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Belize observes Emancipation Day

Posted: Saturday, August 1, 2020. 2:25 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Minister of Education, Youth, Culture and Sports Patrick Faber earlier today released a video statement from the Government of Belize in recognition of Emancipation Day.

Unlike our fellows in the Caribbean, the date is not a public and bank holiday, but Faber said all Belizeans, especially those of African heritage, should stop for a moment and recognize the sacrifices and achievements of our African ancestors.

The British, like other colonial powers, had allowed the widespread practice of slavery to take place during the time of expansion to the new world. In 1772, the ruling in the case of Somerset v Stewart determined that slavery was unsupported by the common law in England and Wales. While the ruling was not clear on the situation in other parts of the Empire, this case was seen as a key turning point in the change towards emancipation.

Slavery was finally abolished throughout the British Empire by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which came into effect on August 1, 1834. The territories controlled at that time by the East India Company, Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), and St. Helen’s were excluded. Slavery was not abolished in these regions until 1843.

The first country in the world to observe a public holiday for Emancipation Day was Trinidad and Tobago when Emancipation Day replaced Discovery Day in 1985.

In the case of Belize, said Faber, slaves were made to participate in the exploitation of forest produce such as mahogany and logwood. They also played a role in defending the Settlement during the 1798 Battle of St. George’s Caye where the Baymen held off Spanish invaders from Mexico.

But they were also subject to inhumane and cruel treatment and even after slavery was abolished, they were marginalized in the development of the country.

Faber recalled the 1919 Ex-Servicemen’s Riot against conditions following World War I, and which paved the way for the later Garveyite, Soberanis, and nationalist movements.

Belize, he said, must commit to ending all forms of discrimination and mistreatment and work toward a more equal and just Belize.

The Kriol population, mostly slave descendants, has been significantly reduced due to migration and more recently crime and is now approximately a quarter of the overall population.

The Belize History Association and a group of activists held separate lectures on Friday and today, both virtually and there was a libation ceremony in downtown Belize City this morning.


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