August 1st is celebrated as Emancipation Day. Though the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, ended slavery to most of the British Empire, only slaves below six years old were freed. Anyone from ages 7 to adult were then categorized as “apprentices” and required to work, 40 hours per week without pay. This was because the owners were losing property and they needed compensation. That second and terrible system ended at midnight on July 31st, 1838 and across the Empire, people in the colonies were fully emancipated. Millions of lives were lost prior to that date and the rebuilding of identity continues today. To celebrate Emancipation Day, a professor of history at the University of Haiti is on a short visit to Belize to spread knowledge and to learn about us.
Bayyinah Bello Professor University of Haiti: I have been invited by YaYa to come and celebrate with you Emancipation day so during the time that I’ll be here I have presentations in different places and you can participate in some of the rituals; like last night we were at the church. The ritual there at midnight to remember the declaration and this morning we were early by the sea offering petals to those of our ancestors who perished at sea.
Jose Sanchez: In the historical context it is a year after the abolition of slavery that people were still being forced to work for free to compensate the former masters and it’s on that August 1st; that’s when we had emancipation. But that’s just the physical context. Today we are still fighting to be mentally free.
Bayyinah Bello Professor University of Haiti: Alright let’s look at what has changed. Why was it that in all the structures; not just in Belize but everywhere that if we take our people in the United States when they were declared free they didn’t have a dime. Our people in Jamaica when they were declared free they didn’t have anything and the people there in Jamaica went to England to demand that they be paid because now they are losing their free labour. So even though the Declaration of Emancipation in fact is given to Jamaica in a such year I don’t remember which year I think it is 1336 but they had to work for nothing for three years to pay back to the ones who had enslaved them for 400 years.
Professor Bello received an oral history from employees at the Belize City museum where she was briefed on many topics including the parts of Belize City such as Eboe Town. The Ibo’s are one of the three main cultural groups in present day Nigeria.