Emancipation Day honoree Baly: “Country St. Maarten was built on the village concept”POSTED: 07/3/12 1:23 PM
A dancer leaps into the air during a performance atop the Salt Pickers roundabout in Philipsburg as part of the Emancipation Day celebration on Monday. (Milton Pieters photo)
St. Maarten – Hundreds converged at the Salt Pickers monument roundabout on Monday for the final fanfare in this year’s 149th commemoration of Emancipation. For some it would have been 164 years to coincide with freedom on French St. Martin but a depiction by the St. Maarten Story Tellers of the Diamond Estate way of life was all too compelling and brought tears to the eyes of many as they reflected on the arduous life at the hands of cruel taskmasters. To chants of “work and more work for massa” dramatic presentations featured salt and cotton picking, sugar cane and provision planting, poultry rearing, washing, cooking, cleaning and the building irrigation systems. The activities of house slaves, yard slaves, mulattoes and freedom fighters such One Titie Loekie were reenacted.
“Hail the Brave Ancestors! Surrender not one day of Freedom won” was collectively sung by all those who formed of a freedom parade which ended at the Salt Pickers Monument. Headed by the Emancipation proclamation, the parade featured African influences from 1848 to now in drumming, poetry, dance, folklore, stilt walking, masquerade and other artistic expressions. Among those contributing to the cultural performances were Imbali Centre for Creative Movement, Dance Theatre St. Maarten, Elite Drum Band, Patsy and Children, Capoeira Group, Motiance Dance School, Youmay Dormoy’s Drum Band, the Philipsburg Brass Band, Peter Lake, Dorothy ‘Rosa’ Richardson, Locomotive, Ebony Steel Orchestra, Ebony Steel Orchestra and Tanny and the Boys. Living statues littered the roundabout which was transformed into a slave village.
Though small, the parade was still a spectacle for the hundreds that lined the parade route from Front Street onto the Pondfill. They were urged to see themselves as legacy builders.
Social commentator and St. Maarten icon Pa Ben gave a bird’s eye view through the years as St. Maarten transitioned from Dutch colony to country.
In a special emancipation booklet published for the event, honoree Camille E. Baly, Esq. remarked that “the abrupt understanding of our emancipation proclamation on July 1, 1863 was expressed around the ‘mancipation tree’ dancing and singing: Poh slave, poh slave, Ah bey benne hearum, Ah bey benne hearum long time; Ah bey benne hidum, A bey hidum, hidum, Poh slave, oh, Poh slave!”
This booklet which also contained the official emancipation proclamation by Governor J.Grol of Curacao, the slavery register as well as remarks by former Culture Minister Dr. Rhoda Arrindell was distributed to all those in attendance free of charge.
Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, Silveria Jacobs, in addressing those gathered said that it took the collective efforts of many to make the event a success. She singled out Baly to receive a crystal award with the insignia Diamond 26 for his consistent efforts towards the nation’s education on St. Maarten’s history and culture. In accepting the award from Deputy Prime Minister William Marlin Baly tearfully reflected on his own background as a direct descendant of slaves.
“I consider myself the initiative of the village. This is the validation of any development, people and progress, the village. Country St. Maarten was built on the village concept.”
Minister Jacobs also challenged those gathered to research their roots.
“Find out from whence you came.”
The evening ended with poetry by Dame Ruby Bute, singing by Helen Hart and the distribution of traditional African food and drink. Emancipation Day will become an even bigger spectacle in years to come, the organizers pledged.