08 Dec Emancipation
Emancipation Day! All of my Caribbean guides talked about it. They were on four different islands and did not know each other or what the others’ topics would be, but the one date they all told us was the Emancipation Day for their islands’ slaves.
They talked more about emancipation than they did about rum, which is significant since the islanders are such avid rum drinkers.
The islands’ history of slavery was brutal, though. Between 1662 and 1807, Britain shipped 3.1 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean and sold them as slaves to work on plantations. They worked up to 18 hours a day, with no weekends or rest days. The life expectancy of imported slaves was short—up to 7 to 8 years after their arrival, and ten percent died within the first year.
In St. Kitts, Antigua, and Barbados, the slaves were emancipated in 1834, and in Martinique, they were emancipated in 1838. It took many years, though, to gain more freedoms, such as owning land. On St. Kitts, for example, the former slaves could not buy land until 1841.
I saw references to emancipation all over the islands. The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda has paintings of revolting slaves and a poster about their Emancipation Day. The most poignant testament, though, was the Bussa Emancipation Statue in Bridgetown, Barbados, named after a slave who inspired a revolt against slavery.
The slave in the statue has chains on his wrists, but the links are broken representing that the chains of slavery were broken. The slave’s face, though, shows the agony and fatigue of enduring life as a slave with its hard work and impoverished living conditions. The back muscles on the statue are strong and look like those of a professional athlete. They’re not a mark, though, of a man who lifts weights, but of one who was toiled many hours on plantations.
I was so moved by the statue that I took photos of it from all sides. Why did it capture my heart so much, and why did all my tour guides speak at length about emancipation?
I think it’s because every soul longs to be free. Throughout history, people have been enslaved—some by actual chains or ownership and others by self-imposed slavery. I’ve been in the latter category.
I had invisible chains mostly from fear. Fear of risking in relationships, fear of putting my writing out to the world for critique and review, fear of pursuing my dreams, or even declaring them. If I said them, I’d have to reach for them. What if I failed?
I also punished myself with cruel and critical self-talk—my version of a master’s harsh treatment of his or her slaves. Beatings, though, whether verbal or physical, leave scars.
I then spent many years working to break my chains and heal my scars. It wasn’t an act of government, like has happened with slaves in chains, but a gradual release of fears, stories, and limiting beliefs. I got tired of living a half-life, and finally in my fifties, I stepped out of prison and set myself free.
Since then, I’ve published two books, expanded my relationship life, and taken eight trips, seven internationally. I’m writing a new book, posting regularly on a blog, and am planning to be abroad for much of the next two years.
If I had known that freedom would bring so much joy, I may have thrown off my chains earlier. Perhaps, I wasn’t ready, though. Freedom also requires responsibility, and as my freedom has expanded, so have my responsibilities. Thus, emancipation includes both managing our freedom and our responsibilities. It’s worth it, though.
Thus, I wish everyone the gift of emancipation. The Bussa statue shows the way. The slave’s left foot and body are moving forward. Freedom is about moving forward by acts of courage.
My next act is to go to Australia and New Zealand on my own. I feel some fear about going so far away, but my dream calls me forward. My desire for a bigger and better life is stronger than my fear, so I’m going.
I’m living the wisdom of the great Caribbean singer, Bob Marley, who sang, “Get up, stand up! Stand up for your rights!” I’m standing up for my right to be free, and I hope everyone else does too!
As Martin Luther King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “Let freedom ring…”
Jennifer K. Jordan
For more inspiration, please visit the Inspiring Wisdom Today Blog at www.InspiringWisdomToday.com/blog/.
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