Slaves dancing at their freedom during early Monday’s re-enactment of the Diamond Estate 26 Run for Freedom in observation of Emancipation Day.
COLE BAY–The Department of Culture observed Emancipation Day 2019 with a re-enactment of the Diamond Estate 26 Run for Freedom early Monday, July 1. This year’s event was entitled “64,000 We Have A Name” in tribute to the enslaved men, women and children who were liberated from slavery in the Dutch Kingdom on July 1, 1863. The event included speeches, readings from historical archive documents and a symbolic wreath-laying.
The “Run for Freedom” started at 12:01am on the grounds of the former Diamond Estate on Union Road across from the roundabout at the end of the Simpson Bay causeway.
Diamond Estate was a plantation on the border between Cole Bay and Bellevue, Marigot, where 26 slaves ran to their freedom on May 29, 1848, two days after the abolition of slavery was announced in French St. Martin.
The bone-chilling, lifelike re-enactment of the slave run in the Diamond Estate hills culminated in the escaped slaves, who were all dressed in white, bursting out in songs of freedom and dance.
Detailing events dating back as far as 1835 and a reading of the original 1863 Proclamation of the Abolition of Slavery were included in the theatrical presentation, as well as a rollcall of freed and enslaved persons.
As part of the commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Dutch St. Maarten on July 1, 1863, Governor Eugene Holiday, Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sport Wycliffe Smith and Chairperson of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams addressed the public with personal reflections on freedom.
Observing the darkness, the bushes and the rough terrain that surrounds Diamond Estate, the environment made Romeo-Marlin think of what it would take to make the decision to run for freedom.
“Can you imagine how unbearable and inhumane the conditions must have been for our ancestors to brave these hills and seek the freedoms that we enjoy today and sometimes even take for granted? How many of us are prepared to take that first step to begin to run and not look back, not knowing if you’re going to make it or not? Our ancestors must be held in great esteem and must be revered for their courage, determination and willpower to face these tremendous odds and still overcome,” she said.
She said that while this year’s Emancipation celebration pays tribute to the 64,000 enslaved men, women, and children who were liberated from slavery within the Dutch Kingdom, we must also remember the thousands of unknown individuals who had died years before.
“Their pain, blood, sweat, and tears that either were shed on the shores of the African continent, Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea or scattered throughout the many plantations of this hemisphere, on the eve of Emancipation Day we simply cannot forget. ‘64,000 we have a name’ is a great theme as we reflect on the journey that has brought us here in our history in St. Maarten,” Romeo-Marlin said.
Governor Holiday said emancipation is one of the most significant events in St. Maarten’s history. “Emancipation marked the triumph of the indomitable will of the enslaved men and women of St. Maarten to be free, a triumph which redefined our collective destiny as a St. Maarten people,” he said.
Holiday said Emancipation had had a profound impact on perceptions, notions, and traditions, and had helped to reshape the social, economic, political and cultural order of the island.
“We, the people of St. Maarten, the sons and daughters of former slaves and slave-owners, have since realised major achievements made possible by our collective efforts. In doing so we created our St. Maarten culture. When we speak about culture, we are in fact speaking about identity. In speaking about identity, we are speaking about who we are as individuals and as a people.
“In speaking about identity, the best place to start is with our individual names. Our name is our identity, it is a window to our culture and to who we are as individuals and as a people. Our name connects us to our past and our past teaches us lessons for our future,” Holiday said in referring to the theme of this year’s 156th Emancipation Day celebration.
According to him, standing for and protecting cultural heritage is important.
“Thanks to our heritage we have a rich St. Maarten culture manifested in our food, drinks, music and dance, a cultural heritage preserved through the works of various cultural pioneers such as Tanny and the Boys with string music, the York family with music through the steel pan, Lasana Sekou with National Symbols as well as with poetry about salt, Ruby Bute with her market paintings, Roland Richardson with his paintings of the flamboyant tree, Clara Reyes with the Ponum dance and others with our national drink Guavaberry.”
He said that as carriers of the heritage of our ancestors, we have a collective obligation to our forefathers to protect and continue to build on their legacy.
“I am in that regard encouraged by the efforts of government and various persons in our society to preserve, nurture and build on our cultural heritage. I therefore applaud the work of Voices and its leader Ms. Nkosazana Illis through the annual observance of Emancipation Day towards the preservation of our culture,” Holiday said.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/88781-emancipation-day-2019-tribute-to-64-000-enslaved