At this time when we have just commemorated another Emancipation Day my thoughts are on Oscar Allen. Before he went to the hospital where he spent his last minutes, I got an email from him captioned EMANCIPATION FESTIVAL 2017, SVG.
It read “Our emancipation ‘Tent’ did make an effort to get off the ground somewhat early, but the momentum has petered out from the top and elsewhere. I acknowledge the weakness of drive, communication and sacrifice that has brought us to this unhappy season.
“We had hoped to start a sustained community animation process around nation sensitive opportunities and constitute ourselves and others in a facilitating team. The present outcome must make us reflect seriously. Since we have done nothing as a team, I wonder what any of us has to share in terms of an initiative or prospect for the month. Hoping to hear.”
Oscar had in previous years taken the initiative in bringing a team together to try to give meaning to August 1. Something had gone wrong in 2017 and he was appealing to the persons to whom he sent the communique to ensure that some meaningful activity was put in place.
He suggested as a theme, “Recapture the Past, Repair the Present, Reinvent the Future.” He informed that the Diamond Village Heritage Organisation, “a community forum and a project developed by the constituency representative, Hon. Saboto Caesar will collaborate to mobilise the July 31st to August 1st festival.”
I mention this to emphasize the point that Oscar was always in the forefront of initiating activities to commemorate not only Emancipation Day but other days and events of significance to the people of the country.
He however attached a great deal of importance to slavery and the process that led to emancipation and the need for us to understand the legacy, to reflect on the path we had been taking since then and of critical importance, to “Reinvent the future.”
Oscar was a member of Projects Promotion which was a part of the CARIPEDA network, that, among other things, emphasized development and popular education as part of its thrust to develop the population’s consciousness and inform the path forward. With that in mind, in 2001 Oscar produced a booklet geared “to the classroom, home and community.” It was actually published by Projects Promotion but written by Oscar- the title, WE WANT TO BECOME WISE.
I was under the impression that I had lost my copy but fortunately found it earlier this week hidden behind a number of other books.
When that 62 page booklet was produced in 2001, I was the Chairman of Projects Promotion.
I never remembered that I had written the introduction to that publication. I am going to reproduce parts of what I wrote then because I am of the view that it needs to be reprinted and widely used, with some updating since some of his references were not from SVG, but today we have much more information about SVG which the update will cover. (For example, he quotes from a slave Mary Prince of Bermuda. But we have our own Ashton Warner who was born on the Cane Grove estate and left his story). It is my hope that this can be done at this time when we are trying to develop a better understanding of our history.
WE WANT TO BECOME WISE is identified as “a reading book on Transatlantic Slavery for classroom, home and community. Its focus, however, is on the student as is evident from the many exercises that they are called upon to do with the help of their teachers.
Given the paucity of readily available information about slavery, its value extends to the ordinary folk in the community . . . It was written by Oscar Allen in a very student and people friendly manner, in an effort to demystify the issue of slavery and to allow us to focus on the positives of one of the great human tragedies.
It also centres the story in the environment of the student as can be seen in the opening chapter with its talk about the mango season and fruits around us . . . The booklet is a small venture and of course, only barely touches the subject, but even with this it has provided a lot of information and points to sources for those who would like to continue reading on the subject . . .
Our ability to carry further the definition of ourselves would depend very much on how we confront and use our understanding of slavery and emancipation”
Oscar has a unique way of communicating to students and the community and his reader friendly booklet will help to inform and continue the conversation.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian