August 3, 2010
When will Emancipation get its rightful place?

Tue, Aug 3, 2010

Another Emancipation Day has passed in the Caribbean, marking the anniversary of the darkest period in our history. As has become customary, the occasion was observed by a public holiday, curiously more recognized as “August Monday” than Emancipation Day, with varying levels of activities from country to country.{{more}} In some countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados, activities enjoy a higher profile than they do in others for a number of local historical factors.

We in St.Vincent and the Grenadines have long struggled to come to grips with the historical significance of Emancipation as a major factor in our evolution and in our process of liberation from oppression.

In recent years however, there have been laudable initiatives taken to etch this landmark firmly in our consciousness and each year local activists have been organizing activities in commemoration of this event. These have been facilitated by the official recognition granted to the occasion by decreeing Emancipation Day, August 1, as the official holiday, in place of the nebulous “August Monday”, the first Monday in the month of August.

Noble as these initiatives are, they have not yet been able to show the degree of success that one may have wished. Indeed, the same can be said for the rest of the Caribbean community. This is a region where the scourge of African slavery has left indelible marks on us all and where the Act of Emancipation had effect, not only on people of African descent, but by opening the doors to identureship, gave the Caribbean its cosmopolitan character. In spite of this, Emancipation Day is not a major feature of Caribbean life, officially, and very few Caribbean leaders even make mention of it.

Caribbean people of African origin must be among the strangest people on earth. All other people the world over cherish their history, teach it to their children and never forget the steps along the journey that they have travelled in life. For the Jews, the holocaust and their flight from Egypt thousands of years ago, help to shape the bedrock of their history and culture. Europe never forgets its bloody wars, especially those of World Wars 1 and 2. Across Asia, in India, China, Japan, Vietnam etc. major events in their struggle for liberation are observed, commemorated and celebrated where appropriate. Why are we so willing to turn our backs on our own past and to downplay such critical events in our historical development?

We may share differing interpretations of the impact of Emancipation on our lives and to what degree it was a liberating factor. But there is no doubt that it was, for African people in the Caribbean, the single biggest event since their arrival in this part of the world with enormous consequences for human liberty, dignity and self-respect. But if we are unable to appreciate this in the first place, if it plays no significant part in our consciousness, how could we ever begin to appreciate the full extent of the impact of human slavery not just on our lives, not just as an economic factor, but the long-lasting damage it has had on our psyche?

While it is true that in this hostile modern world, the bread-and-butter issues, the economic development struggle, are central to providing a decent standard of living for all our people, there are important socio-cultural factors which impact on such things as self-confidence and self-belief which are themselves critical in arming ourselves for such economic battles. Understanding our history, our role and place in it, and such major events as Emancipation, Adult Suffrage and Independence, have direct bearing on our relations with each other and with the outside world. The sooner we become cognizant of these, the better we would be able to have a clearer perception of the full scale of the uphill battle before us.