Global Voices: Haiti

‘My Freedom Is Mine’ — Caribbean Netizens Discuss Emancipation Day

Global Voices: Haiti - Wed, 08/02/2017 - 22:27

Emancipation Day sparks online debate on hard-fought freedoms.

Redemption Song Statue, Emancipation Park, Jamaica. Photo by Mark Franco, used with permission.

On August 1 each year, several Caribbean territories — including Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica — commemorate Emancipation Day in honour of the day in 1834 when the British emancipated enslaved Africans. The day sparked passionate dialogue on the holiday's meaning and the manifestation of enslavement in contemporary society.

On Twitter, Jamaica's governing party remembered its significance:

183 years ago, on August 1st, Jamaica made strides towards #EqualRightsAndJustice. 311,000 slaves in Jamaica were freed. #Emancipation pic.twitter.com/o8N5wEn7dx

— JLPJamaica (@jlpjamaica) August 1, 2017

Others shared this focus on a way forward:

August mornin’ come! Freedom, to chart our own destiny. To aspire, to build, to become. #Emancipation #Jamaica #OneLove #1st1000Matter pic.twitter.com/om8jL59OBE

— Early Childhood JA (@ECCJA) August 1, 2017

#Jamaica celebrated 183 yrs of #Emancipation today. But the legacy of slavery still affects my home today. Its time to move forward together

— Rachael Minott (@rachaelminott) August 1, 2017

Emancipation as a product?

Cultural appropriation immediately came to the fore in online debates about Emancipation Day. Facebook user Rhoda Bharath shared a link to an article pleading with Black America to “stop appropriating African clothing and tribal marks,” noting that “if we are ignorantly using a culture that is not ours, we are appropriating.” In the comments thread Bharath added, “To me, the thing to remember is which culture had power and which culture was dominated […] Appropriation occurs when a dominant culture takes over or lays claim to a subordinate culture.”

In the same vein, Bharath bristled when she read a news report quoting Khafra Kambon, chairman of the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) in Trinidad and Tobago, who said, “It is important to recognize the unexploited value of the Emancipation product.” Bharath countered:

Was Khafra Kambon quoted correctly here in today's Express?
I just got a nosebleed.
Product? For whom?
Unexploited? For who to come and exploit? And turn it into a commercialised pappyshow?
Emancipation celebrations should not be a product.

How do we remember?

Netizens also discussed the enduring effects of slavery. On Facebook, Trinidadian playwright Tony Hall linked to an interview with Black American attorney Bryan Stevenson, who summed it up by saying, “I don't think slavery ended in 1865. I think it has just evolved.”

Journalist turned filmmaker Kim Johnson posted an article he wrote a few years ago, triggered by a picture he kept, which details the history of the abolition of slavery and how Emancipation Day came to be marked in Trinidad and Tobago:

When I first came across the photograph of the slave it felt white-hot with meaning, as if it would burn the New York Times page on which it was printed. […] Neither the subject nor the photographer was named, only the date and the place: 1863, a Louisiana cotton plantation. And the fact that the man was a slave who had been flogged by his ‘owner’. […]

On the Holocaust Monument in Israel, dedicated to the victims of the Nazis, is the inscription:
‘This must never happen again.’

We in the Caribbean have been more ambivalent towards the horror and shame that was plantation slavery. The sons and daughters of both slaves and slave-owners must live together, and indeed have gone far towards building a civilisation from the charnel house of history. Our monument is ourselves, our society and culture. Its inscription: ‘Do you remember the days of slavery?’ […]

It is a memory which changes over time and which, according to UWI Professor of History Barry Higman finds ‘its most complete expression in the celebration of the anniversary of emancipation’.

Deeply affected by the injustice of slavery, Johnson remembered a trip he made to the slave port of Badagry in Nigeria, which highlighted the complicity of Africans in the Transatlantic Slave Trade:

Chief Bowei explained, ‘The descendants of the slave masters talk with so much pride and they show you the graves of the slavemasters, their ancestors and show you the grave of this man, he was a slave master and they are so proud and I get so disgusted, that’s me. My very first time to Trinidad I just laid low to study the people in Trinidad. To see if they had any bitterness in them especially toward pure Africans as a result of the slave trade and all that.’

The power of statuary

Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul curated tweets about the type of monuments used to mark emancipation in various parts of the world. It was inspired by the following tweet from Samuel Sinyangwe, who, on a trip to Barbados, was enthralled with a statue depicting Bussa, who led a slave revolt in 1816:

First day in Barbados and we drove past this monument three times. I've never seen anything like it. (1/x) pic.twitter.com/ZwJ3GKAprz

— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) July 2, 2017

In a follow-up tweet he explained:

In my entire life I've never seen any monument that symbolized the power of black liberation in the way this statue does. By design.

— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) July 2, 2017

Paul found this Twitter thread “fascinating because in Jamaica the curatoriat was dead set against what it considered clichéd representations of the enslaved bursting out of chains. This directly influenced the selection of Jamaica's Emancipation Monument.”

Sinyangwe added:

The statue I remember seeing growing up in Orlando was this one. It celebrates confederate soldiers fighting to keep black people enslaved. pic.twitter.com/FETR0mu7c9

— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) July 2, 2017

It was taken down ONE MONTH ago. And they'd never replace it with a statue like the one in Barbados.

— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) July 2, 2017

Twitter users from all over the region soon began posting photos of monuments commemorating emancipation in various countries, such as this one of Cuffy in Guyana:

This is Cuffy in Georgetown, Guyana. He led a slave revolt starting on Feb. 23, 1763, a day which Guyana still recognizes as Republic Day pic.twitter.com/5g8Dj28nBq

— Randy

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