My Fellow Jamaicans, at home, in the Diaspora, well wishers and visitors to our beautiful island.
What a year in which to celebrate our Emancipation from enslavement!
· This year Jamaica marks 50 years since the island gained its independence.
· In this year we also observe the passage of and 174 years since the full abolition of the system of African enslavement that first Spain and then Britain imposed on Jamaica from the 16th and 17th centuries.
· It is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Rt Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
The coincidence of these and other significant heritage milestones provides us with an opportunity to understand the link between colonization and liberation struggles.
For it is a fact that:
· there would have been no political independence in Jamaica without emancipation;
· no embracing of a black consciousness without the unrelenting advocacy of Marcus Garvey;
· no indigenous knowledge system and indigenous intellectual tradition without the freedom to be.
For centuries our history had been told by others, our institutions were primarily staffed by those who did not always see it our way; our self-confidence was affected by overwhelming influences that originated outside of our native land.
Today we are armed with the knowledge that we now have about the role of our ancestors in the shaping of our present freedoms.
We can honestly say that knowledge of our past has helped us in our liberation from the bonds of the past, to use an idea from that great historian, Elsa V. Goveia.
We have to ensure that we carry on that liberation project. We must actualize our emancipation. We are still a nation on a mission and so we have to acknowledge our uncomfortable truths and then find solutions to them.
It is significant that in this our year of Jubilee the world will also observe the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress.
The ANC has been critical to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, a movement in which Jamaica was so fundamentally involved. Our involvement in that struggle is testament to our role as a nation in the global agitation for freedoms.
Not only are we intolerant of oppression at home, but we are also intolerant of oppression abroad.
We are delighted that two leaders from the Mother continent of Africa will be joining us for this period of celebration. We welcome President Jacob Zuma from South Africa and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, home of some our ancestors, our traditions and the origin of our bloodline.
Their presence is a true reminder, as Taurus Riley puts it, “The blood of African kings run through our veins….the thoughts of freedom fighters dwell in our brains, Stolen from Africa, the mission is still the same”.
Our mission as a nation is characterized by our journey”
· It is a journey that linked three continental spaces - Europe, Africa and the Americas - in a tangled triangle of trade.
· A journey that forced our ancestors, in bondage across the African plains.
· The journey that saw them shackled one to another in looming slave castles, faces etched with pain.
· They journeyed further, across the ocean, in the belly of sea-fearing vessels, still bound together by chains.
· Our journey saw us through the humiliation of slave auctions; the indignity and anguish of the plantations - with a valiant song of freedom as our enduring refrain.
· It was a journey on which Nanny, Tacky, George Taylor, Amelia Murray, Priscilla, Mary Walker, Charlotte Smith and so many anti-slavery activists showed us the importance of standing up, standing tall and standing strong – again and again and again.
· It was that journey which took us eventually to sweet emancipation, glorious freedom and onwards to independence.
· It is a journey on which we continue. Along that journey we set ourselves a mission – a mission to have freedom in all its forms – economic, social, political and cultural. ‘Full free’ is ours to attain – A Nation on a Mission.
As emancipation leads us into Independence, let us reflect on the road we have travelled and rise to meet the challenges of the future. We must take with us the best of our past, the strength and convictions of the present, in order to achieve the promise of the future.
Our forefathers and mothers were prepared to make sacrifices. They nobly paid the ultimate price to allow us the opportunities we now enjoy. So, it is in the spirit of a shared hope for a better tomorrow that I ask you to take hold of the promise and the possibilities that came with Emancipation. Hold fast to principles of respect for one another and sharing with each other. Display the resourcefulness and determination of those whose beliefs in what was good, and right, and honest and true, enabled them to overcome.
As we observe our Emancipation, I urge you to find a way to celebrate today:
· Lay a wreath at, or visit a heritage site that is associated with slavery and emancipation, sing songs of freedom;
· Re-visit the bravery and philosophy of Sam Sharpe and all our freedom fighters through the ages,
· Get swept up in the spirit of emancipation, freedom and liberation! Do not forget to dance. Free your mind, free your body, and satisfy your soul… In all you do, celebrate the freedom journey as we keep true to our Mission.
We have indeed come a long way and today we celebrate the fact that we are free. Free to be...all that we can be.
God bless you all.