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By Vincent Alexander
In 1807 the British abolished the Slave Trade. In 1833 the declaration of the abolition of Slavery in British Colonies was announced. In 1834 Slavery was formally abolished in British Guiana, albeit Apprenticeship enabled the retention of the labour of the manumitted Souls onto 1838. However, in 2007 the United Nation, the united voice of the World Community saw it fit and necessary to declare March 25, as of 2008,the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade under the theme: Breaking the Silence, Lest We Forget
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was conducted for a period of approximately 400 years, during which period over 15 million native Africans were enslaved. Of that number 800,000 were enslaved in the Caribbean and South Africa, while over 42,000 perished in the middle passage.
Today we are gathered in a Celebratory, Expiational and Reparative mood to remember the African holocaust and most heinous crime against humanity. Worthy of note is the fact that we are gathered in a congregational church.
In Guyana at the time of the abolition of Slavery, there were over 77,000 enslaved Africans in Guyana. Of that number over 34,000 were native Africans, and over 39,000 were people of African descent.
The abolition of the Slave Trade and eventually Slavery were hard fought gains of the enslaved. In Guyana, in particular, the Cuffy Slave Rebellion was a significant moment in that regard. The 1823 Demerara Slave Rebellion was probably among the last but by no means least of the telling blows against the system of enslavement in British Guiana.
Against the backdrop of the aforementioned occurrences and the momentous achievements the abolitionists and the enslaved Africans, in particular, the United Nations some 170 years thereafter found it necessary to declare and commemorate March 25 of each year, as of 2008, as the International Day of Rememberance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, hence our presence here today.
This day provides a moment for the celebration of the triumph of Good over Evil; and the heroic struggle of the enslaved as exemplified by the 1823 Demerara Slave Rebellion which saw the uprising of over 10,000 enslaved persons, the death of over 250 of them, although the rebellion was non-violent; the sentencing of 45 of them to death; the execution of 27 and the display of their decapitated heads on staves, publicly. What a price was paid in struggle for freedom, their God given right. We celebrate those moments as the price paid for our freedom. We also recognize that moments enables acceleration, and momentum to the action being undertaken. In that regard, the Congregational Church in Guyana should also be celebrated for the educative role that it played in the struggle for emancipation in British Guiana. Special mention should also be made of Quamina, Gladstone and even the European John Smith all of whom paid severely for their leadership of, and/or association with, the freedom fighters of 1823. They were exceptional, compared with the role of Slave Master and protagonist that other Congregationalists were playing in the British Isles as noted by the ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas in one of his speeches in delivered in Cork Ireland in 1845.
The Congregational Church should also be recognized for its act of Expiation, albeit retroactively, as is exemplified by the 2022 statement of the Council of World Mission, in which the Council unequivocally apologizes for the role that the clergy played in the propagation of Slavery. Our commemoration in this church today, The Smith`s Memorial Congregational Church is another such act of atonement, which should be acknowledged.
The act of the church is also reparative, if only at the spiritual level. However, the declaration of the day by the United Nation has provided an opportunity for celebration, expiation and reparation by all-a- sundry as we mark the over 170 years of the end of humanity`s most heinous crime. Note should however we made of the theme: Breaking the Silence, Lest We Forget, under which the first commemoration of the day was held.
More than that the commemoration provides for a moment of introspection and the recognition that the abolition of slavery did not dismantle the discriminatory mind set and state institutions that facilitated slavery, hence 170 years after there is still the need for the dismantling of the institutions that embodied and enabled slavery. The abolition of slavery was but a phase in the struggle for freedom and the restoration of human dignity for the people of African descent. It is in that regard that the said United Nation declared 2015-2024 the Decade for the People of African Descent under the theme: Recognition, Justice and Development.
This represents a clear statement that the people of African descent are still affect by the deficits of recognition, justice and development, which have their genesis in Slavery and continued to be perpetrated under colonialism and have not necessarily been address after decolonisation, hence reparations has to be uttermost on our agenda. This of necessity has to take the material and spiritual forms. Those who committed the heinous crimes and their successors are indebted to us for the material deprivation and social dysfunctionalities that still stalk the land.
Equally, we have to internalize about the spiritual and mental trauma that still affect our being. These traumas can only be overcome if we ourselves accept that that`s our state and commit to addressing that state. In that regard, the church is once again challenged to introspect and acknowledge the negative role that it might have played and in such circumstances be remorseful and repentant as the Council for World Mission honourably does in its 2022 statement to commemorate the Day. That remorse and repentance should also be followed up by acts of reparation as the ultimate solution, mindful that reparation is both material and spiritual.