Some 178 years ago, slavery in the so called British West Indies was eventually brought to an end. August 1st1834, therefore became the day when all slaves in these islands were set free, from the inhumane treatment and bondage that became their daily existence, from one generation to another, rolling over from one century to another.
Though it was the black African slaves who suffered the injustice of the tyrannical system that closed its eyes to the wanton murder and rape of thousands of Afro-West Indians, it was the white planter class of slave owners who were compensated for their “loss” when the British Government eventually succumbed to the pressure to end what certainly was the greatest atrocity ever known to man.
Since then, the black nations of the Caribbean, including the first one to be colonized by the French and English, St. Kitts (and Nevis), have gone through spells of colonialism that only started to crumble in 1962, following the break-up of the failed West Indies federation.
Today, except for Montserrat, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and the Turks & Caicos Islands, all of the former British slave territories, such as St. Kitts and Nevis, have managed to gain political independence, though they continue to struggle to emancipate themselves from an economic system that was built in the period of slavery to favour the financial and commercial interests of England. The same holds true for those other Caribbean territories, under the influence of the Spanish, French and Dutch.
But almost two centuries post slavery, the minds of many black people in these parts are still being impacted, and we seem unaware that in many ways, we remain shackled by the mental slavery that was crafted to convince us to hate ourselves and look to the white nations for all of our solutions. If one examines our actions today, in almost every sphere of life, be it political, economic or social, one would come to the realization that West Indians remain trapped…mentally.
To find solutions for legal matters, the West Indian is still finding it difficult to accept that the Privy Council is not the only answer. On the other hand, they object to the Caribbean Court of Appeal; their very own creation with the finest legal minds anywhere in the world.
Answers to our problems in tourism, agriculture and trade generally, are still caught up in a world system that was designed to enforce a culture of dependency. To a great extent the system continues to work because West Indians, Kittitians and Nevisians, are still trapped in the belief that they do not have the capacity to unite and find their own creative solutions.
When Caribbean nations want to establish a Commission of Enquiry, where do they turn? When looking for a new police commissioner, where have our Caribbean states been turning?
The way forward for us as a Caribbean region, is however located in the same place…education. This is why, the announcement in June that a new comprehensive text book is to be introduced into the school system in St. Kitts and Nevis, was perhaps one of the most significant step forward to re-educate our people and to teach them about their real history. The effort being spearheaded by local historian, Leonard Stapleton must be supported.
The book will highlight the experiences and contributions of enslaved Africans in local history.
Production of the document was done in response to increased societal debate on the need to correctly document the contribution of enslaved Africans to the Federation’s development in the pre-emancipation era and teach it to the youth as part of the Ministry of Education’s White Paper Initiative to teach local black history in schools.
It is said that the document would bring about a sense of pride in students and remove remaining vestiges of inferiority which came about as a result of the slavery mentality.
The proposed title of the history text is “The experiences and Contributions of enslaved Africans in St. Kitts and Nevis.”
This is a good first step.
Not even Culturama in Nevis, which was designed to teach our people about their African heritage, has managed to meet this objective. Culturama, of late, has become an ordinary West Indian carnival.
However, if 1st August, annually, is to begin to take on some significance, it is necessary that more be done from all sectors to give it the prominence it so richly deserves. Let us begin with the proclamation of a public holiday on 1st August and not on the 1st Monday of August. Let us begin to celebrate Emancipation Day on the day our forefathers and mothers were freed.
Let us also provide more support to the efforts being made each year by the Brimstone Hill Society and also the Moravian Church in Basseterre, to introduce more meaningful activities to commemorate the greatness of Afro West Indian people.
Happy Emancipation Day!