Emancipation Day tradition kept alive on St. Eustatius | THE DAILY HERALD

President of Brighter Paths Foundation Xiomara Balentina (centre), her nephew Xavier Smith (left) and niece Xaviera Smith at the decorated Emancipation Monument.

ST. EUSTATIUS–The tradition of decorating buildings, houses and monuments with flamboyant tree flowers was kept alive in St. Eustatius on Emancipation Day, Sunday, July 1. This tradition has been ongoing since 1863 when the slaves on the island attained their freedom.

President of Brighter Paths Foundation Xiomara Balentina, her niece Xaviera Smith (12) and nephew Xavier Smith (5) decorated the Emancipation Monument in Wilhelmina Park. In July 2013, a monument was erected in this location where slaves were sold in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. The park was named after the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina in 1989.

Balentina said she was keeping the tradition alive of Statia people flowers of the “July” tree to decorate their homes and gates.

“Today I explained to my niece Xaviera and nephew Xavier what this day is all about. We picked the flowers together and decorated our gate – with the shells – as we sung, ‘Happy, happy July Day, glad I live to see this day.’”

Balentina said she will continue to do her part in passing on the tradition, as “Lady of Culture” Marcella Gibbs and the late Christine Flanders and Miriam Schmidt have been doing for years. Schmidt has “fought” for July 1 to be recognized as a holiday on Statia.

Gibbs and her team are known to pick flamboyant flowers and go into the districts to decorate gates with the flowers and to serenade in the area to the beat of drums.

“While picking the July tree flowers with my niece and nephew I noticed that Miss Layloc van Putten’s gate to her yellow house was already decorated. She told me that her mother would always decorate the gate on July Day,” said Balentina.
Natasha Radjouki of the St. Eustatius Culture Department was also out decorating from 3:00am in continuing the tradition. Even the rain could not deter her from placing flowers at the gates of homes in Concordia.

She said she was not able to do a “tremendous amount” because of the lack of flowers. Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused a great amount of damage to many of the majestic flamboyant trees on the island.

A representative of the Festivities Committee said that due to circumstances beyond their control a July 1 celebration was not held this year, “But it will definitely happen next year,” the spokesperson said.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/78246-emancipation-day-tradition-kept-alive-on-st-eustatius