Emancipation Day celebrations took center stage at the Princess Juliana Sports Field

Emancipation Day celebrations took center stage yesterday at the Princess Juliana Sports Field, highlighting powerful speeches and dynamic presentations. The evening began with an uplifting steelpan performance by Nacio Sutton, setting the tone for a night dedicated to honoring the past and inspiring the future. Master of Ceremonies Elsa Peterson welcomed the crowd warmly, followed by a stirring rendition of the Saba anthem by Lisette Riley.

In her opening remarks, Peterson underscored the critical need to confront and acknowledge Saba’s history of slavery, paying homage to the resilient women who maintained hope amidst oppression. The theme “Winds of Change” was aptly chosen to motivate the community to persist in the ongoing journey toward true emancipation and to honor the sacrifices made by our ancestors.

The ceremony continued with an invocation by Father Williams of the Anglican Christ Church, followed by a heartfelt performance of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” by the Woods Sisters.

Island Governor Jonathan Johnson addressed the audience, emphasizing the importance of Emancipation Day as a celebration of freedom from slavery and a testament to the enduring strength of the Saba people. He paid tribute to the often-overlooked heroines who held families together, built communities, and instilled values in children. These women, whose journey from liberation to empowerment remains inspiring, were celebrated for safeguarding our cultural heritage.

The Saba Leos Club then honored the 734 enslaved individuals who were emancipated on July 1, 1863, through a poignant naming ceremony focusing on enslaved women. Each year, a portion of names is read aloud to honor their memory, offering a glimpse into their lives, including their ages, religions, occupations, and the plantations where they toiled. This year’s focus was on women’s roles during the enslavement period, with 80 names selected—40 girls and 40 women. The public stood in solemn tribute as these names were read, commemorating the resilience and sacrifices of those who endured legal and government-sanctioned bondage from as early as the 1650s on Saba.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Maria Liberia Peters, the first female Prime Minister of the former Netherlands Antilles. Proud of her Saban heritage, with her mother, Albertine Hassell, hailing from The Bottom, Saba, Dr. Liberia Peters spoke passionately about the significance of celebrating Emancipation Day on the island. She urged community leaders to explore newly digitized archives containing pivotal historical documents and announced that significant archives from Aruba, detailing crucial historical moments, would soon be relocated to Saba.

Dr. Liberia Peters reminded the audience that today’s generation is emancipated, and our histories form the bedrock of our identities. She urged everyone to honor our ancestors for their resilience and the enduring strength passed down through the ages.

The evening continued with the “Winds of Change” skit, written and directed by Tedisha Gordon and inspired by the book “Better Than We” by Dr. Ryan Espersen. Despite heavy rainfall, the performance captivated the audience with a dramatization of a historical moment where enslaved individuals, inspired by the emancipation happening on other islands, fought for their freedom. The skit concluded with a powerful scene of unity and resistance, symbolizing the unbreakable spirit of those who dared to dream of liberation.

Other highlights of the evening included a youth choir featuring students from the Sacred Heart School and the Saba Comprehensive School, a dance performance titled “The Road to Freedom” by SCS students, a skit and dance performance by the Saba Girls and Boys Sports Society and After School Care staff, a steelpan performance by the Child Focus Steelpan group, and an Emancipation Day Exhibition by the Saba Heritage Center.

The Emancipation Day celebrations on Saba honored the legacy of those who fought for freedom and the women who made significant strides post-emancipation and called upon the community to continue the journey toward true emancipation with renewed vigor and unity.


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