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Aug 1, 2016

Emancipation Day is Commemorated with enslaved

Emancipation Day is celebrated to mark the freeing of slaves in various former colonies of Britain. The day is celebrated in different forms and on different days. In the City today, the Belize Archives and Records Service collaborated with the Museum of Belize on an exhibition in which they provided relevant records on slavery in what was the then British Honduras, dating back to the 1800’s. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Slavery in Belize, what was then British Honduras, was associated with the extraction of timber, chiefly logwood and then mahogany.  Since existing agreements prohibited the production of plantation crops, the difference in occupation created changes in the organization, conditions and treatment of slaves.

 

Janelle Carcamo-Tillett

Janelle Carcamo-Tillett, Education Officer, Museum of Belize

“Generally a lot of people know about slavery from the Caribbean, so plantation slavery.  But here we had a forestocracy where it was focused on the extraction of logwood and later on mahogany and that’s a major difference that you would see if you come and visit this exhibition.  We also talk about the cruelty of masters towards slaves because a lot of people believed that in Belize we didn’t have slavery, and we did.  It wasn’t this family affair and also you will learn that Belize Town had its own social stratification and that largely dictates the economy, right, again of the settlement, politics and governance.”

 

Enslaved is an exhibit that has been opened at the Museum of Belize and focuses on the institution of slavery.  Its launch today coincides with Emancipation Day, celebrated in many former British colonies within the Caribbean and the United States in observance of the liberation of slaves of African descent.  The display is a collaborative effort including the Belize Archives & Records Service.

 

Herman Byrd

Dr. Herman Byrd, Director, Belize Archives & Records Service

“Our role here was to provide them with extracts from the many records we have on slavery in Belize; for example, we have a full range of the censuses of the slave population from 1800 right up to the emancipation.  So we’ve provided them with extracts of that.  We have from our Grand Court records, we have extracts on the trials of slaves that took place in Belize, that case that I mentioned in my presentation and Duncanette Campbell.  That very well-known case of Doctor Boyne and his really harsh treatment of his slave Peggy.  So records like those.  We have also records of slaves escaping into the bush but into Honduras, Guatemala and off to their freedom.  So essentially our role was to provide them with some of the primary documents reflecting the life of the slaves in Belize, from the late 1700s up to Emancipation.”

 

The exhibit also looks at the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, as well as the history of resistance in Belize.

 

Janelle Carcamo-Tillett

“It maps the journey of the slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean via the middle passage and then obviously from Jamaica where they were bought at the slave market and then they came to Belize.  And then that’s when we joined this journey and we talk about what happened here in the settlement.  We also have a feature on modern-day slavery because what people will realize is that most of those systems that were created in the colonial past still exist today.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“What is one feature of this exhibit that would leave a lasting effect on anyone who comes to the Museum of Belize to look at what’s going on here?”

 

Janelle Carcamo-Tillett

“I think the slave resistance section would be the most profound, largely because a lot of people believe that Belizeans are passive and that we never resisted the conditions of slavery.  You’re gonna find out that we feature three major rebellions which includes a major one on the banks of the Belize River in May 1820, where forty slaves took guns and cutlasses to their masters and they held that place hostage for three months.  That’s something incredible to learn about the history of enslavement in Belize.”

 

With the material provided by the Archives Department, the Museum of Belize was able to create a distinct and riveting feel of what it may have been like over two centuries ago.

 

Dr. Herman Byrd

“I like the way in which, we work with them on a very minute size and I like the way in which they take them and blow them up and transform them and so you sort of feel that you’re a part of it.  So if you go in there and you read the extracts of the case of Duncanette Campbell, you’re sort of drawn into it in a way in which you are unable to do perhaps sitting at a desk in Belmopan at our archives.  So I like that very much that as you go through the exhibit you really become a part of it and begin to feel something of what was the daily struggles of the slaves here.”

 

Among the many traditions still practiced in Belize in the wake of slavery is the Sambai which is performed by the Creole community in Gales Point Manatee.  The call and response harkens back to a time when marooned ex-slaves gathered together to sing and dance.

 

[Montage of Sambai Dance]

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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