guyana chronicle editorial August 1, 2017

THE Guyana Chronicle joins with the African Guyanese community to celebrate another Emancipation anniversary. Emancipation is, of course, one of the most important events on our national calendar. As a country, we can trace our national roots to the moment and process of emancipation.
When the enslaved finally overthrew the slave system in 1838, they not only guaranteed their own freedom from bondage, but they ushered in a new society free from the inhumanity of slavery. Although other groups came to Guyana as indentured labourers and that system maintained some of the social relations of slavery, the fact that slavery was formally abolished was a significant factor in how the society functioned.
The immediate post-emancipation era witnessed the evolution of the Village Movement, which sowed the seeds of the modern Guyanese political economy. Just out of centuries of forced bondage, African Guyanese bought lands and set up villages. This was a courageous and heroic act, for they did so against the wishes of the plantocracy, which wanted to continue the exploitation of their labour. The villages reflected both a symbolic and substantive break with slavery and the slave plantation. This was the essence of Emancipation—the act of self-activity and self-determination.
The villages represented the affirmation of African Guyanese humanity and identity and served as the early building block for Guyanese humanity and nationalism. The erection of churches and schools and the birth of the village economy along with the village councils reflected a sophisticated vison of the present and the future. The villages were an investment in the future of Guyana. What was beautiful about that vision is that it was entirely native—drawing on the collective imagination and the sense of cooperativism. They bought the lands, not with loans from banks, but with the “cash money” they saved from meagre earnings during the period of Apprenticeship.
So, as we observe Emancipation 2017, there is much to celebrate and to be proud of. The challenges since 1838 have been many and most persistent, but in the end the Emancipation spirit of overcoming has prevailed. We often, amid gloom, forget our accomplishments–often against the odds. That we can, in our various communities, take to the open space and beat our drums and dance to ancient and contemporary rhythms without chains around our feet speaks volumes of the distance we have traveled away from the plantation.
But even as we celebrate, we must also reflect on where we are. The African Guyanese community, in particular, must take a hard and sobering look at itself and ponder its state. Times have changed since 1838, but some of the challenges of that time have persisted to this day. Many African Guyanese activists have complained of the group’s marginalization by successive political administrations. Others have pointed to structural problems in the community while some have called on African Guyanese to take responsibility for the perceived and real decline in the community. In the final analysis, the challenges of any of our cultural communities have consequences for the country as a whole. So, if the Emancipation spirit must mean anything substantive, it must move all of us regardless of ethnic origins to confront our setbacks and shortcomings.
But for now, let our African Guyanese brothers and sisters revel in their glorious past and contemplate how to ensure that that journey continues into the future. In the spirt of self-activity, which was at the centre of the Emancipation creed, they are best placed to show the way to a future in which their group maintains its dignified place as an integral part of our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Guyana.
Happy Emancipation