MESSAGE FROM LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
The Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller
EMANCIPATION DAY 2011
My fellow Jamaicans, today we mark, another Anniversary of the achievement of our Emancipation.
This is due to the struggles of our ancestors who endured slavery and other forms of exploitation at the hands of the slave masters.
They eventually, used all means necessary to liberate themselves from that brutal regime of terror.
The restoration of Emancipation Day has provided a platform from which we can survey the different chapters of our journey to freedom.
This is a journey which began with the Taino resistance to Spanish Colonizers, continued with the Maroons, and was cemented by Africans who were forcefully brought here many centuries ago to form a labour force as slaves for Europe’s enrichment.
Thankfully they refused to collaborate with their own exploitation.
The chief liberator among enslaved people in Jamaica; that great revolutionary conceptualizer, the Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe, (Daddy Sharpe), the Anniversary of who’s hanging on May 23, coincides with that day we now celebrate as Labour Day.
He was not alone on those Gallows. As we think about what it took to secure our Emancipation, let us also remember those who were with him in the struggle:
And so many, many more whose names have been recently inscribed by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust on the Freedom Monument erected in their honour in Montego-Bay.
I encourage those of you who live in Western Jamaica to visit that Monument and place a floral tribute in memory of our fallen Liberators.
It is right for us to remember them. It is right for us to emulate their examples.
We must use them as beacons to be shone on our journey – the journey of a people, emancipated and strong.
Our Ancestors found the strength to resist and that was remarkable; for what they endured was unspeakable.
The abusive nature of the treatment meted out to the indigenous Tainos ultimately accounted for their disappearance; and this was used as the rationale for the forced trafficking of Africans to become the labour force for a colony structured to supply the commodities required by Europe.
Our Ancestors were considered as chattel from the start.
The enslavers subjected the sons and daughters of Africans who had been descended from great civilizations to dreadful atrocities. Despite these atrocities, the enslavers were ultimately forced to end this shameless tyranny.
This has enabled us today, as the descendants of those rebel men and women, to bask in the memory of that Glorious date of “Full Free”, August 1, 1838.
Emancipation Day 2011 coincides with the year designated by the United Nations as the International Year for People of African Descent. The observance aims at “Strengthening National actions, and Regional as well as International cooperation for the benefit of people of African Descent in relation to their full enjoyment of Economic, Cultural, Social, Civil and Political Rights.”
On behalf of the people of African Descent, I thank the United Nations for this designation. It is an observance that we must not take lightly and one that we must use to enrich our own reflections on this Emancipation Day.
Emancipation Day is not only a day of celebration; it is also a reminder that despite the odds and despite our size we have pierced the global consciousness. We have shown the world the best of who we are and who we can become. It reminds us that we are descended from a people with histories and achievements in knowledge, technologies, techniques and values which can greatly assist human development.
But there is still need for greater awareness of our struggles and the road still to be traveled. There is so much evidence in our society to demonstrate what can be achieved when confidence in self joins with resilience to formulate that “Yes We Can” Attitude.
That resilience seemed to have been inbuilt by the hands and blessings of the various forces through which our Ancestors connected to the Almighty.
That resilience lived on in each of them and made them strong; down trodden but unbeatable, oppressed but irrepressible, enslaved but unstoppable.
Our history has been written into the flair of our cultural space. It has been articulated through the eminence of Louise Bennett, Edna Manley, Kapo, Gonzalez and Bob Marley, to name a few.
Our ancestral gifts are like threads woven into our social fabric. They are expressed through the academic brilliance of Nettleford, Chevannes, Cooper, Leo’Rhynie, Shepherd, Lowe and Lecky.
The physical strength and endurance of our ancestors is manifested into our athletic superiority of McKenley, Wint, Quarry, Ottey, and their modern-day successors – Usain, Asafa, Shelly-Ann, Veronica and many others.
Our history is inescapable and cannot be separated from who we are as a people today. Our history is our legacy. It is that unseen hand that beckons us to excellence. It is present with every farmer, teacher, nurse, entrepreneur, doctor, student, household helpers, taxi operators and all other categories of the Jamaican workforce.
As we stand on the threshold of our Fiftieth Anniversary as a nation, we must now decide what we make of the legacy of courage that we have inherited.
It accounts for the greatness in each of us, that has been made even more resplendent and diverse within all of us as Jamaicans by the introduction within our society and culture of the European, Middle Eastern and Asian people who were to become a part of our population and gene-pool through subsequent immigration.
It is how, despite the atrocities of slavery and the difficulties of early Jamaican existence, we have expressed ourselves in the Modern Era as a little people – Tallawah and strong, not to be underestimated, valued and valuable, immovable, honourable – JAMAICAN.
Emancipation Day is indeed a platform, from which we can reflect on the past and project a future built on the equality and justice our ancestors dreamed of as they sought to justify why, due to the colour of their skin, the twist of their hair, the build of their frame or the brow of their faces, one race would so through the crime of slavery rob them of their very humanity.
That is surely how I use Emancipation Day as a moment to step back, assess and then advance, filled with the knowledge that the journey is made easier, the hurdles made shorter and the burdens made lighter by the strength of our heritage and the legacy of resilience passed on to us by each generation that has gone before us.
That the best of our ancestry remains with us as spirits who when called upon share our burdens, ease our pains and lend us wings to fly beyond this challenge to the next success.
So, have a wonderful Emancipation Day 2011. Yes, enjoy your ‘Augus Mawnin’.
On this Emancipation Day, let us reawaken the spirit of our ancestry and use it as the fuel for our development. Let us also return from our celebrations willing to stand and take back Jamaica from the negative forces that are threatening our peace, our security – our very prosperity.
Let us reignite that lantern of freedom, victory and progress and let it guide our path throughout the remainder of our journey.
We must not become weary nor should we falter.
We must be vigilant in safeguarding our Emancipation.
Together we can; together we will; together we must.