Tools

Emancipation 2011 on solid ground

By Khafra Kambon

Tonight the moko jumbies, moving in rhythm with traditional African drums, will look down from on high on beautifully clad men, women and children entering the aesthetically fascinating environment of the Lidj Yasu Omo-wale Emancipation Village at the Queen's Park Savannah, to attend the great show promised for the grand opening or shop in the international market place.

The moko jumbies represent ancestors, the named and unnamed, whose remembrance at the blessing of the ground on July 23 brought positive energies into the space. Words and rituals at the ceremony led by Elder Equino Moyo and Spiritual Baptist Elder, King Shepherd Ray Brathwaite, combined traditional African, modern Diasporan and Christian elements, all of which, along with other belief systems, are integrated into the spiritual lives of our people today.

The awakened energies motivated the artistic minds and labouring hands that worked through the long days and nights to transform concrete and asphalt spaces into the welcoming scene for the opening night and for the joyous period of education, exhibition, entertainment and commercial activity to follow until the Emancipation Village closes on the night of Monday August 1.

As we enter the Emancipation Village eager to hear Stalin and Boogsie, to see the anticipated performance of Something Positive out of New York, to enjoy the Bishop Anstey Choir and the Afro-Caribbean jazz sounds of Modupe Onilu, we will remember that just a few days ago the now accustomed high standard of the emancipation commemoration was threatened.

The NCC's shock withdrawal of permission to use the Grand Stand on the basis of safety concerns and the mounting pressures created by government's 11th hour silence on what financial resources it would commit to the festival, forced an emergency press conference on July 19.

The Blessing of the Ground was marked by joy at the resolution of these issues as well as regrets that for one more year the organisers had to feel such stress in accomplishing mandatory national tasks, and the public had to be drawn into unnecessary and potentially divisive controversy.

There was also thanksgiving, for the people who rallied in support, for the media, for the Prime Minister for her personal intervention which averted a crisis, for the NCC for agreeing to do what was necessary for the Grand Stand to be used.

Just as important is the determination to ensure that in the future, adequate provisions for the Emancipation festival are included in the nation's budget. The problems that manifested themselves so forcefully, so ironically in the United Nations International Year for People of African Descent, are far too persistent to be glossed over. After 19 years of organising under successive governments, we know that only the vigilance, moral, personal and material support of the people, can guarantee the survival and growth of the emancipation festival.

With popular support we have fended off determined efforts to withdraw the Emancipation Day holiday and more subtle, but persistent efforts to diminish it by resource starvation, or change the management and character of the festival — take away its meaningful educational component, its historical rootedness, the African sensibilities it evokes. If the current leadership of the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) bowed to political or commercial pressure, the Emancipation festival would survive as a superficial carnival.

To understand this struggle, we have to look back at the modern rebirth of the commemoration, within the Black Power movement of 1970 which stirred powerful cultural revivals in the African and Indian communities, in harmony-producing ways.

Then we have to look at what followed. Apart from heavy media campaigns to disparage pride-building African information and the Black-is-Beautiful notions that gave Africans pride in their naturalness, there was actual violent repression against symbols of African identity. At one time there was a police media blitz to associate wearing African clothes with criminal activity. Many young men and women were dragged into police cells and had their natural hair crudely cut or shaven. People lost their jobs for insisting on keeping their corn rows or Afros. This still happens.

In an environment of hostility to institutional developments that could preserve and enhance an African sense of self, the Emancipation commemoration is the most dominant of the advances that survived and it has done so under pressure.

On the other hand the Indian cultural renaissance of 1970 became more deeply rooted, institutionalised and visible, in upgraded educational institutions with highly motivated teachers, several radio stations, beautiful and evocative spaces for spiritual communion, for festivals and ceremony, more prominent heritage-related observances.....

This happened because profound self-awareness, never as vehemently assaulted as that of Africans, produced communal motivation and commanded the respect of others.

The celebration constitutes the most established basis on which Africans can rebuild a positive sense of self.

We need to demonstrate our recognition of its importance by our daily presence at the village, and financial contributions. Visit the educational exhibitions that tell us more about ourselves—one from Mexico is included this year—attend the workshops and discussions that advance our knowledge, attend the business symposium at the Hilton on July 29 that will highlight the possibilities for economic advancement opened up by developments in Africa. Bring the children to the Youth Day on July 29. Support the micro-entrepreneurs in the marketplace. Enjoy pan, calypso, drums, the spoken word, dance, fashion, the parades.

Happy Emancipation 2011.

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