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Taino, Amerindians

The Long Road to Freedom

July 19, 2000
By Alwyn De Coteau

The freedom that Emancipation Day celebrates was not arrived at easily.

Atta Kujifi, an African attorney practicing at the end of the 19th century noted:

"In 1887, the Africans had asked that August 1, 1888, be officially declared a public holiday to be known as 'Jubilee Emancipation Day' and this was refused."

Then on June 18, 1888, at a large meeting held at Chacon Street School in Port of Spain, two famous African barristers, Edgar Maresse-Smith and F Emmanuel Mzumbo Lazare, together with another prominent African, CE Petroni, drew up a petition with thousands of signatures which they sent to the Governor, Sir William Robinson, calling upon him to declare August 1, 1888, a public holiday.

"If," the petition argued, "patriotic subjects celebrate their Queen's accession to the throne, then surely they should celebrate the landmark of British Humanitarianism, the abolition of slavery!"

The Governor however, refused to budge and after much campaigning and whipping up support in influential circles, the day was finally declared a public holiday and remained so for many years until it was replaced by Discovery Day.

When Emancipation Day was once again declared a public holiday in 1984, Lancelot Layne and John Cupid had Point Fortin and Port of Spain literally on fire with flambeau processions through the streets.

It was, for those present, a joy to behold the scores of flambeaux and candles and the young and elderly men and women, many of them dressed in white with red head-ties chanting and dancing in the streets paying homage to those reluctant ancestors whose blood spilled many times over in their quest for dignity and humanity--the inspiration and progenitors of the independent and republican status which we enjoy today.

Tribute in songs, dance, drama and mime was and is still paid to Aimé Césaire of Martinique, Cudjoe of Guyana, Simon Bolivar of Venezuela, the Caribs of St Vincent and Belize and Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler of Trinidad and Tobago.

The contributions of these Caribbean emancipators shine like beacons in spite of the disaster of enslavement and suppression in one way or the other over the past 900 years.

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