Have we lost true meaning of Emancipation?

On the eve of Emancipation Day in Barbados, concerns abound about the significance of the day in the minds of average Barbadians.

And while the actual reality may be difficult for our brothers and sisters in the pan-Africanist movement to swallow, based on the low participation now evident every year at the official events to mark the annual Season Of Emancipation –– with the exception of Crop Over –– it would seem reasonable for us to conclude that the meaning of the day has indeed been lost on the majority.

This is not to say that we need to pick apart the season as it now stands, or seek to pin the blame on Government for any non-observance of the abolition of the slave trade.

That there is an official Season Of Emanicipation on our national calendar each year should be adequate testimony to the fact that successive administrations have recognized the importance of this historic occurrence to our national development.

We therefore cannot uphold the view of social activitist Onkphra Wells that Emancipation Day must be the priority of the Barbados Government.

It already is!

But we do believe the local activist movement, including the Pan-African Coalition Of Organizations (PACO), which Wells now leads, is just as much to blame, if not more, for the fact that Crop Over is the only real celebration that the masses would readily pause to observe during the Season Of Emanicipation.

The irony of it all of that is while Crop Over may have been born out of an ancestoral need for release, there is an obvious disconnect between the annual “jump-up” and “wuk-up” and its actual rooting in the colonial slave trade that forced many of our forefathers into the sugar cane fields, at the behest of massa, to carry out arduous labour.

Indeed, Crop Over’s wider cultural significance also seems to be lost on us as a people, since there is no connection between our Kadooment (our big celebration day) and what our black ancestors did as release from their hardships and pain.

We today in Barbados can only imagine what our forefathers went through, but this is no excuse for us not to seek greater knowledge for ourselves and our children about our historic road.

As it often said, we cannot know where we are going as a people, if we do not know from whence we came.

Yet, this is not one of those occasions when we seek to use the Government as any scapegoat.

Tomorrow’s Emanicipation Day Freedom And Heritage Walk, which is being held under the theme From Bussa To Sir Garry is as a much an open, public event as this Friday’s Pic-O-De-Crop Finals or Sunday’s Cohobblopot.

In fact, it will cost us nothing to attend the Emancipation Day celebrations. However, we can say without fear of contradiction that the gathering for tomorrow’s walk will pale in comparison to the large crowds expected for this weekend’s Crop Over last lap events, for which there will also be no need for any cracking of the whip.

Mr Wells suggests that this may be a problem of promotion and therefore he wants Emancipation taken out of Crop Over altogether.

He further contends that as long as Emancipation Day is celebrated within the Crop Over season and “the majority of people still do not see themselves as having a responsibility to their ancestry and the sacrifices made”, then Crop Over will always be dominant.

“And it will remain a sad, sad contradiction because in order to have Crop Over one still has to be free,” he adds.

We humbly beg to disagree.

While it is true that economics plays a major role in the promotion of Crop Over, at the end of the day it comes down to individual tastes and values.

That our people do not yet recognize the significance of Emanicipation is cause for soul searching on the part of us all.

The local Pan Africanist movement also needs to dig deep within itself to see why it has been unable to arouse the level of individual consciousness that will guarantee bumper crowds for its events, such as those recorded in Crop Over.

But let’s not make this into a calendar issue.

Our four-month-long Season Of Emancipation was launched this year in April and will conclude on August 23 with the International Day For The Remembrance Of The Slave Trade And Its Abolition.

It seems to us that unless individuals do get in touch with their own historical moorings this historical significance of the season, which includes activities to mark the 1937 Riots, our National Heroes Day; African Day on May 25; the Day Of National Significance, as well Marcus Garvey’s Birthday, could be lost forever.

3 Responses to Have we lost true meaning of Emancipation?

  1. Veronica Straker
    Veronica Straker July 31, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    Did we ever know or even acknowledge the true meaning of EMANCIPATION?

  2. Steve Crawford
    Steve Crawford July 31, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    beautiful, insightful, Straker

  3. Gregory P B Nicholls August 1, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Today is Emancipation Day and the local Pan Africanists have once again bemoaned the lack of respect given to this Day by Barbadians. This celebration of Emancipation Day faces two fundamental problems, one practical and is plain for all to see and the other conceptual as less obvious. Firstly, the practical: August 1 is always going to be in the middle of the Crop Over celebrations and as such, the raison d’ etre of Emancipation will be lost. There can be no twinning of the two (Crop Over/Emancipation) and the market forces of capitalism will not permit the former to be overtaken by the latter. Secondly, and more importantly, I see no reason to celebrate the day that the British Parliament legally abolished the institution of chattel slavery. If we celebrate the day Massa was required in law to free us and receive handsome compensation for his loss of property what does that say about our own perspective of our destiny as a people? Emancipation Day is not derived from the process of our own struggle. Our elders, leaders, kings, queens, and people have fought for justice and equality that was denied to millions of black people for nearly 500 years in the pursuit of mercantilist Atlantic capitalism that facilitated the development modern Europe and North America. For me, I would tend to focus more on April 16 as an appropriate holiday to commemorate the indefatigable black struggle as the day that the enslaved fought for their freedom under the expert leadership of General Busso, now acclaimed as the Rt. Excellent Bussa. Let April 16 become the public holiday as the emblem of our continual struggle for justice and August 1 become the day of national significance.


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