Fellow St. Maarteners, Residents of our beloved island, Distinguished Guests, Online viewers, Ladies, and Gentlemen.
In 1863, when the institution that was slavery, was officially abolished on the southern side of St. Martin, our ancestors on whose shoulders we stand today had already liberated themselves by making it economically unfeasible for it to be maintained, while family members to the North were already freed some 15 years before in 1848. History has shown us, even after most countries in Europe abolished the slave trade itself since the early 1800s, the Dutch were the last to abolish slavery,
Denmark in 1803
Britain in 1834
France in 1848
Dutch in 1863
While Suriname and the rest of the then called Dutch Antilles officially abolished slavery in 1863, here on St. Martin, our ancestors Ran for freedom across the borders, the Diamond 26s and many more. So the Plantation owners finally gave in and both sides maintained the same status, and as can be seen on our monument, 1848 is a pivotal year for St. Maarten and her people.
Though the massa been a hide’m ….our ancestors freed themselves. It saw an end to the most brutal, horrendous, inhumane time in our history. We often conceal the level of pain and hurt that surrounds this time. What it was… was self-enrichment on the hard work of our people. Though the physical restraints were removed, we have yet to remove the institutionalized inequalities we continue to face even today as member states in the Dutch Kingdom.
While slavery was one of the most horrific events in our recent history, today, we honor our ancestors’ strength, who had to toil through this hardship for so many years. We take time to remember the journey and celebrate Freedom, assess our Freedom, and enhance our Freedom. Emancipation is the
commemoration of Freedom, the god-given right of every living being. For this Freedom, our ancestors ran, fought, and struggled.
Today, we celebrate St. Martiners, their perseverance, and their determination. We are now building a nation on their blood, sweat, and tears. They did not accept the status quo, and did not conform. We have what we have today, and what many take for granted today Because of their resilience, their strength of mind and their purpose.
Today marks the victory of the strong will of our people. This was not without its struggles; we all know the story of One-tete Lohkay; a young woman who fled the plantation of her captor. Lohkay was caught, and brought back to the plantation, and punished by removing one of her breasts, giving her the name– one-tete Lokay. What gives me great admiration for this young woman and her story; is that despite this harsh punishment, she became even more courageous and strong-will for her Freedom. She escaped again and lived alone in the hills coming down to visit persons and gather additional supplies.
With her new found freedom, she led many more to flee to their Freedom. Fellow Sint Maarteners, I implore you to adapt the spirit of emancipation as a descendant of the enslaved, which we have achieved, progressed, survived and made possible, together. And with us, our food, music, dance, culture, and values have passed down from generation to generation.
Today, we are not without our challenges, as black people worldwide fight for equality, the right to determine one’s destiny, and the right to live free from judgment; a fight against bigotry that still exists today. We must recognize that we are now truly also in a fight for our right as small island-states for our right to self-govern, for our right of self-determination.
We fight this first and foremost by standing up against any oppression and any form of inequality. We fight this by addressing all forms of institutionalized colonialism still remaining in our systems of government, education, Immigration, etc. But most importantly, we fight this through education, knowing our history, and ensuring that our children know theirs. In the words of Marcus Garvey. “A people without knowledge of their history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”
We must also remember that our story did not start in slavery, but as emperors and empresses on the mighty continent of Africa, where we traveled, built, explored and ruled…. this story we must also learn to value ourselves and love ourselves and lift ourselves up to where we envision us to be again.
Freedom is a state of mind. Our ancestors imagined a world in which they were free, and they fought towards it. Our brother Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” that highlights the words of Garvey, chanting “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!” Therefore, we must begin to imagine ourselves as a financially self-sufficient country and take necessary actions to that end. We must think it, believe it, plan and work to achieve it.
This Emancipation Day has been themed “Sacred Legacies, standing on the shoulders of giants.” which is ever so fitting for us. Our foundation in this land is based on indescribable strength. A strength that has guided us for years, and will guide us again through the challenges faced with COVID-19 and beyond, and through our collective efforts.
Remember Lohkay, remember the many nameless, I remember! Quamina, I remember Jose Lake sr., I remember Sir Camille Baly, I remember Neville York, I remember Joe Richardson, I remember Nadia and I honor those who toil today, including our current leaders, movers, and shakers.
I conclude today, to impress this final thought upon you–as many of us go through challenges right here on St. Martin, remember our foundation and find that strength within. If there is something that you can conceive; a dream, idea, an opportunity, an avenue of untapped potential, go for it. Our Ancestors did it with far less, and we can surely do it too.
Thank you, God Bless you and May God Bless Sint Maarten and protect her people wherever they may be.