Emancipation Day Celebration is a national and an annual event observed to commemorate the resistance and liberation of African people in the Diaspora against enslavement and violation of their human rights.
The Emancipation Day Celebration which originated in the Caribbean has been celebrated since 1834 when chattel slavery was finally abolished in the Caribbean.
The event has been on Ghana’s tourism calendar of event since 1998. Ghana became the first African Country to re-affirm its status as the gateway to the homeland of Africans in the Diaspora.
Emancipation Day more consciously serves to create and develop a unique sense of unity, cooperation and understanding amongst Africans the world over as well as all peoples of conscience. Emancipation is not only freedom to the enslaved, but also the enslaver.
No nation can claim to be free if its existence is based on the enslavement of its people or another race. The entire world is fully aware of the long existence of Chattel Slavery and its impact on man.
The recognition of August 1st is not meant to merely serve as a remembrance of the abolition of Chattel Slavery. It is of utmost importance that we understand that never again must the African or any other race be reduced to the level of chattel to be less human. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Emancipation Day thus represents that vigilance which all peoples of conscience should celebrate.
Slavery of various forms has been known in human society for a long time. But the kind of slavery under which the victims were regarded as properly without rights, in which legally they had no personality, completely at the disposal of their owners, has come to be known as the Chattel Slavery. Such was the nature of the slavery that dominated the New World Societies, particularly from the seventeenth century onwards.
At this same time slavery as practised in the America’s, the Caribbean and the islands of the Atlantic become increasingly identified with the black person, the African. In other words, though throughout history men had enslaved, and been enslaved by others, irrespective of colour, race, creed or sex, Chattel Slavery known in these places involved almost exclusively the African as the victim, with white people as usual as the dominant ones.
The African slave, under the system, was regarded as an inferior being almost without a soul; a brute without reason, without civilization or culture. Consequently, he tended to be treated with harshness and brutality. The whip was constantly used as a means of punishment, and a threat to keep the slave working without let up.
Other means of discipline included iron collars, wooden or iron stocks used for imprisoning legs and hands; leg irons, sometimes with heavy weights attached; face masks, branding with hot iron, etc.
The most common reason for bringing in African slaves to the New World was to have large and disciplined force of unskilled labour, available at short notice, capable of being concentrated and driven hard at certain periods.
This would meet the needs of the plantation system that had become established in the New World, particularly in the lowland tropical areas where sugar, cotton, cocoa, coffee and rice could be cultivated. In these places, neither the European nor the American Indian could fit the demands of plantation labour as well as African slave, for various reasons.
Thus in the New World, the African slaves mainly worked in agriculture producing cash crops. But they also performed every kind of labour on the plantation and outside.
Once on the plantation, as one writer has put it, “everything or almost everything is the product of the black man: it is he who has built the houses, he has made the bricks, sawed the boards, channelled the water, etc; the roads and most of the machines in the mill are, along with the lands cultivated, the products of his industry. He has raised cattle, pigs and the other animals needed on the plantation”.
In and around the houses of the owners they worked as male and female retainers, cooks, laundresses and tailors, seamstresses, boys and girls to do odd jobs, cleaners, etc. In the cities others did such jobs as carpentry, tailoring, masonry, candle-making, shoe-making, baking, peddling goods and food; some acted as waiters, goldsmiths, porters, prostitutes and factory hands. They could also be found in mining gold, diamond and silver.
The recognition of August 1st is not meant to merely serve as a remembrance of the abolition of Chattel Slavery. Emancipation Day should more so consciously serve to create and develop a unique sense of unity, cooperation and understanding amongst Africans the world over as well as all peoples of conscience.
One has to accept the fact and understanding that more than hundred million men and women, particularly between the ages of 15 and 35, were forcefully uprooted and dreadfully transported from their motherland. They were extracted from their paths of development and transplanted to foreign lands under a system of slavery. Noteworthy to mention is their separation from their kin in these foreign lands.
The world is yet to fathom what Africa would be like today, had the content not been subjected to the extraction of her most precious resource, her people. One can fairly state that slavery had a devastating effect on the development of Africa as a force to be reckoned with globally.
The system divided the peoples of Africa, which seems, no doubt, to be permanent.
In our attempt to internationalize Emancipation Day, it is of utmost importance that we understand that never again must the African or any other race be reduced to the level of Chattel to be less human. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Emancipation Day thus represents that vigilance which all peoples of conscience should celebrate.
Emancipation is not only freedom to the enslaved, but also the enslaver. No nation can claim to be free if its existence is based on the enslavement of its people or another race. The entire world is fully aware of the long existence of Chattel Slavery and its impact on man.
Yet, the international community has not seen it fit to acknowledge its abolition. This is a historical omission that the Caribbean Historical Society seeks to correct.
In the words of the South African Ambassador to Ottawa, H.E. Mr. Billy Modise, in thanking the Caribbean Historical Society for the invitation to the launching of the internationalization of the Emancipation Day at the City Hall, Ottawa on November 24, 1996, “I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate your societies for this worthy initiative. August 1st, 1834 is a very significant and important milestone in the history of mankind.
It was a stepping-stone towards the ideal of total freedom for people of African origin. As one cannot say that total freedom has already been achieved in all cases, it behoves all to continue working towards real total emancipation and freedom throughout the world. The abolition of Chattel Slavery should be seen, therefore, as part of a process which has not yet completely reached its end”.
The continued success of emancipation celebrations, however, is very much dependent on the involvement and participation of the countries from the African continent. The Caribbean Historical Society staunchly believes those Africans at home and abroad must be encouraged to see the wisdom of the internationalization of Emancipation Day. Its acknowledgement is absolutely necessary.
It is imperative that we all come together on August 1st each year to give thanks and praises to our great ancestors who featured prominently in the emancipation process. They have paved the way for us in their glowing spirit, determination, purpose and meaning of emancipation. Let us allow their blood, sweat and tears to continue to inform our lives as we prepare to meet the challenges ahead.
By Kofi Atta Kakra Kusi