Commemoration remembers millions of Africans who died as slaves

By agency reporter
December 13, 2007

An ecumenical Christian commemoration of the millions of Africans who died in the barbaric cruelty of the transatlantic slave trade is also highlighting the continuing oppression of their descendants around the world.

Sixty theologians, church leaders, social scientists and social and cultural activists from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and North America are meeting in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, from 10 to 14 December 2007 for the international conference.

"Abolished, but not Destroyed: Remembering the Slave Trade in the 21st Century" has been organized by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Council for World Mission (CWM). It is being hosted by the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of the British House of Commons was passed on 25 March 1807 though the trade continued for some time and survivors and their families maintain that abolition was actually achieved through resistance and revolt by the enslaved.

"Although the termination of the British transatlantic slave trade did not end the global trading in Africans who were enslaved, its 200th anniversary is one of the most important markers in the history of humankind, for it signalled a victory for human liberation movements against the international trading of humans," said Oliver Patterson of the United States, a member of WARC's Executive Committee.

"We travel to Jamaica to commemorate the enslaved and their marvellous contributions to the world. We go demanding economic and racial justice for descendants of the enslaved and for humanity."

Calling the transatlantic slave trade a major shame in the history of humanity, WARC general secretary Setri Nyomi said the way the global economy is arranged today is a source of enslavement for millions of people in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia.

"Descendants of those who were stolen from Africa and brought to the Americas continue to suffer and the church often looks on silently."

Added Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, executive secretary for WARC's Office for Church Renewal, Justice and Partnership, "The Jamaica conference is a space for Africans to gather in remembrance of the Maafa (holocaust) where millions of Africans were sold into slavery.

"They will critically analyze the combination of power politics, economic exploitation and racism which has led to the poverty and underdevelopment in Africa and of Africans in the diaspora - as they discern how to move forward towards emancipation and development through justice and transformation."

The meeting is expected to articulate the views of the global ecumenical community on some of the major moral questions posed by the slave trade and its legacies that are found in the slavery of today, including human trafficking for sex and labour, bonded labour, child labour, sweatshops and endless cycles of poverty.

Some of the questions being considered by the gathering include: How does the church uphold the cause of justice on behalf of the victims of injustice? Is it possible to explore together concrete ways of holding powers accountable? Is it possible to unmask the race bias of economic globalization? How do we envisage the mission of the church under the present global empire?

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) brings together 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries - united in their commitment to making a difference in a troubled world. The WARC general secretary is Rev Dr Setri Nyomi of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana. WARC's secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

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