Saba is organizing its first Emancipation Day event this Saturday, July 1 at the start of the Slavery Past Commemoration Year in the Dutch Kingdom and Suriname.
A mixed program has been put together with music, song, poems, cultural performances, speeches and other contributions for the event that takes place at the Princess Juliana’s Sports Field, starting at 11:30am. The entire community is invited and encouraged to attend this momentous occasion.
At the event on July 1, people will be welcomed with traditional Djembe drumming by Budu Banton, followed by the official opening and welcome by the Master of Ceremony Angus Martin, the singing of the National Anthem by the Saba Children’s Choir and an opening prayer by Reverend Vernon Liburd.
The speech of King Willem-Alexander that he gave earlier that day at the Oosterpark in Amsterdam will be replayed. Commissioner of Culture Eviton Heyliger, State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitization Alexandra van Huffelen and Island Governor Jonathan Johnson will give an address. The keynote speaker will be Vice Chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission Dorbrene O’Marde from Antigua.
Saba’s Leo Club will be remembering those who were enslaved, Jenee Matthew will read a poem by Lysanne Charles, Saba Comprehensive School students Marielys Torres and Trevon Johnson will also read a poem. There will be a cultural performance by students of the Sacred Heart School, a speech by Dimetri Whitfield titled ‘Overcoming the Shadows of Slavery’, a performance by the Surinamese community and a steelpan rendition ‘Swing low sweet chariot’ by Karel Sorton. After the official program has ended, the public can take a look at the exhibition, enjoy local foods and natural drinks and listen and dance to music by DJ Cane until 3:30pm. The dress code for the event is Caribbean cultural and African dress or bright colors.
The event coming Saturday is the first event of this size on Saba after the address by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who on December 19 last year issued a formal apology for the role of the Dutch State in the slavery past. “We want to give significance to this part of Saba’s history which has not always been acknowledged,” said Vito Charles, who together with Elsa Peterson, Madelyn Johnson, Vanessa Wilson and Dimetri Whitfield (who is off island) forms the organizing committee with the support of Commissioner of Culture Eviton Heyliger.
Liberation through healing
The theme of the July 1 event on Saba is ‘Liberation through healing’. Elsa Peterson said this theme was chosen to create more awareness of the process towards healing. “People tend to look at slavery as just something of the past and not at the lingering effects of the slavery past to this day. To navigate through those feelings, we need to start with conversation and awareness which can then open the path to healing” Peterson said.
As part of that dialogue, Dorbrene O’Marde Vice Chair of Cwas invited as keynote speaker to help navigate that discussion on Saba. “Healing starts with acknowledging that slavery was a crime against humanity,” said Peterson, who announced that during the Slavery Past Commemoration Year more will be done to educate the population on the slavery past and the history of Black people on Saba.
“It is important to acknowledge that there are many things that affect us now as a community are a legacy of slavery. The Commemoration Day will provide the opportunity to have that dialogue, not to shy away from it and to move forward,” said Vito Charles.
Slavery happened on Saba too, not only on other islands and in other countries, Peterson and Charles pointed out. “There is this idea that slavery was not too bad on Saba. We have to challenge that idea because it is not true. There are documented occasions where enslaved persons on Saba stood up, escaped, fought and rebelled against authority and those stories are often not told,” said Charles. “The dialogue also stirs the conversation with regard to the role of governments in the period after slavery where Black people continued to be disadvantaged,” said Peterson. Charles and Peterson said they looked forward to seeing everyone come out to the very special event this Saturday.