A Day of Celebration & Mourning

Since 1970, Emancipation Day on St. Kitts-Nevis has been bittersweet because not only does August 1st happily recognize the day the British Empire officially ended slavery, but also August 1st sadly commemorates the sinking of the St. Kitts-to-Nevis ferry Christena. On August 1, 1970, a ferry designed to hold 155 people was carrying about 324 children and adults from St. Kitts to Nevis when, just as it reached the cut between the two islands, it began to list, roll, and sink. Many people didn't know how to swim, some panicked, and some were attacked by sharks. In the end, 233 people lost their lives (many of whom were not recovered from the wreckage), while 91 survived (per an entire page dedicated to the disaster posted by the Nevis Disaster Management Department). Just about every family on the island knew a loved one involved in the tragedy, so it is still a fresh memory for many. Below are two videos of people describing that day, and if you're curious what Christena looks like now, here's a video of a dive.

If you're interested in more about this sad day, here are a few publications:

Four years after the Christena tragedy, the Nevis Dramatic and Cultural Society created Nevis Culturama, a fete designed to preserve their customs and folk art. Each year, they take a few moments during the festival to memorialize those lost on Christena. Culturama involves pageants, parades, dance, drama (sometimes in the form of poetry readings), arts, crafts, and folk singing (so get ready to hear lots of calypso). Monday and Tuesday are holidays and the weather is supposed to be fantastic, so hop a boat to Nevis and check out what's happening during Culturama's final days.

Wherever you are, you can celebrate the abolishment of slavery in all of the British colonies. Captured Africans started arriving on St. Kitts almost immediately upon the arrival of the British (in 1623). They continued to be enslaved, sold and traded for almost 200 years before the practice of "importing" Africans was ended in 1807.  It took another three decades for the British Empire to finally abolish slavery for good. Africans and their descendants attempted many uprisings, from one squelched rather brutally by the French in 1639, to one in the form of protest in 1834 when the British insisted on a four-year unpaid apprenticeship after the Abolishment Act initially passed. August 1st recognizes the struggles and successes of many islander ancestors and is a great day to reflect and celebrate.

Interesting fact: Did you know the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 (passed in 1834) was repealed in 1998? (!) Don't worry, there are other anti-slavery acts passed before and after that one to ensure slavery doesn't make a return.