Calls to break silence on Emancipation Day 2017

PHILIPSBURG–The sound of drums broke the silence late Saturday morning as the Emancipation Day Parade marched from One Tete Lokhay roundabout in Cay Hill to Emilio Wilson Park, where the official ceremony celebrating the 154th anniversary of emancipation of slavery was to take place later that day under the theme “Breaking the Silence.”

The official celebrations, organized by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sport, in conjunction with Victory of Injustice Consciously Eliminating Silence (VOICES) Foundation and Funtopia, started with an ecumenical service hosted by the Methodist Church in Cole Bay, followed by the opening of an exhibition about 200 years of Methodist Witness at John Hodge Centre. Dignitaries laid wreaths at Freedom Fighter and One Tete Lokhay roundabouts.

The official Emancipation Day Ceremony, which took place at Emilio Wilson Park, was preceded by a re-enactment with actors, dancers and stilt walkers. The official ceremony was opened with the laying of flowers at Emilio Wilson’s bust by Governor Eugene Holiday, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sport Silveria Jacobs and VOICES President Nkosazana Illis.

In her opening remarks, Illis paid homage to the legacy and heritage of the forefathers. Governor Eugene Holiday said he liked to have seen more people in attendance and called upon those present to stand up for their rights, but said there is no success without sacrifices. He said there is still much to be done where it concerns our attitude, interracial relations, and in our educational system in fighting remaining vestiges of slavery in modern-day society.

The Governor repeated his plea for a national emancipation monument at the location of the former Diamond Plantation.

Speaking on behalf of Prime Minister William Marlin, who was off-island, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Rafael Boasman referred to the fact that St. Maarten is the only country within the Kingdom that declared Emancipation Day a national holiday.

“This is a day to commit ourselves to freedom. Our minds should not be shackled,” said Boasman, who called upon St. Maarteners to dedicate themselves to a just and humane society.

Minister Jacobs said the period of slavery is often glossed over and whispered about in order not to cast blame and embarrassment on the descendants of enslavers nor to remind the descendants of the enslaved to spare them shame and pain.

“And though today we commemorate this day with dignified services, speeches, cultural manifestations and festivities, the silence continues,” Jacobs said. She was not the only speaker that day who pointed out that discomfort and underlying fear endures in this silence, which she called another form of enslavement, one of the “enslavement of the mind.”

She said that not just our education system should be decolonized. “Before we can truly become free (independent) we must rid ourselves of the colonial ways, thinking and habits that stifle us. We must decolonize our classrooms and educational systems and the material that is taught,” Minister Jacobs said. “ Our former colonizers masquerade as equal partners and are still invading our minds and habits, through our thinking, the clothes we wear, the manner in which our hair is considered ‘presentable’, the materials taught within our classrooms, and the policies executed daily.

“Not only do we have to ensure that we are free from enslavement, but like our good brother Bob Marley once said we must ‘free yourself from mental slavery,’” she said.

“As we celebrate this 154th Emancipation Day, let us remember the atrocities faced by our ancestors and honour their bravery, while utilizing their living and dying examples to also decolonize our thinking, our systems…Break the silence on our skin, our hair, our language, our perception of ourselves and others. Break the silence in education, in society about our identity, our nationality, our culture, our economy, our lack of care for the environment, the stigma of abuse, mental health and sexuality and so much more.”

Second Vice President of Parliament Frans Richardson said a successful future depends on how we look at and reflect on the past. “Our ancestors felt the power of freedom and made sacrifices for freedom.”

Independence is the island’s destiny, Richardson said. “It will happen sooner than later.”

Richardson called upon the people of St. Maarten to show pride in Emancipation Day and to fill the Park to the brim and “to come out just as much as during Carnival.”

The Emancipation Day celebrations continued with VOICES honouring family businesses on the island operated by the families Maynard, Gumbs, Scott, Richardson, Fortuno, York, Housen, Hubert, Gibson, Choisy, Duzong, Lake, Joseph and Illis.

The celebrations were closed off with an African-style fashion show presented by Our Creations St. Maarten Arts and Crafts Foundation.

Source: The Daily Herald