On Monday, we will celebrate the 1 August 1834 when the Emancipation Act, which was passed in Parliament and given Royal Assent in1833, came into effect.
This was a turning point in the lives of black people in the Anglphone West Indian Islands in general and the British Virgin Islands in particular. The slaves in the British Virgin Islands had already seen and some tasted what freedom was like because Samuel and Mary Nottingham had freed their slaves earlier and given them the land constituting the Nottingham Estate in Long Look.
Unlike many of the other Anglophone Islands, the slaves in the British Virgin Islands were not subjected to the Apprenticeship System. The slaves were freed from the control of their masters, but they were still oppressed economically. The Emancipation Act provided each slave owner compensation for each freed slave, that is they were paid for the labour they lost and the demise of the plantation economy. The slaves were not given any assistance. The were sent out to fend for themselves and that they have done and their descendants are still doing so today. The rugged individualism which characterized their survival strategy has fueled their enthusiasm to succeed as a people despite the various attempts to keep them under water. They recognized the importance of the waterways versus the roadways, and they skillfully developed the boat building industry, thus providing their own means of transportation within the archipelago and between the archipelago and its Caribbean neighbours. Just remember 26 July was the anniversary of the shipwreck of the 42 tons schooner "The Fancy Me" in 1926 while travelling from the Dominican Republic. Their skillfull seamanship had earned them the title of the "Finest Seamen" in the Caribbean during the "heyday of their hot pursuits."
The Emancipation Act was a coordinate which enabled them to determine where they came from and where they are. That aspect of self-determination has been ongoing in this Territory since 1 August 1834 and on 1 August 2022 is still ongoing.In 1834 it was the seed of socio-ecocultural determination. The political order also began to develop and has grown like the dimensions of a tree, the visible manifestations today represent only one third of the human investment in bringing this Territory to where it is today. The ammunition to fight today's battles has to be found in the roots of the other two thirds which are deeply entrenched in our heritage which is as rich or richer than any imposed heritage.
As B. V. Islanders we need to be vigilant in identifying the best strategies that will prevent us from becoming "hewers of stones and drawers of water" in the land of our birth, while acknowledging, accepting, and respecting the contributions of those who have laboured and are contributing, and have integrated in our "rainbow ethnicity."
Celebrating Emancipation in 2022 and beyond calls for increased vigilance in identifying the roadblocks, human obstacles, perceiving and acting on opportunities for growth collectively and professionally, non-violently and respectfully, transparently and morally as we continue this journey of self-determination. We can do it, we should do it, we must do it, we will do it together.