Today August 1, we celebrate 184 years of the abolition of slavery in Guyana. This significant event is better known as the period of emancipation and is widely acknowledged for the celebrations and festivities that surround it. The abolition of slavery came centuries after our ancestors were ripped from their homeland in Africa, brought millions of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to this part of the world, sold into a system called slavery and thereafter worked and lived in the most inhumane conditions there ever was.
The achievement of emancipation came after decades of struggle, enduring hardships, privation, demoralization, torture and death at the hands of the slave masters. All of their freedoms were taken away, stripped of their identity, removed from the status of a human being and lowered to that of an animal. Hence, it was with great jubilation that they welcomed the dawn of August 1, 1834.
It could be said that it was this sad and dark era of history that influenced the conceptualization of the Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948, 114 years after emancipation.
Enshrined in this declaration are 30 articles, five (5) of which speak to the right to various forms of freedom. Article 1 – Innate freedom and equality, Article 13 – Right of freedom of movement, Article 18 – Right of freedom of thought and religion, Article 19 – Right of freedom of opinion and expression and Article 20 – Right of freedom of assembly and association. Of these five rights, article 19 in particular states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression and this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
No one can denounce the fact that these rights were withheld from our ancestors and it was for these very rights that they fought on many occasions via uprisings and rebellions against the slave masters. In the early 1920’s it was one of their offspring Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow who continued the struggle for these rights, which led in later years, to the attaining of another right as is enshrined in Article 20 which states 1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
It is this particular right that helped to advance the work of the trade union movement. The attainment of Independence and Republican status over the decades were all achieved by way of struggles in various forms. However, 184 years later, we the descendants of those noble men and women are seemingly engaged in another form of struggle. This time around we are fighting to maintain our democratic freedom at various levels of work and representation.
During this period of emancipation there are many songs that are reflected upon as they point to the many injustices experienced by our ancestors. The most popular is “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, only we can free our mind”. At this point in time in our history these words hold fast to present day experiences and outcomes. At times it would seem that we are still to remove the shackles from our minds which keep us in a subdued position. Time and again, we are psychologically whipped by present day Massas, whose whips are their token positions and authority, which are used to “keep us in our place”.
It is this present day plantocracy cabal that is guilty of violating our fundamental rights to freedom of expression and opinion by seeking to muzzle us by driving fear using various tactics that do not augur well for our and the nation’s wellbeing.
Therefore, it is with much hope and expectation that as the descendants of our distinguished fore parents, we strive to emulate their values, hard work, sacrifices and togetherness, which paved the way for their removal from the harsh and inhumane conditions of slavery and into a world where freedom was opportune.
As we celebrate emancipation 2018 with songs, dances and all the festivities relating to this auspicious occasion, let freedom reign in our hearts and minds. Let it become the mantra of nation building, a process that began 184 years ago. Happy Emancipation.
Member of Parliament