In just a few days St Vincent and the Grenadines joins other Commonwealth territories in celebrating Emancipation Day. This is on Monday August 1, 2011.
This year marks 177 years since our foreparents on the Caribbean plantations were first allowed any semblance of a life on their own. In the existence of any entity—be it real or imagined—lasting 177 years is a most noteworthy feat. Yet, year in and year out, the August 1 public holiday comes and goes and it seems the Caribbean region as a whole couldn't care less.
I am saying that it is a killing of our history when we recognize historical dates only by the obligatory remarks from the relevant MP under whose portfolio the commemorated event falls, and then give out one or two news releases. Is that all our past means to us? Certainly not! I am sure more will be done if this living generation really understands what the struggles of the past entailed.
In the 1990s I specifically walked the eastern or windward side of St Vincent to garner the level of knowledge and appreciation that citizens had of the August 1 holiday. Just as the enumerators are going from house to house polling information for our 2011 census, I talked with all households, people liming on the block, the drinkers in the shops, and all accessible persons at the time.
Back then, I was expecting that there would be some persons who did not know what the holiday was about. But the overall percentage left me baffled: I found that two thirds (66%) of those questioned had absolutely no idea what the August 1 holiday was about. And this I thought was significant because my survey was done during the day in the most rural of areas. All the highly educated persons would have been long at their workplaces. I instantly realized that we have not done even a mediocre job of sensitizing and empowering our 20th and 21st century generations about their past and, hence, about their identity as a people in this global village.
Additionally, one of the questions I put to the respondents was whether or not they thought the Emancipation holiday was important. Close to 100% replied in the positive.