Liberation through healing, Saba marks starts of Slavery Commemoration Year

State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen and Island Governor Jonathan Johnson look at the exhibition of Saba’s slavery past. Photo: Saba Government

THE BOTTOM – Saba marked the start of the Commemoration Year of the Slavery Past on Saturday, July 1, with a well-attended Emancipation Day event with a number of speakers and a number of powerful performances.

The event’s theme, ‘liberation through healing,’ was most fitting, said Commissioner of Culture Eviton Heyliger. “Although healing hundreds of years of trauma will not happen overnight, we need to start the dialogue. By engaging in healing practices, as a community we can reclaim our agency, reconnect with our inner strength, and restore our sense of wholeness,” he said in his speech.

“Collectively, we can contribute to social transformation and liberation by dismantling oppressive systems, challenging inequities, and promoting justice. Together, we can address and challenge the root causes of oppression, fostering resilience, empathy, and compassion. We can also create spaces for dialogue, reconciliation, and the cultivation of healthier relationships within communities and between different social groups,” said Heyliger.

Heyliger pointed out that the history of Black people on Saba was not recorded in a real way until 160 years ago, when slavery was abolished in 1863. “Before that they were not even considered people; they were considered property. They were only seen as things that could be used to work. They had no rights, no freedoms, no protection under the law, no justice.” 

Still felt today

The legacy of Dutch slavery in the Caribbean is still felt today, said Heyliger. “This isn’t only the story of those enslaved, but also the story of us all here today, descendants of those who have inherited the pain and disadvantages of this most horrendous act against humanity,” he said.

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