It is important to ensure that the terms “August Monday” and “August Emancipation Festival” are clearly understood. “August Monday” means the first Monday in August, and it is of great historical significance. The term “August Emancipation Festival” is an extension of the prior usage of the words “August Festival” and further clarifies the meaning of this historical commemorative event.

A brief background will provide the historical setting for this presentation. It is important to begin at the beginning and state that Mother Africa is the birthplace of civilisation as it is known today. The pyramids of ancient Egypt remain a gigantic testimony of the intellectual capability and dominance of ancient Africa. It is strange that ancient Africa is hardly, if ever, referred to as being ancient at all. There is a great deal of catching up to do by Africa and its Diaspora.

Enslaved African labour built the civilisations of the West, including most of Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, in England, men’s consciences were awakened, and Quakers and the Anti-Slavery Society began to resist enslavement. William Wilberforce and others made representations against slavery in the English Parliament. Probably some of these efforts manifested in the Virgin Islands.

 

Nottingham Estate

In 1776 the Quakers Samuel and Mary Nottingham gave their enslaved Africans in the VI their freedom as well as their plantation at Long Look — or Nottingham Estate — and to their descendants for posterity. In 1789 Methodist missionaries introduced education to the enslaved Africans in the vicinity of Chapel Hill, where the oldest Methodist church, which was built in 1810, is located.

Triumphantly, on Aug. 1, 1834, emancipation took effect. This was on a Friday, but the celebrations were held on Monday, Aug. 4, 1834, and since then the first Monday in August is called August Monday. There was much rejoicing, and the beginning of August Monday celebrations 185 years ago. Therefore, the term “re-emancipation” is very relevant but is seldom used.

By all accounts the August Monday celebrations began in the churches of the VI, especially the Methodist churches, and then this spread to other denominations. In addition, there were such activities as boat races, horse races and dances. Students were taught the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” This is sometimes referred to simply as the “Black National Anthem” — or, more correctly, as the “Anthem of the African Caribbean Diaspora.”

 

Festival’s beginnings

The coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was one of the factors that influenced the beginning of Festival in the VI. After observing August Monday celebrations for 119 years (1834-1953), the first August Festival was held in Road Town in 1954, and so 2019 marks the 65th anniversary of Festival. August Tuesday was set aside for horse racing, and later plait pole and aquatic sports were added. The first August Festival in East End/Long Look was held unofficially in 1955 and 1956, and then the late legislator Leslie Malone successfully moved a motion in the Legislative Council for August Wednesday to be an official holiday for the East End/Long Look Festival.

In the late 1970s, this writer was president of the EE/LL Festival Committee, and the largest Rise and Shine Tramp took place in that village. There is also the Cultural Fiesta, which is held at Carrot Bay on August Thursday and Friday, with a wrap-up at the Festival Village in Road Town.

 

‘Enduring traditions’

There are some enduring traditions of the August Emancipation Festival. The Festival Village is indeed a cultural village centre, with indigenous songs, calypsos, music, food and drinks, and a festive gathering. There is the Sunday Morning Well Emancipation Service in thanksgiving to the Almighty. The Rise and Shine Tramp — which means, “Rise and greet your freedom” — sets the tone for the August festive day. The Festival Parade — with its panoramic display of history, culture, colour, pageantry and music — is one of the main attractions. Attendees line the streets and climb buildings and trees to view the procession. Then back to the Festival Village for food, indigenous drinks and camaraderie.

The August Emancipation Festival has evolved over time in historical, indigenous and cultural traditions that began 185 years ago. There are several specific enduring Festival traditions, which bind this great historical commemoration together and have been handed down from generation to generation.

 

— Dr. QUINCY LETTSOME


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