The importance of Emancipation Day
Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson.

There are, unfortunately, many Jamaicans who will use Emancipation Day tomorrow as an opportunity to engage in activities designed to provide relaxation or entertainment, instead of reflection on the value of our history and, indeed, our need to recall.

That reality, we hold, speaks to the fact that, in many ways, our educational institutions have not done as good a job as necessary to ensure that observance of Emancipation Day is embraced in the manner articulated by former Prime Minister PJ Patterson in his message published on Page 3 of today's Sunday Observer.

Says Mr Patterson, who in 1997 re-instituted Jamaica's commemoration of August 1, 1838 when slaves were freed: "On this Emancipation Day we celebrate and solemnly recall emancipation from chattel slavery, the most sustained and barbaric violation of human rights in the history of mankind."

Observance of the day, he added, "demands fully emancipated minds to release the creative potential to dream, to aspire, to build, and to excel."

We agree with Mr Patterson, as we firmly hold the view that only by knowing and exploring our history can we truly understand the whys and hows of who we are, in order to make us better able to move forward. Otherwise, we risk making the same mistakes of our sordid past or forgetting the valuable lessons we ought to have learnt from it.

We have always held the position that in this matter of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas, all people of African ancestry should seek to emulate the example of others, most of all the Jews who have never allowed the world to forget the absolute atrocity that was the holocaust.

The fact that even after "full free" the former slaves were advised, in a Proclamation of Emancipation issued by Governor Sir Lionel Smith on July 9, 1838, that they would have to pay rent for the houses in which they lived and the lands they farmed, from the day of Emancipation, should never be wiped from history.

In the context of human history, 194 years is a short time, and the tentacles of enslavement remain with us. Much of the ignorance, poverty, inequity, indiscipline, and depravity which plague the society today have ancestral roots in that period when some felt it their right to make others their property.

In the Jamaican context, we should all take inspiration from the consistency of struggle and resistance, both active and passive, of those who refused to accept that slavery and brutality were justly their lot.

That consistent, continuous refusal to submit to oppression and injustice, even at the risk of loss of life, ultimately led to the overturning of slavery in the 1830s.

As such, the examples of freedom fighters such as Sam Sharpe, Tacky, Nanny of the Maroons, and Paul Bogle, as well as the unnamed thousands who supported them, must be held up as standards to our people, and especially our children who will form future generations.

Their example must be used to help inspire the organisation of communities as we strive to combat the criminals who seek to terrorise and enslave anew, and as we painstakingly build an economy and society on just and equitable terms.

What we cannot and must not do is deny or suppress our history.

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