Secretary-General of the Préfecture Michaël Dore and President of the Collectivité Daniel Gibbs prepare to lay wreaths at the foot of the Lady Liberty statue on the Agrément roundabout on Thursday. (Robert Luckock photo)
MARIGOT–The 171st anniversary of the abolition of slavery in St. Martin was commemorated on Thursday with a brief low-key ceremony attended by a handful of territorial councillors at the Lady Liberty statue on the Agrément roundabout.
The COVID-19 pandemic ruled out the traditional theatrical slavery re-enactments in song and dance that are normally a popular feature of the commemoration.
Instead, President Daniel Gibbs and Secretary-General of the Préfecture, Michaël Dore laid wreaths at the foot of the statue while a minute’s silence was observed to remember the sacrifice of the ancestors.
“Our hope is that everyone will devote time to reflect on what slavery and the slave trade were like in our region,” said Gibbs. “This reflection should enable our society in St. Martin to move forward and develop with respect and consideration for others, their culture and their heritage. Living together on this island means knowing its history and, beyond that, knowing the history common to all the Caribbean islands.”
He added history must never repeat itself and acceptance is the only way that will allow a real and lasting cohesion in a territory. “The past should not be a weight but a driving force in our way of living together, without discrimination and without anger.”
Vice-President Valérie Damaseau said: “This commemoration is an opportunity to affirm who we are: our Afro-descendant background, our Caribbean identity. Pride in being black and free is probably the first foundation of the struggle that we have all engaged in, together in defence of our specific characteristics as Caribbean islanders and, to a large extent, as English speakers.
“It is imperative that we always use moments like this to state the high price that was paid for us to be free. The way we live, the way we talk, the way we laugh, the way we dance, the way we think are all parts of the heritance that was left for us by our ancestors.”
She added that government must engage in educational work with the youth so that history is never forgotten and ensure that a new era based on the values of freedom, respect for others and equality between human beings is the guiding principle of the St. Martin society.
“We must ensure that the unique cultural and heritage wealth we share is constantly promoted and preserved. I am convinced that it is through these unifying values of sharing that we must find our inspiration to move forward together, united and caring for one another.”