R. Rose
August 13, 2004
Missing the significance of Emancipation

We are in the middle of what is now celebrated as Emancipation Month, much as we commemorate the work of our heroes and heroines during March, National Heroes Month.
These reluctantly new developments are very positive ones linking us today with our historical past and the achievements of our forebears. Every effort must be made to deepen and broaden the range and scope of activities held in pursuit of such noble goals. {{more}}
In the case of Emancipation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is, in modern terms, a relative latecomer, logging behind sister countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana, in organizing activities on a national scale. But better late than never. For we have much to celebrate where Emancipation is concerned, it being a major milestone, perhaps the most significant signpost in the history of our presence here in the western hemisphere. August 1, 1834, represents a major victory for our fortitude, resilience and will to be free.
Yet, even with the activities as organized, we are still only skimming the surface. The lack of historical grounding has left us with a yawning gap, a huge disconnect from our past to the extent that it is difficult for many of our own people, especially the under-40 generation to grasp what slavery really was all about. And if one has no comprehension of what it means to be a slave, more, what it meant to be a BLACK SLAVE, then it is well nigh impossible to fully appreciate the meaning and importance of Emancipation.
In one rush to modernize, to ape our enslavers and oppressors, we have cast aside or neglected much of what was ours – our cultural traditions and rich experiences. Today it has reached the stage where we can hardly recognize nor, sure for our colour, find many distinguishing features. Even in as fundamental a characteristic as our diet, we are more and more adopting the ways of others. No wonder our major fund-raising activity is no longer a pelau party or souse party, but a barbecue.
That historical disconnect must be addressed if we are to make Emancipation a meaningful rational festival. It takes place in August but what happens when our children go to school in September. Are the pre-schoolers, the five-year olds, the common entrants, the CXC students, making any connection in their strides, in real terms, with Emancipation and slavery? Where are the monuments, museums, cultural events, literature which would keep the Emancipation flame burning from one August to another?
The major lesson of Emancipation is that of the virtue of STRUGGLE against odds, and what greater odds could there have been than the shackles and bestiality of chattel slavery. In fact the slavery and colonialism of the sixteenth to nineteen centuries were the forerunners of the globalization of today’s world, against which we are again being forced to struggle. For, make no bones about it, the ultimate aim of the worldwide capitalist institutions which govern our lives (the WTO, World Bank, IMF, financial and trading mechanisms) amounts to nothing more than re-enslavement.
It is so difficult for many of us to understand, caught up as we are in the web of modern consumerism and blissfully and ignorantly aware of our own identity. This manifests itself even in the confusion around our Emancipation celebrations. That mighty act of 170 years ago may have ultimately led to independence for our tiny countries in the Caribbean but it was NOT about nationhood. It had to do with throwing off the shackles of a people, WE PEOPLE WHO ARE DARKER THAN BLUE (as Curtis Mayfield would say).
Emancipation therefore must not be confused with independence. Without being narrow, it is important that we recognize that it is primarily a celebration of, for and by, people of African descent. By virtue of the achievement of freedom, it is also an event of universal human significance. It has its connections and correlations with other liberation struggles (the Callinago/Garifuna wars of national liberation), the anti-colonial and later pro-independence struggles, but Emancipation concerned primarily the freeing of African slaves. Our activities must unashamedly and unapologetically reflect that. The formation of our nation has more to do with October and Independence than with August and Emancipation.
Finally, in closing, I can’t help but publicly express my deep disappointment on the approach towards the 25th anniversary of independence. Nearly one year ago, it was brought to the attention of our authorities that 2004 would be a historic milestone in our evolution and development as a people. 1979 was a year like perhaps none other in our history. Yet with that occasion only two months away, we are yet to formulate a clear programme and focus. We should have been organizing an entire year of activities, linking them to the various commemorative events in the annual calendar. We need to build, mold and develop a nation, not just to organize grand events for self-gratification.