THERE is the religious refrain in the African community, that gained global attention during the 1950-1960s African-American Civil Rights Movement, with words to the effect “Free at last, free at last/ I thank God I’m free at last.” Religion has been a mainstay and important part of Africans’ lives, given that it offers hope, rallies the communities, and the proverbial guiding light out of the tunnel. Optimism has shaped and stayed the course, however bleak, in struggles against slavery, for civil, economic and political rights, overcoming challenges, and seeking attainment. Chattel slavery, as declared by the United Nations, is the most inhumane act perpetrated in man’s history.
The quantifying of this inhumanity in real dollars will never be truly known, for truthfully there can be no monetary value put to human lives, the tens of millions who suffered and were deprived, lest it reduces and condemns the affected to property status, a status they bravely fought against. International apologies for this heinous crime against humanity and efforts at creating some form of societal justice, through reparation programmes to address the created structures of economic disadvantages, though a step in the right direction, can never fully compensate. Locally, where the Government of Guyana has finally committed a Commission of Inquiry to address African/ancestral lands, with an aim of bringing about formal regularisation is a plus, more so that these lands were acquired through personal sweat and direct financial payments. The toppling of the system of slavery marked a progressive step in human development. And even as the quest for full freedom remains worthy of pursuit, the recognition that others did not have to live and suffer through identical circumstances and conditions, paying homage to those who fought against it brings out the humanity in all.
The acceptance of inequality anywhere, regardless of who suffered or are suffering, poses a threat to equality everywhere. When Guyanese, on Saturday, irrespective of race, marked the attainment of emancipation for the ancestors of our African brothers and sisters, such also marked the nation’s collective attainment of recognising the equality of all. Guyana has the unpleasant distinction of being built on various systems of inequality and where, as a people, we stand in support of each other’s struggles and achievements bode well for our comity. Such camaraderie not only signalled to forces, internal and external, unwavering commitment to not return to bondage, but our capacity to unite in the face of adversity, historical or present. The various points of freedom attained in this country, be it a plantation society, colony or independent nation, should not be discounted or disregarded, but zealously protected and defended.
This 182nd Anniversary of Emancipation finds Guyanese moulder of their destiny, an achievement paved through long, bitter, tireless and rewarding struggles. And though some have been gained and some not, in all instances they fortified the unrelenting spirit to succeed. The attainment of successes must not find among us contentment or resignation, for to be either risks the chance of complacency and erosion of the gains made. A land of six peoples, where our ancestors toiled and aspired for its freedom, where they have left off, either through age, infirmity or death, their descendants must continue. The world today, though societies and people have made great strides, is not without complexities that pose challenges to preserving the freedoms gained and the quest for world-wide comity. Where there exist wars and other forms of inhumanity and deprivations, they threaten well-fought for and earned freedoms. Free at last, free at last, to the religious or not, is not only a refrain applicable in moments of adversity, but is also fuel in pursuit of attainments. Accordingly, the lyrics in the ‘Song of the Republic,’ which pays homage to Guyana’s ultimate political freedom, must ensure “We’ll forge a nation’s mighty soul/Construct a nation’s frame;/ Freedom our everlasting goal,/Courage and truth our aim,/Unyielding in our quest for peace/Like ancient heroes brave,/To strive and strive and never cease/With strength beyond the slave.