Good evening honorable dignitaries, invited guests, and the viewing audience,
159 years ago today, our ancestors the descendants of slaves were finally able to fully proclaim their freedom, as declared by the Emancipation Proclamation which legally abolished slavery on Dutch Sint Maarten. This after having taken their freedom into their own hands some 15 years earlier when emancipation was declared in the French territories in 1848. It is reason enough to continue to celebrate and even more so to recognize the role that our ancestors played in acquiring this freedom. Even given that the enslavement of Africans was dehumanizing and brutal, our ancestors remained courageous, resolute and resilient in their fight, which is the reason we stand today liberated.
174 years ago, it is to be noted that our counterparts in the North had already been emancipated some years ago, thereby making it economically unfeasible to maintain this type of regime in the south as many escaped to the northern side of the island for their freedom. Therefore, our ancestors on the Dutch side of the island did not wait for oppressors to hand us our freedom but rather they continued to flee and fight, and sometimes that fight came at the cost of their life. There have been countless rebellions but it was because of economic reasons, that it was accepted, that St. Maarten with its unique situation was indeed emancipated from 1848.
This reminds me of the story of Lokay, a young woman who fled the plantation of her captor. Lokay was caught, brought back to the plantation, and punished by the removing of her left breast, which is why she is knows by the name—One-Tete Lokay. I have great admiration for this young woman and her story; despite this harsh punishment, her will was not broken, she in fact became even more courageous and strong in fighting for her freedom. Even in the face of grave danger, even at the cost of going hungry, her freedom was the most important thing. Lokay is in each of us. As is Quashiba, Quamina (my own ancestor) and so many others who’s names must be properly researched, and recorded for all to know in our history books, and on the base of statues already erected in their honor at our various roundabouts. Every time we drive by these monuments, we must say their names, we must honor their spirits, we must be reminded to continuously strive for freedom in all aspects of life for all.
As we celebrate, we must foster the spirit of our ancestors, and use their example and their story as an inspiration. We must also look at our society today. Asking ourselves, how would our ancestors look at how we have used our freedom today. How have we been able to maintain the spirit of unity? And how have we kept our history alive to not repeat the same mistakes of the past?
When I think about the word freedom, I think about the late Bob Marley highlighting the words of Garvey "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind." Which tells us that our freedom is a state of mind. Freedom back then meant breaking physical chains, bonds, and ownership of life. We are no longer bonded by chains, but by ideologies, and the limitations in our own minds or ideas of what we should or should not be within society. Hundreds of years of being broken down and told that you are nothing more that something to be bought and sold, subhuman in fact, will require us to retrain our minds and how we see ourselves. We must never forget that our ancestors were the first kings and chiefs forced into slavery because it benefited the capturer. We must also channel this as we continue to live our daily life.
We are often asked why we continue to remember the period of enslavement, and other related events since it was so long ago and such a brutal and traumatic experience. I personally will never forget, especially as our fight continues. It is a part of who we are, not all of who we are, but an important part of who we are today. Every society looks back on its history, and strives to grow from its experiences, we too must do so. As we continue to educate ourselves on our history, our heritage and our culture, we can love and appreciate ourselves, and be proud of who we are, embrace the many hues of our skin, and never allow that era as well as the subsequent colonial period post emancipation to be repeated.
Happy Emancipation Day 2022.