UWI History Society Commemorates the Passage of the Act Abolishing the Atlantic Slave Trade in the British Empire

Dance by Tricia Blaise-Fergus
Dance by Tricia Blaise-Fergus Reporters
Event Date: March 26, 2007
Posted: April 04, 2007

The UWI History Society of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, held an event marking the bicentennial commemoration of the passage of the act abolishing the Atlantic Slave Trade in the British Empire at the CLL building, UWI, St. Augustine. The attendance was small and filled mainly with students from the university campus. However, they were very receptive to the discourses by the speakers and appreciative of the performances by the artistes.

Rawle Gibbons of the Centre for Creative and Festival Arts (CCFA) opened the event with an Orisha invocation accompanied by a drummer who, by his lonesome, beat his drums and chanted in Yoruba simultaneously. The energy projected from the opening invocation fuelled the rest of the programme which had a good mix of academic discourse and entertaining performances.

Dr. Claudius Fergus, a UWI lecturer in history, addressed the audience and acknowledged the work of the British abolitionists but he expressed that within the abolition discourse the greatest players have been omitted. Dr. Fergus pointed out it was the enslaved and marooned ancestors who laid the architecture for the abolition of the slave trade. He expressed the portrayal of the abolition of the slave trade being because of justice and humanitarian reasons as a myth, which has taken a new kind of spin given this year's commemoration. Dr. Fergus said that it was the revolutionary emancipators in the Caribbean who set the pace for abolition, highlighting the importance, in this process, of the 1760 revolt in Jamaica which triggered the ameliorating of the conditions of slaves in order to minimize [revolts] and eventually to abolish the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Dr. Ian Robertson, Dean of Humanities and Education, thanked the UWI History Department and History Society for ensuring that an event of such significance was properly marked and pledged the continued support of his faculty in the activities of the History Society.

Professor Bridget Brereton spoke next, highlighting that the event being celebrated is a huge event in world history. She went on to mention the importance of the Caribbean developing its own perspectives on the abolition, just as Britain and Europe will have their perspectives.

Joan Yuille-Williams, Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs, addressed the audience and recounted some of her experiences as a student at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. She pointed out that the celebration by many countries is occurring because a window of opportunity has been provided by UNESCO who has sought to encourage governments and states all over the progressive world to throw their support behind the celebration and commemoration of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. She called the Transatlantic Slave Trade the most pernicious and horrific trade in the world and in human history, highlighting that millions of West Africans were abducted from their homes, kidnapped from their villages and taken to plantations where slavery flourished. All this she said, was at the hands of, and with the blessing of the leading imperial authorities of the North Atlantic, including the British government.

Mrs. Yuille-Williams emphasized that the UNESCO initiative is intended to firstly remind global society of the horror that was the slave trade so that experience will never again be visited on human kind. The next step is to allow the full story of the abolition of the slave trade to be told as "we must set history free, so that it can set us free."

After the address by the Minister, the cultural segment of the programme kicked off with a dramatic rendition of Sparrow's song 'Slave' by Calypsonian Creole who was accompanied by dancer Tricia Blaise-Fergus. The UWI Musical Arts Appreciation Group (MAAG) and Rapso group Word Sound and Power also graced the stage. The five member frontline of Word Sound and Power delivered 'Face to Face' and 'The Drum Done Cut' that went down well with the audience.

The Centre for Creative and Festival Arts (CCFA) then launched into an excerpt of the play, 'Guinea's Other Sons', based on a book by Maureen Warner-Lewis. The play told the story of a group of UWI students, who while on a field trip are transported centuries back to the period of slavery where they endure the slave experience. The various elements of transatlantic slavery such as capture, enslavement, transportation across the middle passage and the slave auctioning was presented quite dramatically by the actors, being enhanced by the use of song, drums and dance.

Ella Andell, the famous Orisha and Folk singer then graced the stage, accompanied by three drummers and a keyboardist. For close to half an hour, Ella captivated the audience with a medley of her songs as the audience danced and sang along to the sounds of her powerful voice and the rhythmic drums. Ella Andell closed with her signature song 'Bring Down the Power' to rapturous applause from the audience.

Rapso singer Brother Resistance came to the stage and spoke about the failures of mainstream education and foreign dependency before delving into his Rapso songs. He urged the audience that when they come out with their certifications to use it in the service of the people. Delivering his pieces 'Ring the Bell', 'Is it Safe', and 'I Walk with the Glory of Kings' Brother Resistance's lyrics and distinctive style was well appreciated by the audience.

Representative of the History Society, Sophia Spence, briefly outlined the upcoming projects of the History Society involving primary, secondary and tertiary education institutions.

National Calypso Monarch (2007) finalist Jervae Caesar then delivered his Calypso 'Carry Me' which was warmly received by those in attendance.

President of the Society, Guevara Leacock gave the Vote of Thanks, bringing the evenings proceedings to a close. Those in the audience included UWI history lecturer Brinsley Samaroo, Nigerian High Commissioner Arthur Agbe and Curriculum Officer for History Mrs. Oria Honore.

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