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The African ancestors in the immediate post-slavery society would sing the sankey, ‘First of August come again,” as a reminder that on this day in 1838 the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and brought an end to chattel slavery. For those who lived through that period- which the United Nations described as the most inhumane act perpetrated in man’s history- their descendants and others could only imagine the horrors.
Africans were brought to the so-called New World in chains against their will, and under constant threats of losing their lives should they resist captivity and inhumane treatment. Ripped from their family and motherland they were forced to board the slave ships, even as they kicked, screamed and resisted. Some have committed suicide or infanticide rather than allow themselves or offspring to live a life of terror and depravity. Life on the plantation was brutal.
Men, women and children were enslaved, treated as property not human beings. They were violated in the worst way as a result of white debauchery and greed. They worked on the plantations from dawn to dust without wages and proper clothing. Their backs were lacerated with whips to work at a pace not even a mule would be pushed to work at. Those who survived did so in spite of poor living conditions and the denial of basic health care. It must have been pure hell.
Were it not for the indomitable spirit of a people and the non-stop acts of resistance and revolt they could have been decimated or remained enslaved. Theirs is a story that could only be told but none, rightly so, would want to live apart from having the belly to stand up and fight, without pause, for centuries until the brutal system finally toppled on 31st July 1838. The attainment of the various successes-from the abolition of the slave trade (1807) to amelioration (1834) and finally emancipation (1838), must not find amongst us contentment or resignation.
Contentment or resignation risks the chance of complacency and erosion of the gains achieved on 1st August 1838. The toppling of chattel slavery made it impossible for such a system to strive again and any subsequent group of people to be so brutally mistreated. Thus, the sankey “First of August come again” is not only a refrain but embodiment of a complex history and story told through song as is customary in the African tradition.
First of August is a day of celebration and merriment for Africans in the former British Empire. Their ancestors had laboured for centuries in the colonies and made tremendous contributions to the wealth of Great Britain as they suffered, were abused and deprived. It’s a refrain that speaks to the painful past of laying the foundation for the New World with bare hands-albeit forced- with no monetary compensation, and having to work and live under inhumane conditions.
First of August is also a day of deep prayers and reflections on a brutal journey across the Atlantic, remembrance of the millions who did not make it and their bones laying on the bed of the Ocean, those who died on the plantations, and those who lived the daily horrors of plantation life. It is a day of mixed emotions, of joy intermingled with grief, of pains and sorrows, of overcoming but recognition there is yet more to be achieved and Africans cannot slow up now. Those whose ancestors successfully fought and overcame the abominable system could only reflect on, learn from, and be inspired by the stories passed down through time. It should be a lesson to vow to never, ever, in whatever shape or form, allow or inflict such inhumanity of man towards man. And it requires only a single act of accepting being treated lesser than to feed the beastly tendency that subjugation is accepted or will be tolerated. It is by pure dint of struggle and determination the descendants of the formerly enslaved could greet this day with thanksgiving in their hearts.
Happy First of August to our readers.