I wanted to take this time to reflect on the passing of October which is Black History Month in the UK. This year’s celebrations were even bigger and better than previous years following the impact of the tragic death of George Floyd in America and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, raising the profile of the many issues and challenges faced by black people in today’s society across the globe.
That said, it is important to remember that the history of any race cannot be confined to one month in the year. Black history is multifaceted and it can be confusing knowing where to start; this is why we must commend Wales for being the first nation in Britain to add Black History lessons to its curriculum. There are several organisations such as the Black Cultural Archives and an array of historians such as Steve Martin and Paul Crooks to guide you on your journey of discovery examining the harrowing and heroic journey of black people.
As stated in my previous post, Cultural events have a huge role to play in sharing knowledge and information and in promoting understanding, tolerance and acceptance. My focus is on the Caribbean and today, I will highlight only two events (more coming soon): Emancipation Day celebrated across the Caribbean and National Heroes Day, Jamaica.
National Heroes Day, Jamaica
Last month, October 2021, I visited Jamaica where I discovered National Heroes’ Day, this holiday is celebrated annually on the 3rd Monday of October honouring 7 key figures that helped to shape Jamaican society, they are: Marcus Garvey, Nanny of the Maroons; Samuel Sharpe; Norman Manley; George Gordon; Paul Bogel and Sir Alexander Bustmante. I can truly say that although I was aware of the National Heroes Park, I was not aware of National Heroes Day; there are many things yet to be discovered.
Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen (left), places a floral arrangement at the monument of the National Hero, the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey at National Heroes Park in Kingston. Observing the proceedings (from second left) are: the Governor-General's Aide-de-Camp, Major Dwayne Hill; Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange; and State Minister for Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Alando Terrelonge. The event forms part of activities commemorating National Heroes Day being observed on Monday (October 18).
Picture taken from Jamaica information Service
Whilst in Jamaica, along with enjoying the sunshine I visited the historic National Heroes Park in Kingston; this was adorned with various monuments and is the burial site of many of Jamaica’s heroes. It was an emotional experience and although a little off the usual tourist haunts this park is well worth a visit.
Me at the National Heroes Park, Kingston, Jamaica - October 2021
Each of the Caribbean Islands, although connected, have an individual and unique history worth exploring. It must also be noted that other Caribbean islands celebrate their National Heroes and my blog will be a window into many of these events.
On the 1 August 2021 across the British West Indies, Caribbean islands remembered and celebrated the end of slavery with cultural performances, speeches and more. Emancipation Day is seen as one of the most significant events in Caribbean history. It’s a celebration of freedom and liberation from a system of oppression and servitude.
Trinidad and Tobago were the first country in the world to declare Emancipation Day a national holiday. On 1 August 1985 Emancipation Day replaced Columbus Discovery Day (31 July) which marked the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
The UK government is yet to acknowledge Emancipation Day as a national holiday, yet many well-known British institutions such as Barclays Bank, Bank of England, Lloyds of London, Cambridge University and parts of Oxford University were founded on the proceeds of slavery. Surely it is not too much to ask for Emancipation Day to be recognised as a significant national holiday in the UK?
From my research there are 13 other Caribbean Islands that acknowledge and remember Emancipation Day during the first week in August they are: Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadians; Turks and Caicos Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Bahamas, Bermuda, Guyana, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat and Grenada.
Our vision is to showcase the best of the Caribbean to a UK audience, and to celebrate, preserve and grow our rich culture and heritage through a series of annual and biennial events that will inspire harmony, trust, creativity, respect and understanding within our community and beyond.
Our plans for Emancipation Remembrance Day UK include exploring our past, present and future; examining some of our culture, tradition and customs. We want to inspire UK-based individuals from a Caribbean background to explore the richness of their culture, take pride in their heritage and discover (or re-discover) their cultural identities.
I looked at what other communities were doing to celebrate and honour their culture and heritage within the UK. Some of the more famous ones include Ramadan (Muslim); followed by Eid which is the end of Ramadan; Diwali or Festival of Light (Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists); St Patricks’ Day Parade (Irish); Holocaust Memorial Day (Jewish) and Chinese New Year. Some lesser known (to me) include Africa on the Square (the African continent), Hyper Japan Festival, Japan Matsuri Festival and finally past cultural events include the Days of Poland Festival and Romanian Christmas Tree Celebration.
Traditional celebrations are at the centre of any culture; these celebrations are woven tightly into our overall cultural identity. It’s a fantastic way to experience part of someone’s heritage. Festivals that focus on culture also helps to inform attendees of traditions and custom and assist to reinforce our shared community and our common cultural ties. They provide the chance to celebrate together those things that make us, our society, our culture, who and what we are.
I was born in the UK to Caribbean parents, I also spent a few of my formative years in the Caribbean. Part of the excitement of living in Grenada was exploring and joining local celebrations, holidays and traditions, this ignited my love of all things Caribbean and I want to share this passion with my UK community.
There are numerous reasons why maintaining our own cultural traditions, as passed down by our parents, are important. Traditional celebrations are an excellent opportunity for intercultural exchange and understanding. We can all learn about other cultures through these celebrations whilst connecting with the wider population.
Cultural celebrations also provide our children with an understanding of their heritage, this is especially important as it can help to build a solid foundation shaping their belief and values, whilst also offering learning experiences. Honouring your heritage provides you with the chance to understand traditions that are specific to your ancestors. You can gain a historic perspective of your family and culture including details of your heritage that are unique. There is a connection between past and future and it is important to see your heritage as a legacy of value.
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