Freemen maintained instruments that were made obsolete in Imagua: thus, to this day, the steelpan is not used in Freemen music. Prominent singers among the Freemen are Silas Brannon, Deliverance Emmitt, and Truth Moffat.

Traditionally, literature has been written solely in standard Estmerish, with only snippets using Estuary Creole: this changed in 2001 when Fidelity Bradshaw published Go Tu Tan, which was the first book ever wrtiten entirely in Estuary Creole. This led to a growth in literature published in Estuary Creole and about Freemen stories, to the point that by 2017, there were estimated to be 138 books written entirely in Estuary Creole, of which 122 were written by Freemen. Prominent authors, besides Fidelity Bradshaw, include Tariro Eaton and Veneka Irwin.

Other forms of arts, such as painting and sculpting have largely been influenced by contemporaneous Estmerish and Gaullican styles of painting and sculpting. Manyara Mahachi is the most prominent Freeman painter, as her mother was a Freeman, while the most prominent Freeman sculptor is Salmon Cresswell from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Cuisine

A plate of pelo

Freemen cuisine has largely been shaped by both Bahio-Asterian cuisine and by traditional Rwizikuran cuisine, due to their origins among Bahio-Asterians and their relocation to Bahia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by the Saint Geoffrey's Company, and their subsequent colonisation by Estmere in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

A popular dish consumed among the Freemen is callaloo made with taro leaves, as well as pelo, both of which have origins in Bahio-Imaguan cuisine. These dishes are commonly consumed at lunch and dinner, with pelo traditionally being consumed with chicken.

From Rwizikuran cuisine, sadza is a common breakfast food among the Freemen, while mbatata dzakashambwa, or Rwizi roast beef is commonly consumed at lunch or dinner, usually alongside callaloo.

Due to Estmerish colonialism, the Freemen have adopted many food items from Estmerish cuisine, such as fish and chips, mashed potatoes, and have developed a tradition of afternoon tea, with the most common snack consumed during afternoon tea being sugar cakes and sweetbread.

Language

Traditionally, the Freemen exhibited diglossia between standard Estmerish and Estuary Creole, with the former serving as the high language, used for literature, education, and for formal speech, and the latter serving as the vernacular language used for everyday conversation.

This situation has changed since independence: from the 1950s, Rwizi became a prestige language among younger generations, leading to standard Estmerish becoming less important among those born after 1950. This was exacerbated in the 1990s as a Freeman cultural revival included promoting the usage of Estuary Creole for literature and for speech among the Freemen.

Religion

Saint Geoffrey's Church in Saint Geoffrey's, 2016

Freemen have practiced Sotirianity: records from the Saint Geoffrey's Company showed that of the migrants from the Colony of Imagua between 1789 and 1817, roughly 55% were adherents to the Embrian Communion, 15% to Gospelism, and the remaining 30% to the Solarian Catholic Church.

Under the rule of the Saint Geoffrey's Company, Gospelism became irrelevant to the point that by 1871, seventy percent of ethnic "Freedmen [sic]" were members of the Embrian Communion, with the remainder being members of the Solarian Catholic Church, and only a "negligible number" being part of the Gospelite church.

In addition, from the 1860s onwards, many upper-class Freemen became adherents of Sapientianism, to the extent that by the 1880s, virtually all Freemen elites were Sapientianist members, although they practiced it as a secret religion, with only a few daring to practice it openly. Sapientianism remained prevalent among upper class Freemen until the mid-1960s, when the National Salvation Council banned all Sapientianist activity in the country. While it has been legalised again since 1980, Sapientianism has largely been marginalised among Freemen still in Rwizikuru, though it is still prevalent in the diaspora.

This religious distribution has largely held true to this day among the Freemen, although small numbers of Freemen have converted to Badi, Irfan, or to new-age movements, primarily those in the diaspora.

Sports

The Freemen are believed to have been instrumental in bringing sports to Rwizikuru along with the murungu population, with the most popular sport among the Freemen being horse racing, with the first records to Euclean-style horse racing in present-day Rwizikuru being in 1827 at Saint Geoffrey's. To this day, horse racing has remained an important part of the Freemen identity, with the most prominent Freemen jockeys being Emanuel Brown, Nehemiah Nisbet, and Gideon Cotton.

Besides horse racing, popular sports among the Freemen include football, netball, and field hockey.