It’s not what happened during slavery
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Image of Africans being processed to be auctioned off as slaves to slave masters
(Atlanta Black Star photo)
Image of Africans being processed to be auctioned off as slaves to slave masters (Atlanta Black Star photo)

– it is what is being done to overcome it

“OH GOSH! I can’t stand this course, even hearing about what happened to my ancestors during the days of slavery pains me.” These were the words of a University of Guyana student as she sat through a Caribbean Studies class. She, however, had to remain and endure in order to successfully complete the particular programme she was pursuing.

The reality is that slavery was a real interruption of what might have otherwise been a good life for many people; maybe quite normal, but one in which the liberty and pursuit of happiness were just the way of life; where living in the environment of a family, making one’s own decisions about the simple things of life such as what to eat, what to wear, where to go, educational and/career choices, who your friends are, and when to rest or sleep, among others– which were at one time taken for granted — became a decision that was made for those who were sold into slavery.

Slavery was a violation of human rights at its extreme. It was brutal. It had to stop; such level of injustice could not last forever. The season for such had to come to an end, for it is difficult for any human being to relentlessly pursue such and not reach a point of overload. While it adversely affected the slaves, studies have shown that the perpetrators themselves also become inundated and became affected on every side: financially, socially, physically and also mentally.
However, this is a situation that no person living on earth today can erase. Though the past is difficult, it cannot be erased and must be accepted with dignity – a show of accomplishment; one in which the famous serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr was written.

The beginning of slavery in British Guiana
Studies have shown that the first group of slaves might have arrived in British Guiana in the mid-17th century, with an increasing number of them arriving from West Africa in ships owned by the West India Company. They were all African slaves and they were scattered across the country – by way of the Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo ports.

It was told that upon arrival, the planters wasted very little time in bargaining off the slaves, who had to endure a high level of examination and humiliation, as part of the whole selection process. What may have been even worse, was that entire families were involuntarily separated from each other in order satisfy the desires of the particular planter who made the purchase. This may have been one of the most difficult aspects in the whole process for the slaves in addition to being auctioned off to begin the task of slavery.

Other countries
It must also be noted that countries in the Caribbean such as Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua, Martinique, The Lesser Antilles, and Brazil in South America, all experienced the slave trade at its best.

The end of slavery in British Guiana
Prior to the British government passing an Act of parliament abolishing the slave trade throughout the British Empire (The Emancipation Act of 1833), there was a ‘long and bitter struggle’ against an arduous and cruel system, which inevitably destroyed the dignity of the ‘man.’

On August 1834, it was declared a public holiday by the Governor. As one phase of Guyana’s colonial society came to an end, an equally difficult period began. The slaves were told of their forthcoming freedom and waited with eager joy to throw off their cruel chains and, in some cases, even more cruel masters.

Emancipation and Apprenticeship
The freed men were so overjoyed at the news of their emancipation, that they missed a binding condition, which was that they were to be bound to their former masters as “apprentices” for an additional six years . This apprenticeship required them to work on the masters’ estates seven and a half hours each day for six days each week of the year.

The condition of the Emancipation Act – an Apprenticeship period of six years – was that the freed slaves were compelled by law to serve their old masters just as they had done when they were slaves.

The former slave masters were required to provide moral and religious education for the ex-slaves, but due to the planters’ hostility to the Emancipation Act, however, it would seem that they had another plan – to treat this six-year period as an extension of slavery, even though the working hours were greatly reduced to seven and a half hours a day instead of the nine and 10 hours they had formerly demanded of each slave.

It was reported that such a situation caused great disorder in the camp of the ‘freed men,’ especially on the East Coast of Demerara; this disorder spread to the West Coast of Demerara, where further confusion and disorder broke out, with appending penalties as serious as women being sentenced to the treadmill and men receiving strokes with the cat-o’nine-tail, along with the treadmill penalty as well.

By 1838, considering the harsh treatment of the apprentices and the confusion that ensued, the British proclaimed the freedom of all “apprentices” on the 1 August.
Most of the freed men left the plantations without being compensated, to set up their own homes and were replaced by indentured workers, mainly from India.

Overcoming the hurdles
However, there is the old adage, “In life, it is not what happens to you, but what you do to overcome it (them).”

Slavery: brutal; remorseless, inconsiderate, an inhumane system, are all just mild, but apt words, to describe this system. And the fact is that while it has left indelible scars, such scars can now be used as patterns or designs, a sort of ‘pip on the shoulder’ to indicate that such were a people who overcame and not ready to blame their circumstances for their shortcomings.

Don’t blame slavery
Thriving in the face of adversity is a way of displaying much strength to overcome.
Slavery, it is believed, is one such mammoth adversity. It is said that the manner in which a person responds to certain events is what will shape his or her feelings, actions and results, at the same time determining their success or overburden in life.

People can choose to live the life they want, no matter how tough it can get. It is all a matter of mentality, only they will prevent themselves from achieving greatness. The rest are just small detours before they reach their destinations for the only environment they have control of is their internal ones, so the way they interpret situations is the only control they have over them.

“I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilised by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.” -Walter Anderson


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