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Caribbean: Emancipate Yourselves

Categories: Caribbean, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, Digital Activism, History

Redemption Song Statue, Emancipation Park, JamaicaToday is Emancipation Day [1] in many West Indian [2] territories – the day that effectively celebrates the end of slavery [3], when all slaves were legally declared free [4]. One hundred and seventy odd years later, a few Caribbean bloggers pay tribute to their forefathers, whose sacrifice has earned them their freedom today…

Montego Bay Day By Day [5] quotes an excerpt from The Road to Freedom by Tanesha Ramdanie, which describes the reaction to the historical pronouncement:

Tears of joy flowed incessantly, while shouts of freedom rang from the mountain tops and the plains, from the men, women and children, who had learnt that they were finally free of the oppressive social and economic system in which they were treated as less than human.

…while Gallimaufry [6] quotes a popular Barbadian folk [7] song which, when in 1838 the system of apprenticeship was abolished and true freedom finally took hold, inspired thousands of former slaves to take to the streets singing its refrain:

Lick and lock-up done wid,
Hurrah for Jin-Jin!
Lick and lock-up done wid,
Hurrah for Jin-Jin!

God bless de Queen fuh set we free
Hurrah for Jin-Jin!
Now lick and lock-up done wid,
Hurrah for Jin-Jin!

“Jin-Jin” refers to Queen Victoria and the words of that song are engraved on the side of the Emancipation Statue in honour of Bussa [8] – a slave who led the longest revolt against plantation owners in Barbados and who died a hero in battle.

Another Barbadian blogger, Dennis Jones [9], describes the flurry of activity in Bridgetown [10] in anticipation of the event:

The Esplanade was already set up and decked ready for celebrations later in the day. Amongst those already milling around for these, I saw many Rastas, or at least people with dreadlocks and tied heads; they were equally numbered with people who were dressed in west African style clothes. Each group was outnumbered by vendors at this early stage, as they set up and started cooking: the smell of the fish fritters was really hard to resist…

But he adds:

I'll be very surprised if I hear many words about emancipation during the day, except during the radio or TV broadcasts related to the day's celebrations, and that strikes me as sad. For most of us there is nothing august about this day–nothing majestic, dignified, or grand. It is very ordinary. Maybe freedom has made us all complacent about what bondage really represented. Many black people only focus on the slave heritage imposed on their ancestors by Europeans and so see it as a white-on-black “crime”, and know little or nothing about the long history of slavery…

So, while we can loll around complacently with the freedom that we now have, we ought to get sight of its absence in many, many places. Remember that slavery is an international injustice, that has racial and ethnic aspects far removed from black-white relations.

Meanwhile, Discover TnT Blog [11] publishes a list of events that are being hosted in honour of Emancipation Day in Trinidad and Tobago and Abeni [12] from St. Vincent and the Grenadines quotes Bob Marley [13] and Maya Angelou [14] to make her point about why the occasion is still an important one to celebrate.