Berbicians preparing for Freedom Day celebrations By Daniel DaCosta

Stabroek News
July 31, 2003

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Across the length and breadth of East and West Berbice the descendants of freed slaves are fine-tuning their preparations for Emancipation Day celebrations as August 1 draws near. It was here in Berbice along the banks of the Canje River that the first significant blow for freedom was struck some 240 years ago on February 23, 1763 by disgruntled and angry slaves. However by May 1764 the Berbice Uprising was crushed leaving in its wake fatalities on both sides, widespread destruction and a colony almost in ruins.

Last Sunday the No. 28 Bush Lot/Adventure Con-cerned Citizens’ Group launched a week of activities with athletics, road events and a fitness walk. And today the Group will host a Candlelight Parade from Limlair to the commemoration site at Kildonan commencing at 8 p.m.

In New Amsterdam, Revival Awareness and Perpetuation of African Culture (RAPAC) has organised a Candlelight Parade and Libation ceremony. The parade commences at 8 pm from North and Winkle road and culminates at RAPAC’s Emancipation Site at Republic and Vryheid roads.

Similar parades and libation ceremonies are to be held at Nos. 53 and 51 Villages, and Fyrish on the Corentyne, Yeoville, Hopetown and Ithaca, West Berbice and Sisters and Kortberaadt, East Bank Berbice.

On Freedom Day celebrations will be held in New Amsterdam from 1 pm at the RAPAC site. Prior to this a Sunrise Service will be held at the Mission Chapel Congregational Church from 6 am. A similar service will be held at Kildonan also from 6 am. This will be followed by a Freedom Parade from Manchester to the new Community Development Centre Pavilion at Kildonan where a cultural extravaganza will be held. Two contingents of Majorettes and the Mandingo African Band are expected to lead the Freedom Day Parade.

In New Amsterdam Freedom Day celebrations will take the form of African drumming, songs, poems, dances and African food and drinks, which will be free of cost. The person adjudged to be wearing the best African outfit will be presented with a prize.

During the month a number of seminars and workshops will be conducted across the region to focus on the situation of descendants of freed African slaves. On August 23 a cultural extravaganza has been organised for the New Amsterdam Town Hall from 7:30 pm. Cultural groups from Sisters, Kortberaadt, Ithaca, Yeoville and Fyrish are expected to participate.

The libation ceremony is a key part of Emancipation celebrations in villages with strong African roots. The mindset for this ceremony according to one organiser must include faith, peace, hope and love for all people. “There should be faith in the future and in African-Guyanese people, any conflict among one another should be reconciled before the ceremony.” Some of the materials used in the ritual include: red, black and green cloth, candles, white chalk, white rum, incense, coconut and water.

The ritual is conducted around a tree within a circle drawn by using chalk.

“Prayers are said in the circle by an elder during which respect is paid to our ancestors for the foundation they laid for us with their lives.

This is followed by the elder saying ‘for them we pour and say libation’ as he pours coconut water into the earth or the roots of the tree or plant.

He will then name the specific individuals that have made significant contributions to the attending families, organisations or the African race in general,” the organiser explained.

The libation ends by those in attendance chanting “Harambee” which is a Swahili word which means pulling or coming together. “This is done by everyone lifting their right hand to the sky and shouting ‘Harambee’ as they pull their hands down. This is repeated several times.”

Meanwhile preparations are nearing completion in the various villages with celebration sites being cleaned and decorated with red, black and green buntings. Organisers have also begun identifying individuals who will either donate food items or prepare the various dishes to be served free of cost to those attending the libation ceremonies and the Freedom Day celebrations.

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