Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs laying a wreath of flamboyant tree flowers at the Freedom Fighter’s Monument during the official Emancipation Day Celebration on Wednesday, July 1. (John van Kerkhof photo)
Rudolph Davis Dance Company performing the Ponum Dance during celebration of the 157th anniversary of emancipation from slavery at the Freedom Fighter’s Roundabout in Philipsburg on Wednesday morning. Story on page . (John van Kerkhof photo)
PHILIPSBURG--The 157th anniversary of emancipation from slavery was celebrated at the Freedom Fighter’s Roundabout in Philipsburg across from Sundial School on Wednesday morning, July 1. This year’s celebration centred on the theme “Sacred legacies; standing on the shoulders of giants” and featured a dynamic repertoire of performances from dance and poetry to drumming.
The production, put together by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport’s (MECYS) Department of Culture was inspired by the 1848 to1863 era when the ancestors of French St. Martin and Dutch St. Maarten fought for their freedom. The performances evoked the attendees and spectators to reflect on the situation from then until now.
The ceremony included “The St. Maarten Song” played solo by “pan man” The Mighty Dow. Local calypsonian Marvin “King Stunky” Dollison, accompanied by the Community Choir, performed his “Emancipation Day Song”, while the Rudolph Davis Dance Company performed the “Ponum” emancipation dance and other pieces, while the sound of drums and the African kora string instrument was presented by Drum-ology led by Souleymane Camara.
Governor Eugene Holiday was the first to take to the lectern to give his lecture titled “Carrying the torch of the Sacred Legacies of Emancipation”.
The governor said the Emancipation Proclamation of July 1, 1863, which he described as a “critical moment in the history of our island” marked the “triumph of the indomitable will of the enslaved men and women of St. Maarten to be free. A triumph which forever redefined our collective destiny as one St. Maarten people.”
He said the proclamation brought an official end to the unethical enslavement of St. Maarten’s black population and laid the foundation for the civil liberties for all St. Maarteners, regardless of race, colour, gender or religion.
Not only the governor, but also Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and Minister of ECYS Rodolphe Samuel referred in their speeches to the “giants” of emancipation, such as One-Tété Lohkay and “thousands” of other freedom fighters and nation builders, Lionel Bernard Scot, Melford Hazel, Claude Wathey and Jose Lake Sr. among them.
‘Torch of emancipation’
“As we celebrate emancipation at the foot of this Freedom Fighter monument, we are reminded that our freedom is not free. It was earned by the struggles, sacrifices and blood of our forefathers,” said Holiday in his speech.
“We – like generations before us – owe it to them and to future generations of St. Maarteners to carry the torch of emancipation,” he said in reminding that the ideals of emancipation are under national and global threat, such as increasing poverty, racial bias, drug and human trafficking, the effects of climate change, and most recently, COVID-19.
“These issues all have the potential to undermine our gains since emancipation. This is evident from the social and economic consequences of Hurricane Irma. And as I speak, we are confronted with the hard realities of the impact of the invisible threat of the coronavirus.”
In the past three-plus months, St. Maarten joined the global community in practicing key protective measures such as, social distancing from family, friends and colleagues, washing hands, wearing masks and restricted international travel.
“Some of these measures have drastically changed and affected the way we interact and our ability to make a living as a country… By impacting our social and economic liberties and opportunities, COVID-19 reminded us of the value of the sacred legacies of emancipation,” the governor said.
“Freedom and the opportunities it provides are neither free, nor guaranteed. It is, therefore, our obligation to carry the torch of emancipation to protect and preserve the sacred legacy of emancipation,” he said.
The governor expressed his gratitude to the healthcare professionals, law-enforcement officers, first responders, military forces, grocery workers and other front-line employees for carrying the torch in the fight against COVID-19.
Minister Jacobs pointed at the discrepancy between Emancipation in French St. Maarten which took place in 1848, while enslavement in Dutch St. Maarten continued for 15 more years.
In reality, the Dutch side was free with its brothers and sisters on the other side of the island in 1848, she stated, which led to a round of applause from among the audience.
Jacobs said emancipation made an end to “an era of the most brutal, horrendous and inhumane time in our history. In reference to the “Black Lives Matter” marches, the prime minister said that institutionalised inequalities still need to be removed in the Dutch Kingdom.
“Black people all over the world are fighting for equality and the right to determine their own destiny, as well as the right to live free from judgement, a fight against bigotry which still exists today.”
She said that St. Maarten also must fight to self-govern and for its right to self-determination, “our right to truly be free,” by standing up against “all oppressors” and any form of inequality. “We fight this by addressing all forms of institutionalised colonialism still remaining in our system of government, education, immigration, and I can go on.”
The ceremony ended with the governor, prime minister and minister of culture laying wreaths at the feet of the Freedom Fighter’s monument, followed by a rendition of the Ponum Dance.