Dâaga (c. 1800/05-1838), also known as Donald Stewart, Longa Longa, and, possibly, King’s Man, was likely born in modern-day Benin and grew up among the Popo. He was taken captive by Portuguese slave traders around 1830, having previously worked as a slaver in the Portuguese-African trade taking place in modern-day Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. As a child, Dâaga was adopted by the Popo King Madershee after his imposing physique attracted the attention of the sovereign. Modern medical science suggests that his size, standing at about 6’5” tall with long feet and a face dominated by a long jaw, is possibly indicative of a human growth disorder such as gigantism or acromegaly. These physical features were interpreted by many as symbolic of both strength and power, possibly providing an explanation for his adoption by the Popo leader. As he matured, Dâaga’s imposing physique was put to use in the Popo slave trade, capturing Yorubas (from present-day Nigeria) and selling them at slave markets in Grand Popo (Benin) and Little Popo (modern-day Aného in Togo).
At some point, Dâaga was betrayed by his Portuguese allies in the slave trade who carried him into the transatlantic slave trade alongside Yoruba slaves that he had brought to market. The captives on the Portuguese ship gave Dâaga the nickname Longa Longa in reference to his impressive size. While at sea, Dâaga set to planning a rebellion with his fellow captives but the ship was seized at sea by the British Navy who, following the 1807 criminalization of the slave trade, pursued any slavers regardless of their nationality of origin. Dâaga and the other slaves were then taken to the British Caribbean as recaptives or liberated Africans, terms used to refer to those slaves from ships captured by the British Navy and enlisted as soldiers in the British First West India Regiment. During a time of great unrest in the Caribbean following the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of slaves between 1834 and 1838, these regiments were used in place of British soldiers, as authorities thought soldiers of African descent could better resist tropical diseases and withstand harsher climates than their British counterparts. Upon his enlistment in the Regiment, Dâaga was renamed Donald Stewart by his officers and may also have been referred to as King’s Man, a moniker used by British African soldiers.
Just as he had attempted to bring about a rebellion on his slave ship, Dâaga began to plan a mutiny soon after his enlistment in the British First West India Regiment. On the night of June 17, 1837, along with 280 other black soldiers, Dâaga mutinied at the Saint Joseph Barracks in Trinidad. The soldiers, under Dâaga’s leadership, chanted Yoruba war chants and burned their garrisons to distract the white officers while they continued to the armory and seized weapons. Although these black rebels did face off against their white officers, no white soldiers were killed. The mutineers then fled on foot from Saint Joseph toward the town of Band de l’Est, which was commonly known as an ideal launching point to flee for Venezuela, suggesting that the mutineers’ plans centered on escaping military service and resettling either on the South American mainland or finding some means to return to West Africa.
A small group of mutineers marched East to the town of Arima and clashed with a local militia comprised of Afro-Trinidadian, African, Spanish, and Portuguese men. While Dâaga attempted to join his compatriots in Arima, he was captured and condemned to death by court-martial. Although the mutineers' officer Lieutenant-Colonel Bush attempted to save the soldiers from the death penalty, this sentence was confirmed by the imperial authority in Barbados on August 14, 1837. Sources suggest that while facing the death squad Dâaga pushed down his blindfold and refused to face the rifles, forcing the soldiers to shoot him in the back. Witnesses at the execution reported that Dâaga’s last words were: “The curse of Holloloo on white men. Do they think that Dâaga fears to fix his eyeballs on death?” Dâaga was buried near the grounds of the Saint Joseph barracks on August 16, 1837.
Although his rebellion was short-lived and no monument or memorial exists to honor him, Dâaga remains a powerful symbol of black resistance in Trinidad. In the late 1920s, anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits discovered evidence of a seven-day-long festival celebrating the rebellion at Saint Joseph. Herskovits made a field recording of a version of the rebels’ war chant in 1939, a version of a Yoruba war chant recited by the rebels in 1837.
Idà ´n kárí The sword is sufficient
Idà ´nkà ré Behold the cruel sword!
Ó fé It slices
Ó lù wéré It strikes without mercy
Ó lé It is strong
Dâaga’s name was adopted by Makandal Dâaga (Geddes Granger), a leader of the 1970s Black Power movement in Trinidad, who adopted the name to honor the leaders of the 1837 rebellion. Earl Lovelace also utilized Dâaga as a character in his novel Salt (1996). The auditorium at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus was renamed in Dâaga’s honor.
British Library West India Regiments Collections: https://www.bl.uk/west-india-regiment
British National Army Museum West India Regiments Collection: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/slaves-red-coats-west-india-regiment
August, Thomas. “Rebels with a Cause: The St. Joseph Mutiny of 1837.” Slavery & Abolition 12, no. 2 (1991): 73-91.
Carmichael, Gertrude. The History of the West Indian Islands of Trinidad and Tobago, 1498–1900. London: Alvin Redman, 1961.
Cudjoe, Selwyn Reginald. Beyond Boundaries: The Intellectual Tradition of Trinidad and Tobago in the Nineteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.
Ellis, A. B. The History of the First West India Regiment. London: Chapman and Hall, 1885.
Herskovits, Melville J. “On the Provenience of New World Negroes.” Social Forces 12, no. 2 (December 1933): 247–262.
Joseph, E. L. History of Trinidad. Port of Spain, Trinidad: Henry James Mills, 1838.
Kingsley, Charles. At Last: Christmas in the West Indies, new edition. London: Macmillan, 1872.
Saillant, John. "Dâaga." Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography, eds. Franklin W. Knight and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t456/e2255 (accessed Thu Sep 05 10:41:18 EDT 2019).
Elizabeth Timbs and David Glovsky
Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.