Belize Celebrates and Educates on Emancipation Day 2023

Emancipation Day 2023 marked a pivotal moment in Belize’s cultural calendar. On August 1st, 1838, a British law granting full legal emancipation to enslaved Africans in Belize came into
effect. To honor this occasion, a state ceremony was held on Monday, July 31st, 2023, featuring a keynote address by the Hon. Cordel Hyde, Deputy Prime Minister, alongside cultural performances and symbolic wreath-laying into the Caribbean Sea.

As part of the celebrations coordinated by the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA-NICH), the Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR-NICH) and the Museum of Belize (MOB- NICH) organized an “Emancipation Day Heritage Tour”. This tour aimed to illuminate the historic and cultural landmarks in Belize City associated with enslavement and emancipation during the 18th and 19th centuries. Guided by the theme of “giving a voice to the voiceless,” the tour provided insights into the
experiences of the enslaved population. Stops included Yabra Green and Yarborough Cemetery, named after American loyalist James D. Yarborough and the resting place of many enslavers; the
Government House compound, a site of power, oppression, and resistance; the Swing Bridge, where public whippings of enslaved Africans occurred; and the Queen Street Baptist Church, where the first pre-Emancipation Day service was held in 1838. The tour also included a guided visit to the “enSLAVEd: The Rise and Fall of. Slavery in Belize exhibit” at the Museum of Belize. Approximately, 200 persons took part in the tour. The day culminated at Yabra Green, where artists and artisans include the likes of Curl Gordon’s presented their artworks representing the African heritage of Belize. Visitors had the opportunity to
indulge in traditional foods, explore historical exhibits, and immerse themselves in music and dance. ISCR-NICH and the Belize Archives and Records Service collaborated on a display of historical manuscripts, offering deeper insights into Belize’s complex history of enslavement and emancipation. Aligned to this initiative, ISCR-NICH partnered with the Belize Archives and Records Service to host an event “Archives and Emancipation: A Palaeography Seminar on Belize’s African Enslavement and Emancipation History” on 2 August 2023. The one-day seminar focused on the art and science of palaeographic reading and transcription for history majors of the University of Belize. Giovani Pinelo of ISCR-NICH introduced the participants to reading and transcribing 18th – 20th century manuscripts,
focusing on documents from Belize’s enslavement era and the Mosquito Shore. Participants collaborated in teams and a monograph of the transcriptions is forthcoming. Emancipation Day 2023 underscored the importance of fostering nationwide historical awareness surrounding this significant holiday, and ISCR’s participation and partnerships are a step towards achieving this goal.

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