02 July 2010

From 2011, Emancipation Day likely to be a national holiday in Sint Maarten

~ Says Leader of Government in Emancipation Day message ~

Daily Herald, Philipsburg

Leader of Government Commissioner William Marlin says that with more autonomy after 10-10-10 St. Maarten will be able to make its own decisions, such as declaring Emancipation Day, being observed today, July 1, a National Holiday.

(Sint Maarten is scheduled to attain separate country status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 10th October 2010 [10-10-10] with the dismantling of the five-island - Netherlands Antilles and the creation of the separate countries of Curacao and Sint Maarten. The other three islands - Bonaire, Saba and Statia - will become partially integrated 'public entities' of the Kingdom - OTR).

In his Emancipation Day message in which he encouraged the population to rally for Country St. Maarten, Marlin said this day could not be celebrated "as if it is just another day," and pledged, "By the grace of God, July 1, 2011, will be a public holiday in the new country St. Maarten."

Marlin called on "each and every St. Maartener and all those who truly love this island to reflect on the past, not to dwell on it, but to learn the important lessons the victory over the monstrosity of slavery teaches us."

He continued:  "I ask you to join me and the rest of St. Maarten in giving all we have to reach that new milestone of 10-10-10, when St. Maarten will become an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

"It is a country we have to build together, a country we have to nurture together, a country we can all be proud of together. What we have not been able to do because we were part of the Netherlands Antilles will now be within our hands to do."

One of those things, he said, is to declare July 1 a national holiday. "A day like this cannot be commemorated as if it was just another day."

He said the struggle for St. Maarten to attain separate status had not started yesterday, or a decade ago when the electorate voted for the island territory to become an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

"We are just a few months away from claiming victory on behalf of the entire St. Maarten population and in the name of all those who have paved the way for us to be this close to achieving another major milestone in our march towards destiny. 10-10-10 is right around the corner; we are, to use a sporting term, in the homestretch.

"Ain't no stopping us now ... we are indeed on the move. This is the time when we cannot allow ourselves to falter," said Marlin, who is currently in Curacao for the Kingdom Political Steering Group (PSG) meeting.

"This is the time to summon all the energy, all the strength, all the determination we have left in the tank and make the final push to the finish line. The race we are engaged in is a marathon, and as any marathon runner knows, managing your strengths and other resources is the key to victory."

Historical perspective

When on July 1, 1863, "the Dutch finally succumbed to pressure" to abolish slavery in all its territories, our ancestors in St. Maarten had already been taking their freedom by fleeing to the Northern half of the island where slavery had been abolished in 1848, Marlin said.

"That was a good 15 years earlier. In fact, history shows that our forefathers did not wait for freedom to be granted to them on a platter; they did everything they could to be free. We can only imagine today what it must have felt like on that sunny day when the Governor proclaimed the official abolition of slavery in the territory."

He said historical records showed that the former slaves had danced and fêted all day long. "They danced the ponum. One of the songs they sang, presumably under the flamboyant tree, included a line that indicated the slaves knew that 'massa' had hidden the news of their freedom from them. For how long? We can only speculate.

"That first, First of July, was a holiday. The celebrations, of course, went on for more than that day. If we looked more closely, perhaps we could trace the origin of our Carnival even to that period of our history. But Emancipation Day was not just about fêting then and shouldn't be just that now, either."

Now, 147 years later, the question is: what have we learnt from that Emancipation Day? he asked.

"I make bold to state that we, the descendants of those slaves, may have missed the true lessons of that day. Freedom, we must all agree, does not come free. Freedom requires sacrifice; it requires struggle; it requires hard work and perseverance. Our ancestors made the ultimate sacrifice to be free: they struggled, worked hard and persevered, never losing faith in that glorious day when they would achieve what is the birthright of every human being.

"Of course, before July 1, 1863, they were not even recognised as human beings. A donkey was worth just as much or sometimes even more than they were. What kind of struggle can be more noble than to free oneself from the metal and the mental shackles that slavery imposed not only on the slave, but perhaps more important, on his master as well?

"It can be argued, with good merit, I might add, that perhaps the main significance of July 1, 1863, lies in the fact that it was on that date we became St. Maarteners in the true, patriotic sense of the word, although the feeling of oneness, of belonging together, surely started long before that in the flats at Great Salt Pond, which our illustrious poet Lasana Sekou has aptly described as the 'Cradle of our Nation,'" said Marlin.


On July 1, 1863, 11,654 slaves in the Netherlands Antilles were freed, of which 6,751 were in Curaçao and 33,621 were in Suriname. The Netherlands was one of the last countries to abolish slavery. The British had already abolished it in 1833 and the French in 1848. Plantation owners received compensation for each freed slave, but the slaves themselves received nothing. Plantation owners received 200 guilders per freed slave in Curaçao, 100 guilders in St. Maarten and 300 guilders in Suriname. -  Daily Herald