In commemoration of Emancipation Day, we reminisce on the freedom of our ancestors from the physical bondage of slavery.  It is also a celebration of liberation from a system of oppression and servitude. 

Our Caribbean history is austere if you look at it through a colonized lens. According to an Emancipation lecture series at the UWI in 2007, “Slavery was hereditary, inherited through the mother (so the child of an enslaved mother and a free man was born a slave), and life-long. Harsh laws determined how the enslaved were controlled and punished. Enslaved people had no legally respected rights to marriage or family, and were more or less at the mercy of their owners, just short of the power of life and death.” Let us not forget also the chains, shackles, stripping away of one’s culture and the severe exploitation endured.

The 19th century saw the gradual evolution of emancipation across the islands of the Caribbean even before the United States. Whilst Britain was one of the catalysts in this process by first abolishing the slave trade in 1808, followed by apprenticeship and finally, emancipation in 1838, Trinidad and Tobago was the first country in the world to declare it as a national holiday.

Today, many generations thereafter, we the descendants of slaves, struggle with the legacies left by colonialism. Despite being perpetuated by stereotypes, our ancestors’ legacies continue to thrive. We are not unrestrained, we are not predators but rather, we are leaders, revolutionary thinkers, visionaries, philosophers.

The legacy of our African heritage is evident in many spaces and places in Trinidad and Tobago. It tells riveting stories of resistance and the resilience of a triumphant people. Just like other groups in Trinidad and Tobago, our African brothers and sisters have left an indelible mark on our society, contributing to the rich cultural diversity and shaping our nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

Now, 183 years later, I wish to provoke your thoughts, as we reflect. We have abolished the slave trade and slavery, we have been freed from bondage, but are we really emancipated? Are we really emancipated from oppression? Are we emancipated from discrimination and racial prejudice? Are we really emancipated from unfair systems in society? How have we progressed as a society since emancipation in 1838?

The physical liberation of slaves and break free from the system 183 years ago may have been accomplished, but almost 2 centuries later, we can perhaps see that history is repeating itself through dissimilar ways. 

We live in a society where many of our systems are failing, racism is prevalent although authorities preach against it, across the globe many of our brothers and sisters are plagued by oppression from various forces. Also, we may not be chained one to another, but sometimes it seems as though we are chained to the system where we adapt to circumstances as the norm and are blinded by the injustices of society.

Let us not be complacent bodies, but rather critical minds assiduously in search of ways to ameliorate the system for the common good. Let us look beyond the years and think if we would like our future generations to continue living in fear and amidst inequalities. We do not need revolts but we can discover innovative ways to make a positive change in our democracy. 

Just as our ancestors persevered through the years and became resilient, we too can learn from their determination whilst underscoring that change can be made when there is unity, which can make a mark in our history. Our strength, resources and intellectual capabilities pooled together can turn the tides in creating a new wave of impartiality, righteousness and equity in our land.

In closing, I thank you for the opportunity to join in this observance as we recollect the great strides of our ancestors.  On behalf of the Office of the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Mayaro, I extend Emancipation Greetings to all and may we always remember the words of a famous post-colonial Caribbean poet, “It is hard to see anything without history …because we see with history. It is difficult to see through it; and yet we must or we become it… become nothing else but history.”- Kendal Hippolyte.