St. Maarten commemorates 12th annual Emancipation Day event

St. Maarten commemorates 12th  annual Emancipation Day event

From left: President of Parliament Sidharth Bijlani, Janique Baly, Governor of St. Maarten Ajamu Baly, ECYS Minister Rodolphe Samuel, President of French Saint Martin Louis Mussington, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitalisation Alexandra van Huffelen.


PHILIPSBURG--“Born Free” was the theme of this year’s Emancipation Day event, the 160th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Abolishment of Slavery in 1863, across the Dutch Caribbean islands on Saturday, July 1.

The event commenced with an ecumenical service at Saints Simon and Jude Anglican Church, Back Street, in the morning, followed by a Freedom March on Boardwalk Boulevard to the Sports Park.

The beautiful ceremony was filled with performances and renditions of song, poetry and dance by local musicians, poets, dancers, singers and storytellers.


Performance by National Institute of Arts (NIA) dancers during the ceremony.

Symbol of freedom

In his speech, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel noted the day as a symbolic celebration of freedom. “It serves as a reminder of the struggles faced by those who fought for liberation and equality to ensure that we are free and to honour the importance of Emancipation Day we commemorate this day each year in a very special way,” he said.

“The theme ‘Born Free’ is well chosen because it gives the challenge to question what it means for each of us to say the words ‘I am born free’. What do these words mean for you and, most naturally, what do they mean for me? You would notice that the more you research and educate yourself about slavery and freedom the more you would realise that the only freedom you have is the freedom that you allow yourself to have.”

The minister presented a challenge for persons to examine their views of the words “born free”.




President of Parliament Sidharth Bijlani reflected on the pain and suffering that the nation’s ancestors had endured during the era of slavery.

“We must remember their struggle and honour their resilience, but we must also recognise the progress that we as a people have made since then and the opportunities that lie ahead of us,” said Bijlani. “Today we are born free, we have the right to pursue our dreams and the aspirations without fear of oppression or discrimination. We are free to express ourselves, to worship as we choose and to participate in our democracy.”

Bijlani said that the Dutch government’s apology on December 19, 2022, for its role in the slave trade was a significant and meaningful step forward. “Acknowledging the harm caused then and now by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, however, is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning of larger dialogue that should include discussions on reparations and reconciliations.

“Reparations are an important part of the conversation. It is not in us to simply acknowledge the harm caused by slavery, we must also take concrete steps to address the ongoing impacts of that harm,” he concluded.

Sacrifices made

Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs stated in her address that the Emancipation Day gathering was a testament to the people’s spirit. “We remember with reverence, honour and respect those souls lost while in captivity on the continent. Those lost or who gave up lives willingly during the middle passage. Those who died upon arrival and those who, as cattle, listed as property, laboured for the financial enrichment of others.”

Jacobs said the impact and consequences of this period of enslavement can still be felt by the descendants on both sides, especially as they accept the truth, their story is finally being revealed. “Apologies are being uttered and surely, as was said before, reparations, reconciliations must come. Enlightenment on both sides is essential for the healing to truly take place and an awareness that despite this nefarious part of our shared history, we, the people of Soualiga are born free.

“Let us pause to reflect upon the immeasurable blessings we enjoy as free people. We live in a remarkable era, a time when we can freely gather in a public space like this and raise our voices in jubilant celebration. We can proudly invoke the names of our forefathers and -mothers without fear or reservation. We are the descendants of a proud lineage planted firmly on the soil of our ancestors who toiled and sacrificed to leave this heritage for us.

“Let us remember that ‘emancipation’ is more than just the word and freedom extends far beyond mere rhetoric. It calls upon each of us to deeply understand the sacrifices made on our behalf, sacrifices that allowed us to stand here today, free from others’ authority, free from master’s yoke,” said Jacobs.


Dignitaries laying flamboyant tree flowers at the water’s edge.

Righting the wrongs

Governor of St. Maarten Ajamu Baly said the Emancipation Day event honours our ancestors who fought against the unimaginable atrocities of enslavement for us to enjoy the liberties that we have today. “Liberties that we should never take for granted and that we should purposefully utilise in order to safeguard and enhance our current level of freedom, for the fight for freedom justice and equality for all is long and tedious one that will never be over until all the wrongs have been righted,” said Baly.

“It was recently mentioned to me that in the grand scheme of things we do not know exactly where our current place is in history. Though this may be the case, right now we in the Kingdom for the first time in history are engaging in open dialogue about our shared history and we, the current descendants of that past, have to realise and recognise the important times we live in and the vital role each one of us has to play in this day and age, recognising the exciting and unique opportunity that lies before us to allow finally the voices of the oppressed to be heard in justly fashion.

“The historical importance, significance, for self-awareness and self-esteem and the cultural upheaval at this day and age may bring about demand that we take up this call to action and take on the daunting yet morally obligatory task ahead in order for the complete story to be told, more importantly heard by all within and without our Kingdom so that all involved can get an accurate picture of all that has transpired and, most importantly, those in power can be moved to do finally what we all know is right and just.”

The Daily Herald

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