By Peter A. Roberts
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Additional info for From Oral to Literate Culture
Such a comment suggests that the slaves used drums, horns and conch-shells to communicate among themselves. Actual reported evidence of this is provided by the author of Great Newesfrom the Barbados, who, in his details of the conspiracy against the whites of Barbados in 1676, says: Trumpets to be made of elephants teeth and gourdes to be sounded on several hills, to give notice of their general rising, with a full intention to fire the sugar-canes, and so run in and cut their masters throats in their respective plantations whereunto they did belong.
The system of signalling evolved to become more and more elaborate, and although members of the public may not have been aware of the significance of all the details of flags, they certainly understood the meaning of red flags and guns, and the distinction between commercial vessels and hostile ones. Although the systems of communication described were widespread and functional, they of course had their inherent limitations. The aural methods of communication at that time were limited by distance, and visual systems were limited by time of day.
Because shipping was extremely important, not only for economic and communicative purposes but also in the waging of war, a system of signalling was worked out to inform those on land about approaching vessels. This kind of signalling was 22 / From Oral to Literate Culture not meant to be technical or restricted. In addition, the fact that it was pointed out and explained by more than one contemporary British writer travelling in the region suggests that it was not a simple adoption of a European practice.