Today is Emancipation Day…the anniversary of the seminal event in 1838 (Aug 1st) when the 82,000 slaves in then British Guiana were freed by an act of the British Parliament passed in 1833.
While the Act kicked into force in 1834, there was going to be a six-year “Apprenticeship” period (soon reduced to 4 years) during which the slaves would be transitioned into a money economy. In other words, they’d be paid for their labour during that time.
Problem was, even after the Apprenticeship period, Emancipation was confined to what’s been called “negative freedom”, i.e. the freedom from being constrained – of which slavery had been the most extreme form, save possibly solitary confinement in the penal system. The slave wasn’t “chattel”, or property with absolutely no rights, any longer. He couldn’t be forced to work, or “breed”, or even live on the plantations any longer.
The question was: Did he have “positive” freedom – the freedom to live in accordance with his own will, to fulfil his own potentialities? In your Eyewitness’s opinion, the jury’s still out on that question 171 years later.
In the immediate post-slavery period, most of the ex-slaves decamped the plantations to fend for themselves. As we all know, some of them pooled their savings during the Apprenticeship period and bought up abandoned plantations to launch what we now call the Village Movement.
This enlarged their scope of positive freedom, but a combination of planter vindictiveness, geographic/hydraulic constraints, and structural/cultural factors inculcated during the slave era served to restrict the full flowering of their freedom.
Now, in the modern world, everyone is subject to societal forces that constrain their freedom to a lesser or greater extent. But for the newly freed slaves and their descendants, there were unique factors acting against them.
For one, the plantations they bought had to be drained and irrigated because of the unique geography of our coastland. To accomplish that, capital was needed far in excess of what was going to be generated from the subsistence agriculture practised at that time. The planters didn’t upkeep the drainage and irrigation canals, and pretty soon life became a continuous struggle. The British rulers preferred the ex-slaves drift into the towns, where they could provide a cheap and readily available reserve of workers who would compete with each other and keep down wages.
What was most debilitating, however, were the cultural patterns fostered during slavery and structurally perpetuated afterwards. The propensity of some to “live for the day” – lesser deferred gratification – loose family bonds, with absentee fathers etc conspired to impart a negative stereotype of the descendants of slaves that crippled their development.
Their leadership, which used the less fortunate as a voting bloc, hasn’t helped their plight.
Looks like the method behind the madness of the PNC insistence on H2H is coming to light!! Your Eyewitness always knew it had to do with the PNC’s rigging of the upcoming elections…and nothing to do with them just drawing their salaries for another year. (Not that THAT isn’t the motivation for hangers-on like Ramjattan and Nagamootoo!!) Well, mouth open and story jump out!! 8600 Haitians entered Guyana in the last seven months!! They get to Panama, and then fly in via Copa airlines.
Last year, Felix was grilled by a Parliamentary Committee about the phenomenon. He weakly suggested the Haitians were just en route to Suriname, and then on to French Guiana. But Suriname introduced the need for visas (even though it’s also a Caricom country) on September 15,2016, and there’s been no upsurge for Surinamese visas by Haitians!!
Is Felix approving backtracking? Or is he playing the fool, knowing he’s using them to pad the electoral lists?? No wonder he needed 23,000 birth certificate forms!!
Emancipating Haitians to enslave Guyanese!
Well, for one day, your Eyewitness is taking the day off and heading down to the Emancipation goings-on. He’s gonna gorge himself with some old-fashioned metemgee and conkie.
Happy Emancipation Day, Guyana!!