In the coming days, we hope that everyone will partake in a post-pandemic August Emancipation Festival that promises to be one for the record books.
But amid the revelry, the community must also remember the reason for the observance.
On Aug. 1, 1834, slavery was abolished in the Virgin Islands and across most of the rest of the British empire.
Thank heaven for that. But the story of slavery didn’t end there. The trauma was far too deep from an approximately 300-year period when an estimated 10 to 12 million Africans were kidnapped and transported across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold into slavery.
In the VI and elsewhere, it quickly became clear that emancipation was no quick fix for that sordid history. Far from it.
Here, an “apprenticeship” system very similar to slavery continued for years afterward, and related evils persisted for centuries under a colonial system that systematically oppressed the ancestors of enslaved Africans in ways that still are not fully understood.
Festival season, then, is also a time for the sort of sober reflection that can easily get lost in the increasingly escapist commercialism of the modern celebrations.
Fortunately, there are still many traditional cultural events ongoing this year: a heritage village in East End; the annual emancipation service; another service at the historic St. Phillip’s Anglican Church in Kingstown; a torchlight procession; a food fair with traditional music; the Carrot Bay Cultural Fiesta, and more.
But there were also disappointments in this regard, including the lack of a calypso show and high ticket costs that will doubtlessly keep many residents away from some events.
Moving forward, we trust that the VI Festivals and Fairs Committee will continue working with the community to carefully strike the delicate balance needed to ensure that the true meaning of August Emancipation Festival never gets lost.
Meanwhile, the territory should never stop asking itself what it means to be truly emancipated.
We wish everyone a joyous, safe and meaningful celebration in the coming days.