Caribbean Embassies host Emancipation Day celebrations in Taiwan
by Chanolde Munroe
The five remaining Caribbean allies to the Republic of China (Taiwan) last week held Emancipation Day celebrations in Taiwan for the first time in their diplomatic history.
The Embassies of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), St Lucia, Haiti, St Kitts and Nevis and Belize held the celebrations last Friday, July 31 in Taipei at the Diplomatic Quarters, under the theme “Our Caribbean People’s Journey to Freedom”.
Although Haiti co-hosted last week’s event, the French speaking nation does not celebrate Emancipation Day, for while enslaved people were freed in the English speaking Caribbean on August 1, 1834, chattel slavery ended in Haiti in 1804 when Haiti fought for and won its independence from France in what has been described as “the only successful slave revolt in human history.
“Dates notwithstanding, the concept of freedom from slavery has moulded and binds who we are as a people and it is worthy of celebration,” Ambassador Andrea Bowman said while giving an overview of the Caribbean journey from slavery.
She said that in the 21st century, the journey has brought us to the stage where we are now in search of reparatory justice.
“Reparatory justice would provide some means of compensation for the erasure of our people’s humanity. As one of our calypsonians says, ‘We want we grandfather backpay’. Compensatory payments in cash and in kind would go towards the creation of social equity as we stand in solidarity with the now universal recognition that ‘Black Lives Matter’.”
Bowman said that the journey from slavery is taking place on two different levels – the physical journey towards chattel slavery which began in Africa and the mental and metaphorical journey which continues to this day.
“For although we all started at the same place and point in time, and we are now at the same stage of socio-cultural and political evolution as Caribbean people, our passages to this stage were different.”
The Ambassador noted that although former slaves were legally freed from the institution of slavery in the 19th century, they were still dependent on the plantation and the colonial structures of the society and their struggle to survive was “further stymied by an Indian and Portuguese indentureship system which had been introduced to replace their unpaid plantation labour.”
“Yet, by the end of the 19th century, pockets of free-hold properties emerged; literacy gradually gained a foothold and a developing faith in a Christian God provided a basis for celebration among a large number of the previously enslaved Caribbean people.”
She noted that in the 20th century, the journey was marked by the quest for educational opportunities, adult suffrage, property rights, civil rights and civil amenities.
“By the mid 20th century, our countries, which had by now become more and more racially mixed and culturally blended, spawned nationalistic multi-ethnic groupings which sought decolonization and the forging of political and economic structures which were more representative of the majority of our countries’ populations.
“The result of this ferment was that political independence from Britain was attained in the 21-year period from 1962 to 1983.”
She said by this time Haiti had already been independent for 176 years and its society, “though buffeted by vengeful financial onslaughts from Europe and the United States, was a viable economic and political entity on the world’s stage.”
In the mid-to-late 20th century the English-speaking Caribbean was also marked by the ‘Black Power Movement’ which was an awakening of the black consciousness which “strove to eliminate and correct harmful ideas and images of black and African culture which had been prevalent in our societies.”
The Rastafarianism movement also gained popularity at this time.
Bowman noted that our journey celebrates survival, resilience and the making of the youthful Caribbean civilization “where the value of our shared heritage is greater than the value of our individual strides.”
Delivering remarks Vice Minister Migues Tsao stated that the event meant a lot being the first one ever held in Taiwan.
He added that it was an honour to attend the event as they work together to protect freedom, democracy and human rights.
The Vice Minister noted that Caribbean people’s journey to freedom carries a great message and is a great inspiration to all.
Tsao said that during his tenure as Ambassador to St Kitts and Nevis he was charmed by the beauty, history and cultural diversity of the people.
The celebrations were rounded out with songs, skits, readings, the poem “Caribbean-ites” by Cultural Ambassador Peggy Carr and a very well received dramatization entitled “Freedom from Slavery – 1st Independent Black Nation” by a 17-member Haitian Troupe.