Africans endured enslavement in the Guiana colonies for 200 years before achieving their Emancipation 182 years ago on 1st August 1838. They laid the foundation for the freedoms enjoyed by every Guyanese today.
Emancipation was not a generous gift of the European slave trading empires. Africans resisted enslavement and fought for freedom in the great revolts in Berbice in 1763, in Demerara, in 1823 and in Essequibo, in 1834 and at other times in other places.
The Emancipation festival recognises the exertions of our African foreparents who, during the era of enslavement, toiled to convert the coastland and swamp lands into plantations; to construct sea defences; to build dams; to dig irrigation canals and water conservancies and to plant and harvest crops – all with their sinews and sweat and the most rudimentary tools.
The Emancipation Movement – the first of Guiana’s five great transformative movements – preceded the village, labour, cultural and political movements which carried our people forward to Independence and present-day nationhood.
Emancipation opened opportunities for the acquisition of abandoned plantations on which free men and women established their churches, farmsteads, homes and schools. It triggered the demographic transition through indentured immigration of the Chinese, East Indians and Portuguese; economic diversification; hinterland exploration and the demand for political and constitutional reforms.
Emancipation is the single most significant event in our national history. This festival should be celebrated by Guyanese everywhere, regardless of their social rank, race, religion, region of residence, political beliefs or wealth.
Happy Emancipation to everyone!