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Author Topic: Remembering Slavery  (Read 9467 times)
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« on: August 23, 2005, 10:46:30 AM »

Do you remember the days of slavery? So goes the chant sung so poignantly and eloquently by reggae artiste Burning Spear.

International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, celebrated each year on 23 August, is an opportunity for widespread reflection as to the causes and consequences of the scourge, thereby putting an end to the silence that has too long surrounded this human tragedy. Countless activities are organised throughout the world to coincide with the event.

The date of 23 August has a symbolic significance. On the night of 22-23 August 1791 a slave uprising broke out in Santo Domingo (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic), which played an important role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

Each year the Director-General of UNESCO invites all Member States to organise activities and commemorative events to mark 23 August. In 2005 a series of events are planned world-wide in countries such as Barbados, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mali.

In a message from the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura on the occasion of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, said that this day aims to make the slave trade part of the world's collective memory.

He said: "In line with the objectives of the intercultural, 'Slave Route' project, the day provides us with an occasion for common reflection, not only on the historical causes, the implications and the modes of operation of this tragedy, but also on the lasting consequences in Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean-and indeed the whole world."

Matsuura added that although the slave trade, slavery and abolition belong to history, they are not solely of the past.

"They enable us," he said, "to comprehend a present marred by racism and discrimination handed down from that tragic chapter in history. They also open up questions about the future and prompt us to reflect on the construction of new forms of citizenship heedful of our increasingly multiethnic and multicultural societies."

The Director-General said they also reveal how, despite the persistence of the most radical stereotypes and application of the most brutal discriminatory policies, an unexpected step towards intercultural communication has been taken that hence offers a fresh chance for dialogue.

The 2005 commemoration of International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition takes place a year after great hope was raised during worldwide celebrations of the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition. This year's remembrance is also special in that it coincides with the tenth anniversary of the "Slave Route Project," whose evaluation showed worldwide interest.

Matsuura ended his message by saying: "The dynamic created by the International Year invites us to intensify efforts to ensure that the slave trade and slavery are seen as a tragedy affecting the whole of humankind. UNESCO has not only the duty to remember but also an ethical obligation to act as watchdog."

Slavery of one kind or another has existed from time immemorial as a form of seizure and subjugation by certain persons of their fellow men and their capacity to work.

Conquered peoples-often referred to as barbarians-and persons imprisoned for debt were used as slaves by the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians and the Romans.

The Middle Ages saw the advent of the Saharian, Nilotic and Great Lakes network of Arab routes for the draining of slaves from the heart of Africa.

The discovery of the Americas by westerners marked the advent of a black slave trade on a vast scale. The Spanish and Portuguese, who divided the New World between them after 1493, desired to exploit these lands.

However, the populations of some regions, particularly the Greater Antilles, were decimated by war, disease imported from Europe and sheer ill-treatment. And the exploitation of American land and gold and silver mines would call for large numbers of robust and, if possible, cheap labour. Las Casas, disturbed by the treatment given to the Indians, had the idea of using Africans whom he considered were of sterner stuff.

Over the next hundred years the English joined the race for the American colonies, followed by most of the nations of Europe including Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Colbert sought to control slavery when he drew up the first Code Noir in 1685, thus making slavery official. Thus the slavery involving the Indian communities, and later the black populations, was of a quite different kind.

Black slavery, known as the triangular trade, developed at lightning pace. Men, women and children were captured and sold. The various waves of slavery resulted in the deportation of an estimated 25 to 30 million persons, not counting those who died on board ship or in the course of wars and raids.

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