COVID-19 douses Sligoville freedom flames
The symbolic lighting of the freedom flames and a re-enactment of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation have been an annual tradition in Sligoville, St Catherine, where thousands of Jamaicans normally gather to welcome August Mawnin'.
Sligoville's story is historical. It is Jamaica's first free village, having been occupied by former enslaved people after the abolition of slavery. Community members have, for the past 12 years, observed Emancipation Day by staging a rich cultural activity - Emancifest in the community. However, this year, due to the wretched COVID-19, plans for the event have been shelved.
"This is a very sad situation, as my children always look forward to the celebration every year. This is an area that doesn't have any other celebration of that level. It is sad, but we are trying to understand that it's because of the COVID-19 pandemic," Daneila Campbell, a business operator, said.
Bartley Bailey, another resident, said persons have travelled from abroad to enjoy themselves and are disappointed that it will not be held. He also said that it is an economic blow for the community as well.
"Right now many residents, who for the last 10 years come hustle, are without any hope of earning a livelihood; it very sad, man," Bailey said.
Emancifest joins a long list of activities that are being shelved due to COVID-19. Restrictions imposed by the Government limits the number of persons in certain settings to 20. Small concerts and parties, round robins, launches, religious celebrations, and festivals are permitted, but no more than 280 persons can gather for these events, which must end by 10 p.m., one hour before the national curfew time of 11 p.m.
Vincent Bailey, a Sligoville resident, said that he is sorry that Emancifest is not being held this year. "I know that people would not respect the protocols. I am sure that everybody would just flock the place to celebrate. I think we need to put safety first and postpone it until there can be more control," Bailey said.
Natalie Neita, the member of parliament for North Central St Catherine, where Sligoville falls, described the impact of not being able to host Emancifest as tremendous.
"It does more than just provide for our ability to reconnect with our heritage and to be able to celebrate our freedom as the first free village in Jamaica and the Western Hemisphere. We are very proud of this fact, so we relish the idea, knowing that each year we are able to ensure our young people are reminded not to ever take their freedom for granted," Neita said.
"It is impactful, as it retards the economic benefit of individuals who participate in brandishing their wares and craft, and the provision of food for thousands of people who normally visit with us in Sligoville. We know that COVID-19 won't be forever and we pray that whatever happens, and the families that may have been affected, that we will recover quickly and get back to the days of having the Emancifest celebrated in true Sligoville style."