26 July 2013

Scourge of slavery recalled at emancipation ceremony in French St. Martin

Daily Herald

MARIGOT--The 165th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery was commemorated at a ceremony held at the Lady Liberty statue in Agrément on Monday with a programme of official speeches, interspersed with theatrical skits from a dark period in history with actors posing as slaves.

Fortunately the weather remained fine and sunny for the outdoor ceremony although dignitaries were seated under a tent should rain have fallen.

Préfet Philippe Chopin, Senator Louis-Constant Fleming, and Parliamentarian Daniel Gibbs, were present joining President Aline Hanson, her Vice-Presidents, the Territorial Council, and Presidents of the District Councils and Culture Associations.

The programme was opened by Natisha Hanson who sang an interpretation of Bob Marley's Redemption Song." She also closed the ceremony with a rendition of the St. Martin Song.

Short addresses to mark the occasion were given by Préfet Chopin and President Hanson who also read out a message from President of the French Republic François Hollande.

"Our children must know what happened in the past," she said. "Here in St. Martin they must know the various areas where cultivation took place and who the families were who were brought in from Africa to work. We have to make sure slavery never happens again, that human beings are never exploited. We are all equal and humanity must be respected."

The theatrical programme was once again well organised by the Collectivité's Arts and Culture Department. The roundabout was decorated with props and authentic items that would have been used during the period on plantations or in the home.

The first segment directed by Melissa Fleming and Romaric Benjamin from One Poet Society had actors as slaves dressed in period costume being beaten by the plantation owner for trying to escape, and then forced back to work cutting the sugar cane. Finally the slaves rejoice after learning of their freedom.

Another entertaining exchange between a local woman (played by Reinette Petit) and a fish seller (played by Patou from Youth Waves) drew laughter from the audience.

Gwoka drum music to accompany the performances was provided by Hélié and Company.

President of the Nature Valley Colombier Association, Vernicia Brooks, then read out an ancestral roll call of names from the region and St. Martin, to remind people that those persons, not slaves, fought for rights in their communities and who have passed on.

"We have a tendency to forget them and this was a reminder," Brooks explained.

A minute's silence to remember the slavery period concluded the ceremony.