Sacrifice, Hope and Togetherness

By Eric Phillips,
Chairman, Guyana Reparations Committee 

Image: Eric Phillips, Chairman, Guyana Reparations Committee

For Guyana, 2023 is very significant in Guyana’s journey to economic freedom for African Guyanese. It is not only the 185th year of emancipation but, more significantly, it is the Bicentennial of the 1823 Demerara Slave Rebellion. This rebellion, which was led by Christianized Africans, was the largest rebellion in the British colonies. 

Over 11,000 enslaved Africans from 55 villages were involved and this accelerated the signing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, and Emancipation on 1st August 1834. Four years of Apprenticeship ultimately resulted in full physical freedom on 1st August 1838.


Sacrifice has always been undertaken by our African Ancestors in Guyana. 

During enslavement by the Dutch and British for over 200 years, Africans built Guyana at the sacrifice of over 450,000 lives.

During more than 200 years of brutal enslavement, which has been called the greatest crime against humanity, Africans drove back the sea and cleared, drained, and reclaimed 15,000 square miles of forest and swamps. This is equivalent to 9,000,000 acres of land. In short, all the fields on which the sugar estates are now based were cleared, drained, and irrigated by African labor forces.

The Venn Commission of 1948 also noted in its report that “to build these coastal plantations alone, a volume of 100,000,000 tons of earth had to be moved by the hands of African slaves in the digging of trenches and irrigation canals.”


Over 400,000 African lives were lost during the 200 years of enslavement as they were brutalized, raped, branded, broken at the wheel, starved, murdered, maimed, boiled in hot water or tar, and treated as people “without souls.” 

All of their human rights, as defined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, have been denied to them, while the Christian church preached peace and obedience to them.

Over 400,000 lives and over 200 years of hell.

Our African Ancestors, after sacrificing for over 200 years, had great hope on the eve of partial Emancipation on 1st August 1834.

They were optimistic.

As Noam Chomsky once said, “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope.”

They hoped for a just and caring Guyana.


Africans had hope that Independence in 1966, their second emancipation, would bring them a just and caring Society.


AFRICANS had hoped republican status, their third emancipation, would bring them a just and caring Guyana.



Africans in Guyana are at this juncture of Guyana’s 185th Anniversary of Emancipation still hoping for a just and caring society. 


2023 offers African Guyanese a chance to reflect on the sacrifices and hopes of our ancestors and their undying quest for human dignity and “family hood.”

I believe “culture” is and can be the healing force in our primordial quest for Guyana to live its motto of “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”

Culture is about shared patterns of identity, symbolic meaning, and aspiration, and about the relationships between individuals and groups within that society. Culture is about “common bonding, common vision, shared values, and shared goals.”

African Guyanese need to use their cultural products to help us to overcome being “prisoners of our past and to become pioneers of our future.” Our cultural products – literature, music, dance, art, sculpture, theatre, film, and sport – daily enrich our lives.

Culture can and must become the untainted language that forges a single national dialogue:

A dialogue of togetherness

A dialogue of accomplishments

A dialogue of hope

A dialogue of faith

Instead of a dialogue of division.

2023 is a line in the sand. It is the 200th Anniversary of the Demerara Slave Rebellion. Emancipation this year has the theme of Celebrating 30 Years of Community #UBUNTU.” 

Our sub-theme is: “Honouring Our 1823 Bicentennial Martyrs, Reviving Their Spirit.”

Emancipation 2023, asks us to seek wisdom in understanding the many sacrifices made by our Ancestors during the Berbice Rebellion of 1763, the Demerara Rebellion of 1823, and by Damon in 1834.

Our hopes can only be achieved through togetherness.

Our ancestors saw Emancipation as “a human rights marketplace of freedoms, collective ideas, inclusive and transparent institutions, cohesive communities, strong families, and responsible individuals who share a common vision, with common values, jointly created, jointly enjoyed in Peace, Brotherhood and mutual Prosperity.”

Guyanese of African Descent need togetherness.

Grace will get us there.

But this can happen when culture gives us the transitory gifts of healing, mutual self-respect, reconciliation, and the reciprocity of the Golden Rule.

Let our culture live.

Let it live and bring unity.

Let it remind us of the sacrifices our ancestors made.

Let it remind us of the Village Movement –  the greatest entrepreneurial initiative in any post slavery society.

Let culture breathe into us a final Emancipation so we can forge an identity of Ubuntu – of togetherness.

Let culture be the bridge to full emancipation of the spirit through the common dialogue that is enshrined in our ancestral sacrifices – the common dialogue of self love.

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