Vincentians told to break the shackles of slavery
August 7, 2009
Vincentians told to break the shackles of slavery

A call for reflection, soul searching and healing was made by speakers at a rally and concert held here last Saturday, in celebration of the 171st anniversary of the emancipation of enslaved people in the British West Indies.{{more}}

As Minister of Culture René Baptiste announced St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s plans to form diplomatic ties and cultural links with West African countries, she stated that the bloodline from Africa to this country continues to be alive and strong, and that it is time for Vincentians to acknowledge that fact.

The concert, which took place at Heritage Square, showcased a number of African books, food, drinks and art, complemented with face painting, and of course drumming, singing and dancing, which had the small but appreciative gathering entertained and informed.

Two African-born professionals who have made St. Vincent and the Grenadines their home, also made presentations entitled ‘African Life Stories’ at the concert.

Dr Kenneth Onu, a Nigerian, described emancipation as finding one’s true identity and knowing where one is going. The ophthalmologist said that West Indians of African descent should also have a belief in themselves.

“If you do not know where you are from, you won’t know where you are going. We have to understand that and we have to believe in ourselves and this is one of the problems that we have not only here in St. Vincent but in the diaspora.”

Onu noted that although the chains are gone, the minds of many are still shackled and it is not until persons ‘emancipate themselves from mental slavery’ that they would be able to move forward.

“Emancipation should mean having a vision, believing in myself, understanding that I have to get rid of the things in my mind that hold me back and also moving on to understand our God given rights.”

Also addressing the concert was Justice Frederick Bruce-Lyle, who has lived in the region for the past 25 years.

The Ghanaian native said that the link between the land of his birth and his adoptive homeland are closer than we can imagine, explaining that the words spoken, family names, food preparation methods and the types of foods eaten are very similar in both parts of the world.

“The first thing I did when I was landed at my home in Murray’s Road, I picked up the telephone directory and I saw all these names like Quashie, Quammie, Cuffy, Quamina… and the first thing I told myself was, ‘Wow how come there are so many Ghanians living here?’; not knowing these were all Vincentians who had maintained their names when they left West Africa forcibly.”

“We also eat farine the same way you have it, we make it the same way. So I realized I was home, so I decided to as you say in Vincy language to ‘put me bucket down here.’”

Justice Bruce Lyle reinforced the need for West Indians of African descent to acknowledge their roots and ancestors, and to celebrate emancipation day as a means of saving our psyche.

“I don’t think it is right for some of us to deny the fact that Africa is where you descended from. Never forget the fact that we came from there; that is our home.”

“Emancipation means to me freeing ourselves from mental slavery. We need to think out of the box. We need to think with a vision so that we can move ahead as one people.”

The ancestry, history, language and customs of African ancestors need to be recovered, stated Culture Minister Baptiste, who admitted that she was touched by the presentations made by the men.

Baptiste said that she hoped the presentations would renew the interest in what slavery and emancipation means to Vincentians.

“It is important for us to capture the essence of that part of our heritage. I feel a sense of urgency that we must be able to retrieve the history and bring a fresh and new appreciation as to why when we look we see this ‘man in the mirror’.

She said that her ministry has already started to work on the retrieval of Garifuna history and culture, by building links with Belize and Honduras and learning the dances and language of the Garifuna people.

Very soon, if all goes according to plan, similar efforts will be made through the ties with the West African Nations.

The minister said that the journey to freedom has not been completed and there is further to go. She called on all to learn from lessons of the past.