Calls for renewed focus on Emancipation Day

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By Robert A. Emmanuel

As the curtains come down on Carnival 2019, officially bringing a close the usual revelry and partying associated with the celebration, calls are being made for increased focus to be placed on Emancipation Day, which falls in the middle of the annual festival’s calendar of events.

August 1st is observed as Emancipation Day, the date on which slaves in Antigua and Barbuda and other Caribbean countries were freed in 1834.

Antigua’s Carnival was said to be instituted in 1957 as a means of celebrating the abolition of slavery.

However, Professor of Sociology at Brown University in the US, Dr. Paget Henry, who was a panelist on OBSERVER media’s Big Issues, called for more discussion on the reason why we celebrate Carnival.

“Why can’t we talk about why we are celebrating before we go to the drinking, the dancing, the calypsos?’ Dr Henry queried. “There is room for both [and] we have to be able to say, ‘why are we doing this?’

“We should not be apologizing to anyone for talking about why we are celebrating… I think that on the 1st of August some part of that day should be devoted to why we are celebrating,” Dr. Henry added.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission, historian Dorbrene O’Marde, noted the lack of resources granted to the Commission to make Emancipation Day celebrations appealing to the public.

As O’Marde explained on the programme that organising Emancipation Day festivities has been part of the Commission’s responsibilies. However: “Our attempts to make it exciting suffered because we do not have the resources to do this – whether resources from the government and also resources from elsewhere.”

Another panelist, the former Chairman of the Carnival Development Committee (now the Festivals Commission), Neil Cochrane, noted that the consciousness of the people concerning the importance of Emancipation, African heritage and the Caribbean history of slavery must be re-energized.

This, according to O’Marde, must start at the lower tier of the education system.

The discussion surrounding Emancipation Day, its importance to Caribbean history and the value of having a separate day for the Emancipation Watch Night to boost the participation of the public came amid recurring concerns that the dwindling number of persons attending the annual event was an indication of the lack of interest in the history of Emancipation.

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