07 July 2012

Emancipation Day: A celebration, commemoration of freedom won

page1a039PHILIPSBURG--"Surrender not one day of Freedom won" were the words repeated by dignitaries and the public alike at the Monday, July 2, celebration of Emancipation Day.

For the first time as a new nation, St. Maarten celebrated 149 years of emancipation on a day filled with cultural music, dance, food, commemoration and education.

The hot July day began with an Emancipation Day ecumenical service at St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church at 9:00am. Dignitaries of both sides of the island and the public were greeted by steel pan music played by Tropical Brothers Steel Band, led by their captain Neville York. The band played a medley of "This is the Day," "Send the Light" and "Whosoever will."

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams expressed her joy in celebrating the day and recognising the fight for recognition and the efforts of many in society who had kept the flame burning, those who had done their research and those who had documented history to make this day a reality. The past history has shaped what St. Maarten is today, she said.

The struggle and fight of the forefathers of St. Maarten "represent a part of our collective history. It has made us a resourceful, resilient and productive people. The more we celebrate who we are, the more proud we become to be called

St. Maarteners," she said.

"I stand still as I recognise the efforts of those members of our society who have kept the flame burning for Emancipation Day, those who, holiday or not, celebrated the commemoration of July 1st every year. The most important observance in my opinion, however, comes from those who have gone to great lengths to research, document and transmit our history, a history that is as colourful as a patch quilt.

"There is no denying that the importation of men and women to our island in the 17th century was the foundation of our modern-day society. That our forefathers had to labour in slavery, as abominable and reprehensible as that practice was, has also shaped who we are today. They built with their sweat, tears and yes, blood, our foundation as a nation.

"When you really think about it, it's not that long ago that this practice existed, until its official abolition in 1863, a mere 149 years ago. If I consider my mother's age at 91 and that of her contemporaries, it brings our history rather close."

The church service was followed by wreath-laying ceremonies at the statues of One Tété Lohkay and the Freedom Fighters. Activities continued with a Cultural Parade with participants in national dress, stilt walkers and drummers, that ended at the Courthouse surrounded by onlookers, living statues and various bands.

The parade was followed by addresses by Governor Eugene Holiday, the Prime Minister, Minister of Culture Silveria Jacobs and President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell. "I am immensely proud and pleased to stand before you today to share in and address you in this first observance of Emancipation Day," the Governor told those present.

He said Emancipation Day functioned as a source of greater consciousness and understanding. The celebration of Emancipation Day ended with cultural manifestations at Salt Pickers roundabout. Vendors were also present displaying different cultural arts and crafts, and local St. Maarten foods.


Homage to ancestors during Emancipation Day celebration

CUL-DE-SAC--The former plantation grounds at Emilio Wilson Park formed the perfect backdrop for VOICES' Emancipation Day celebration on Sunday afternoon.  
Organised by grassroots foundation Victory Over Injustice Consciously Eliminating Silence (VOICES), which goal it is to combat all forms of abuse and violence through awareness, empowerment and prevention, the event honoured St. Maarten's enslaved ancestors and contemporary role models during an event filled with music, dance, storytelling and poetry.

After D'shnay York had given a rendition of the St. Maarten Song, VOICES president Nkosazana Illis said the event was to commemorate "the greatness of our ancestors." She read from the Declaration of Emancipation, signed by the governor of Curaçao and its dependencies on July 1, 1863, which pronounced the liberty of slaves throughout the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles. Copies of the Declaration were distributed among the public.

In opening the event, Illis and Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Silveria Jacobs lit two candles under one of the park's majestic silk cotton trees in remembrance of St. Maarten's enslaved ancestors.

After one minute of silence was observed, Minister Jacobs commended VOICES for organising the event, and urged the public at large to study St. Maarten's history more vigilantly and to record the stories of the island's senior citizens.

During the event, several "grassroots" local entrepreneurs were commended for their contribution to St. Maarten and its people. Among those receiving certificates of appreciation were José Lake Junior, Don Hughes, Elsje Bosch, Cedric Cannegieter and Lucy Lake.

Former Culture Minister Rhoda Arrindell, who was another speaker at the event, also received a certificate of appreciation for her efforts in making Emancipation Day a national holiday. Former Commissioner Louie Laveist had also been instrumental in achieving this, Illis added.

Musical icon Addison "Shadowman" Richardson presented the two-hour cultural programme, which was kicked-off with traditional dance, presented by dancers of Motiance Dance School and Imbali Centre for Creative Movement.

Music was provided by Generation New Status STM drum band, Soualougia Jump Up Brass Band, Shabba Djembé Drummers and Ras Bushman.

The spoken word was represented by story teller Papa Umpo, who recounted the story of One-Tete Lokay, and poets Anderson Percival and Unexpected Poet.

The event was closed off with the planting of a young flamboyant tree. Illis and Arrindell planted the tree, symbolising growth, hope, power and continuation, with assistance of a young St. Maarten girl.