With 176 years since slavery was officially abolished in Jamaica, the celebratory atmosphere that existed, in the hours leading up to Emancipation Day (August 1) is still kept alive through the yearly staging of Emancipation anniversary vigils island-wide.
Normally held on the 31st of July, starting at approximately 9:00 p.m. in major town capitals throughout the island, these all-night vigils, have been an annual event since 1997, when August 1 was officially declared a national holiday by the then Prime Minister, the Most Hon. P. J. Patterson.
Describing the event as a grand celebration, Field Services Director for the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) Marjorie Leyden-Vernon, tells JIS News that these vigils serve to “herald in” Emancipation Day dubbed the ‘Fus of Augus’ by the former slaves.
Prime Minister, Hon. Bruce Golding, lays a wreath in honour of the ancestors, at the 2008 Emancipation Jubilee held at the Seville Heritage Park in St. Ann’s Bay.
“The Emancipation period indicates freedom from slavery, and so it is a time for celebration, a joyous occasion, because we know the suppression that went on during that period of slavery,” Mrs. Leyden-Vernon says.
She stresses that it is important that Jamaicans appreciate this important element of the island’s heritage, as, “were it not for the great price our ancestors paid for freedom, through the many resistances and revolutions, we may have never been granted freedom.”
“The vigils are very significant, it is even more significant than Independence, in that, if we had not gotten Emancipation, we would not even had had our independence, because independence is just a step further on the road of freedom, where, a nation being free, can move on to take ownership in its politics, its health, its education, and things like that,” she notes.
More importantly, Mrs. Leyden-Vernon says, the vigils play an essential role in reminding Jamaican citizens of the importance of understanding one’s history as a basis in moving forward.
Performers re-enact the atrocities of the days of slavery at the Emancipation Jubilee held last year at the Seville Heritage Park in St. Ann.
“It is significant for us to remember this moment, because as (National Hero) Marcus Garvey has pointed out, if you do not understand your past and the history on which the country is built, it is going to be difficult for you to move forward in a very positive way,” she states.
An exciting celebration that Jamaicans normally look forward to participating in, these vigils primarily take the form of a gospel concert or a traditional concert of performances, Mrs. Leyden-Vernon informs.
Following the concert, a proclamation declaring Emancipation Day is read at midnight by Custodes in each parish representing the Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen.
Mrs. Leyden-Vernon is inviting Jamaicans to come out to their town capitals and participate in the vigils, which are part of the line up for the JCDC’s Jamaica Festival events.
She notes that there will be 13 celebrations across the island this year, as Kingston and St. Andrew fall under one umbrella, with the festivities for that locality taking place in St. Andrew.
The Field Services Director informs that while there will be no major national vigil this year, the JCDC is collaborating with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) in hosting this year’s Emancipation Jubilee on Saturday (July 31) at the Seville Heritage Park in St. Ann.
Executive Director of the JNHT, Lolita Davis-Mattis tells JIS News that the Emancipation Jubilee is the single most important opportunity to experience Jamaica’s culture and heritage at its best.
At this family-oriented event, persons will have the opportunity to learn and participate in traditional folk forms, such as Dinki Mini, Kumina and Mento, while they view a variety of exhibitions.
Patrons will also be exposed to Afro-centric cultural forms, and a pop segment that will showcase the evolution of Jamaican music from Ska to Dancehall.
Persons can also look forward to being entertained by performances from artistes such as Etana, Romaine Virgo, Gee Whiz, George Nooks, Ernie Smith, Leroy Sibblies, Lady G, Gem Myers, Fab Five Inc., and others.
To cover the cost of production, there is a charge of $1,000 for adults and $300 for children. Gates open at 6:00 p.m. and activities continue into the morning, including the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation at midnight.
This year’s Emancipation Jubilee will be celebrated under the theme: ‘Ancestral Reflections.A Bridge to the Future.’
Meanwhile, though Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 1, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has announced that the day will be observed on Monday, August 2, this year.
This is in keeping with the provisions of the Holidays (Public General) Act, which determines the observance of public holidays in Jamaica. The Act stipulates that where the public holidays fall on a Sunday, they shall be observed on the following Monday.