History, Memory & Responsibility - Speech On Emancipation Day & Launch of Design for National Heroes Park - August 3, 1999
History, Memory & Responsibility - Speech On Emancipation Day & Launch of Design for National Heroes Park
History is nothing less than the art of collective memory. Only those who have no memories of themselves, their origins, their accumulation of experiences, can be described as having no history. Even so the absence of recollection does not negate the presence of history as shadow of the past lurking and living in the present.
These truths are as valid in the lives of individuals as in the chronicle of nations. We are all the products of our past. We may not have known our grandparents or our great-grandparents but that does not mean that we are not their descendants. The fact that we did not know them or do not recognize them does not mean that our looks, some of our mannerisms, our genetic characteristics and our character traits have not been derived from them. As the great Caribbean poet, Nicholas Guillen says in his poem – "shadows that only I can see, my two grandfathers go with me". The past is a shadow that is always hovering over the present and the more conscious that one is of the shadow of history the easier it is to find comfort in the present and possibility in the future.
That is why this Government has decided to make much more of Emancipation Day. We celebrate it as an important element in the cultivation of memory. Our own Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott has said that "we make too much of the long groan that underlies the past" and he is absolutely correct. A people must never forget their pain but the scars of the past must serve to heal their future. History must always be celebration -- for no matter the depth of the pain, there is always resistance, resilience, survival and triumph to celebrate. It is only at the end of history that there is no reason to celebrate and history only ends when a people are completely decimated.
So for us, sisters and brothers, Emancipation Day is not the time for revisiting the trauma of slavery but more significantly for revaluating the miracle of survival. It is a time to restore the pride of resilience and the resistance. It is a moment to recognize our remarkable capacity for regeneration as a people who have been through the most epic holocaust of the past five hundred years. That too, is why we have chosen as the theme for this year’s anniversary, "Celebrating our Liberty".
That is why we are also inaugurating National Heroes Park today by launching the design for the monument that will represent this history. There are those like Froude who, from those distant days to the present, believe that because we have no monuments there is no history. A monument is only the physical metaphor that a people utters to remember a moment, a past, a history. The monument that we intend to erect here will be the product a St. Lucian creative imagination, the work of local artists and will represent the triumph of our collective spirit. It will serve to remind us that emancipation is the unfettering of the spirit because although we are told that Emancipation Day was August 1st 1834, there were many among our ancestors who had always been free. In spite of the chains that bound their bodies and the whips that lacerated their skins, their spirits were always free and unfettered. It is the spirit of these men and women of fire that enabled our survival and triumph as a people against the odds of history yesterday. And it is that unconquered spirit that must inspire our actions today and infuse our tomorrows.
And we will build this monument to emancipation right here in Provost Park on this green knoll where so many battles have been fought in the spiral of our history between French and English. Here we will build a fitting metaphor to remind us of Martin Carter’s declaration that "freedom is a white road with green grass like love".
And this monument must be a chronicle of those men and women of fire whose spirit has embodied that will to overcome all odds. National Heroes Park must be that hallowed niche where their names and memories are inscribed and it must always remind us of our strength.
Allow me to end by quoting the words of another famous Caribbean poet, Martin Carter, whose voice moved beyond the groan of the past to defiance of the contemporary:
I come from the nigger yard of yesterday
Leaping from the oppressor’s hate
And scorn of myself.
I come to the world with scars upon my soul
Wounds on my body, fury in my hands.
I turn to the histories of men and the lives of the peoples.
I examine the shower of sparks the wealth of dreams.
I am pleased with the glories and sad with the sorrows
Rich with the riches, poor with the loss.
From the nigger yard of yesterday I come with my burden
To the world of tomorrow I turn with my strength.
Happy Emancipation Day and Thank You.
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