Emancipation – commentary



On August 1, 2013, it will be 179 years since slavery was abolished in this country – and in the rest of the British Empire, for that matter. As a national Public Holiday, we should be reminded that it is a day that should be commemorated by all Guyanese. Not only because we are citizens of this country but because we are the inheritors of the legacy of those who fought and died fighting that epitome of man’s inhumanity to man.

It was an institution of which the world had never seen before – and hopefully will never see again. There are those that like to mention that there was slavery before our “New World” slavery that dragged millions of Africans across the Atlantic and plunged them into a world in which even their humanity was denied.   

No other form of slavery, however, had ever insisted on the totality of control over the body of the enslaved and indeed insisted that that body was the “property” of the master. “Property” in this new dispensation meant the absolute control over – even to the point of selling, mutilating, or destroying that body.

Indeed, the pervasiveness of the control, in the opinion of one prominent scholar, Orlando Patterson of Harvard, helped to define something also never experienced before – its anti-thesis, the modern meaning of “liberty and freedom”. Today, across the globe, “freedom” is the watchword that galvanises so many societies to act in furtherance of what is defined as the “inalienable” right of every man, woman and child. We who are the descendants of those that helped to define the concept and ideal through their survival of the worst inhumanity man has ever committed to his fellow man must be especially vigilant that we also possess that freedom.

And what was that freedom? It was first and foremost, the right to define oneself as “human” and all that entails – to be able to live in an environment where the potentialities of our humanity can be realised. It was the right to be able to enjoy the fruits of one’s labour – which of course, means that those on whom we have conferred the right to steer our ship of state have to ensure to the best of their ability that there exists the infrastructure for us to labour within. It was the right to be able to live as a family with the ability to raise one’s children in accordance with one’s traditions. It was the right to create one’s own world.

But we know that emancipation has not delivered on its promise. There are those who would say that we did not grasp the opportunities that were presented to us. These would have forgotten the obstacles that were thrown in our path, right here in Guyana, which militated against our emancipation, making it little more than a hollow mockery. In the four years of apprenticeship, we saved enough money to purchase thousands of acres of land, created the village movement and established the foundations of what could have been a secure free peasantry. Our thrift must have shocked the planters and their allies in government: it meant that our forefathers had the wherewithal to forego being dependent on the sugar plantations.

The planters responded by importing indentured labour to undercut our wage demands and this created suspicions and fears that have dominated social relations in our country ever since. And if that were not enough, they destroyed our provision grounds and fruit trees, flooded our lands and supported our competitors in trade. Then announced that we were unfit for emancipation!

But today, we have to look ahead and work to ensure that our emancipation becomes real. We have to give effect to the tremendous struggle that our ancestors waged to bring us this far. We have been independent now for some forty-seven years. “Massa day done!” we said. But is it?  We have to ensure that we, who defined freedom, live out the true meaning of that word. Through our own efforts, like our forefathers, we have to make it real.

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  • Laura G  On 07/31/2013 at 12:58 pm

    This is great writing. Information like this needs to be out there in every possible forum including the national school’s curriculum so our children can understand what cruelty humanity imposed on itself and also to carry on the legacy of our ancestors – the fight for liberty! Do not be bought over by the thirty pieces of silver hand outs by the government and say we celebrate when the truth of the matter is that they want to continue to enslave our minds, body and soul.\

  • sirenagx  On 07/31/2013 at 10:34 pm

    What government is paying 30 pieces of silver and enslaving our minds? Does this includes the members in Parliament? Government etc

  • Thinker  On 08/01/2013 at 9:19 am

    It’s about time that people read about the history of Arab slavery in Africa. It is painful to see such nonsense as that is paragraph three being written.

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