Letters & Opinion

Emancipation Festival – Awakening the Consciousness of a People

By Reginald Andrew

ON August 1, this year, it was quite heartening to see the observance of Emancipation Day in Saint Lucia taking on a whole new dimension- to arouse the consciousness of the citizenry of the country, generally.  

Celebrations revved up from the early hours with a J’ouvert Jump Up ala Congo drums and percussion style alongside the Castries Waterfront. And the live event that followed drew a crowd of curious onlookers, government officials, and other people in society to a lively and exciting display of talent in motion.

Saint Lucian artists, dancers, and performers took to the stage to portray a skit, dance, song, or poetry relating to Freedom, Liberation, and in recognition of the human rights and recognition for the Identity of Black People.

To add to the mix, popular Jamaican Dub Artiste, poet, and social activist Mutabaruka delivered some insightful literary verses, chanting for freedom from oppression.

The brother-sister duo of Herb Black and Black Pearl justified their appearance in the production; with a rendition of some of their more popular local tunes, such as ‘Black Man Rise’ and other soul-searching selections.

Later that day, the Freedom Concert, at Vieux Fort, featured the likes of veteran reggae artiste Meshack with his ‘Black Liberation Day’ tune and other selections and other performers at the show.

And now that the Saint Lucian government has decided to extend the observance from an Emancipation Day holiday event to an Emancipation Festival, this opens up the avenue for more dialogue and discourse on a long-lasting, auspicious, and memorable event in the history of Black People.

The road to attaining Redemption and Freedom from colonial domination and oppression was no easy journey or feat —it took toil and sweat, pain and glory, guts and gore, and most of all, the fight against injustice in the quest for human dignity, justice and equality to prevail.

There were days gone by when the Emancipation Day celebrations were just another ‘laid-back’ fun-free holiday. The major highlights, at the time, mostly involved the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF) putting on some in-house lectures and poetry presentations; the Folk Research Centre (FRC) too, played a part in putting on these limited presentations.

A central figure that comes to mind, is a Saint Lucian professor, scholar, historian, and author Humphrey Regis who passionately took the flight from the US to come to visit home and lecture to the ‘kindred souls’ that attended these lectures or literary presentations. The likes of award-winning poet and playwright Kendal Hippolyte, cultural activists Kennedy “Boots” Samuel and George “Fish” Alphonse, the late Gandolph St Clair, and other persons are some of the ‘concerned people’ or more conscious-minded individuals at the time that dared to keep the ‘liberation flame’ burning with their deliveries.

Ras Isley Sealy and the Rastafarian ‘brethren and sistren’ also sought to highlight the core meaning within the celebration with their drumming, chanting, and inspirational poetry delivery.

And last year, the Ubuntu Movement contributed to the Emancipation activities with great input by putting on lectures at schools and other public locations, culminating with a grand ‘Poetry Slam’ Emancipation-themed competition that featured some of the young and dynamic poets and literary artists on the island.

Simultaneously, the movement also lectured on the significance of the Blue Economy, highlighting its ethos for sustainable living.

But unfortunately, the membership suffered a setback at the hands of thieves that broke into its upper Jeremie Street location. The culprits stole computers containing relevant data and other items from the place to hinder the movement’s progress, but the membership continues to surge nonetheless.

Added to the list of ‘Great Warriors’ and Heroes who fought so gallantly to free black people from slavery, are the Haitians Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and others. In the latter century or so, we grew up admiring the exploits and looking up to the likes of Martin Luther, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bishop Tutu, and in more recent times,  Guyanese historian, political activist, and academic Dr. Walter Rodney – whose notable works include ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’.

And included in that lot are many more present-day warriors in the struggle for freedom from social and economic exploitation and systematic deprivation.

In all of this, there is something intrinsically unique about this territory – the West Indies or Caribbean region as it’s known …that has caused the world to stop and take a second look, albeit in a different light.

The region is brimming and bubbling over with diverse talent in music, sports, entertainment, commerce, and other modern-day fields of work that encompass the wider world. The Caribbean-wide repertoire of music is infectious with different genres, serving up Soca, Calypso, Reggae, Dance Hall, Zouk, Salsa, and other rhythms.

That the local authorities have found it fitting to extend the Emancipation Day celebrations from a holiday event to a larger Emancipation Festival is indeed commendable …and there are several other dramatic and literary arts productions, lectures, and other events on the schedule, stretching into next month, September.

Now, it is left to see how rewarding, thought-provoking, and inspiring these activities can be, as we move forward in an endeavour to up the ante on ‘black people’s profile’, and according to popular Jamaican Dancehall/Dub Artiste Sizzla Kalonji ‘Rise to the Occasion’ –as the region charts out a path towards freedom and liberation, all the while not forgetting the pain and suffering that the Haitians bear and have borne over the years, without recourse.

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