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MSJ: Ring D Bell for Freedom! An Emancipation story

“[…] If we have been able to begin to fashion a Caribbean civilisation, then this has only been possible by the ancestors who humanised this space with positive values and their creative imagination.

“It is in this light, that on this Emancipation Day, 2021, the Movement for Social Justice wishes to pay special tribute to four persons who have, through their creative imagination, kept our African ancestry alive in our consciousness and imbued us with the spirit of struggle with which those ancestors overcame centuries of slavery and exploitation.

“We refer, of course, to Singing Sandra, Winston ‘Joker’ De Vignes, Brother Resistance and LeRoy Clarke…”

Photo: Iconic late Trinidad and Tobago artist LeRoy Clarke.

The following is an Emancipation Day message by Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah:

Today, 1st August, Emancipation Day is one of the most important of our commemorative days in Trinidad and Tobago. It is of course the day in 1838 when chattel slavery ended. It therefore marks the first milepost in our long journey as a people to freedom. 

Let us be clear. Slavery and the odious plantation system established patterns of exploitation, discrimination, injustice and inequality along lines of class, colour that persist to this very day.

It is that system that the former enslaved continued to fight as they recognised that their right to a dignified life was not completely fulfilled by Emancipation. 

True, the former slaves were no longer ‘chattel’, literally the property of the slave owners no different from a beast of burden, but the colonial relations of economic, social and political power had not been changed. Thus the journey continued through struggle, sacrifice and the loss of life. 

Photo: A sugar plantation owner oversees the work of his slaves.

This was manifest concretely in what the establishment called ‘riots’: the ‘Royal Jail Riot’ of 1849; the ‘Belmanna Riot’ in Tobago in 1876; the Canboulay ‘Riot’ of 1881; the Hosay ‘Riot’ of 1884; the Arouca ‘Riot’ of  1891; the Water ‘Riot’ of 1903 are all part of this history of resistance to the power of the controllers of economic, social and political power. 

Those popular revolts led up to the 1919-20 General Strikes and then the better known 19 June 1937 General Strike and revolt; and the 1946-47 strike movement.

Emancipation started us along the road to freedom. 

All of these other struggles, most of them primarily involving the former slaves or their immediate descendants, were absolutely important as they forced the colonisers and the planter and merchant classes to introduce, over time, reforms that gave us more and more freedom: the right to vote; the right to trade unions; freedom of association; freedom of religion; and eventually political independence.

As a people we are indebted to our ancestors who fought against their being enslaved; whose indomitable spirit was never dimmed by the oppressive conditions of their lives; and whose humanity was not destroyed by the brutality of the slave owners.

Photo: A statute to Benkos Biohó in Colombia.
Biohó, was born into a royal family in the Kongo kingdom before being captured and sold into slavery.
He established the maroon community of San Basilio de Palenque in the 16th century.

If we have been able to begin to fashion a Caribbean civilisation, then this has only been possible by the ancestors who humanised this space with positive values and their creative imagination.

It is in this light, that on this Emancipation Day, 2021, the Movement for Social Justice wishes to pay special tribute to four persons who have, through their creative imagination, kept our African ancestry alive in our consciousness and imbued us with the spirit of struggle with which those ancestors overcame centuries of slavery and exploitation. 

We refer, of course, to Singing Sandra, Winston ‘Joker’ De Vignes, Brother Resistance and LeRoy Clarke. They were all exceptional artistes and living proof of how African people humanised our space.

As importantly, they used their talents to keep us rooted in the traditions of the African ancestors. They were griots, chantwells, philosophers and spiritual elders and we are poorer for their passing.

At the same time, the MSJ deplores the fact that our education system is so deficient in the teaching of our real history—the history of the struggle ‘out of slavery, through indenture and up to freedom’. 

Photo: The late rapso icon Lutalo ‘Bro Resistance’ Masimba on Emancipation Day in 2018.

We equally deplore the fact that in spite of having more media today, both traditional and social, than ever before, they are all failing to provide us with the information that would enable us to ‘know where we came from, so that we may where we are now and where we have to go’.

This reality, the MSJ believes, is not accidental. Those who control economic, social and political power, who were described by a great Caribbean thinker, Professor Rex Nettleford, as ‘the historical plantocracy, the enduring commission agency class, and the newly arrived technocracy’—do not wish the masses to know their history. They wish to keep people in shackles, not the physical chains of chattel slavery, but the mental chains that keep us believing that our conditions cannot be changed.

Let us therefore, on this Emancipation Day, seek to ‘emancipate ourselves from mental slavery’ and as the MSJ proposes: have ‘A Revolution of the Mind!’

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