Emancipation: lest we forget
This is Cup Match week. The teams have been selected, Somerset Cricket Club and its grounds are being made to look smart, and revellers are at the ready for festivities all over the island. The buzz of excitement is palpable.
The hope is that we have a great match, but the eventual outcome pales into insignificance when put alongside what this week should mean every year to Bermudians, and those who hold Bermuda dear to their hearts.
Cup Match has been going since 1902, but the concept of this match started years earlier between the St George’s and Somerset branches of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows. And that came about through the abolition of slavery on this island.
August 1, 1834, is undoubtedly the most important date in this country’s history; more so than 1503 when Juan de Bermúdez discovered our islands but could not be bothered to stay for tapas; and more so than 1609 when Admiral Sir George Somers, on board the Sea Venture, stumbled upon us on the way to Virginia.
Shipwrecked, he brought the first settlers from England, which did not really know immediately what it wanted with the “Isle of Devils” but determined that it should be part of the Crown nonetheless.
Those dates, although important to us, do not bear comparison when set against The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which determined that all men are equal in the eyes of the law.
Why it took almost one year after the draft date for it to be put into the law is questionable. But there would have been more questions over the quarter-century that passed since the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807. The long-overdue result was that, in Bermuda, black men, women and children were free to go their own way.
The annual celebration of this day led to the creation of Cup Match, which has withstood so much to become the fixture on the calendar that it is today, including the fight to have a two-day national holiday and the right to retain the name “Cup Match” when the government of the day attempted to change it after the Second World War.
In evoking the spirit that all men are created equal, Cup Match evolved from being a game that was contested only by black Bermudians to where whites and non-Bermudians have been made welcome. Everyone is welcome at Somerset on Thursday and Friday, people of all race and creed, but not everyone appreciates the meaning of the holiday.
The first day is nominated as Emancipation Day and the second as Somers Day. Given that Cup Match would not exist without emancipation, there is a strong argument that Somers Day should stick to its intended date, July 28, and not infringe on Cup Match, the beginnings of which had very little to do with Sir George Somers.
That is for future governments to decide and may very well take another 100 years.
For now, though, passing on the spirit and the education of Cup Match are paramount. It is questionable whether enough of modern-day Bermuda properly understands, so the message bears repeating ad nauseam. Cup Match is not so much about Somerset Cricket Club and St George’s Cricket Club; it is bigger than them. Their job is to serve as grand hosts, which for the most part they do successfully.
Cup Match is not about the players; it is far bigger than them. Their job is to provide the backdrop to the celebration, while not becoming too much of the story (Cup Match 2013 failed sensationally in that regard).
Cup Match is about freedom. Freedom to express oneself, freedom to earn, freedom to build, freedom to explore, freedom to provide.
The celebration does not necessarily have to be executed in the East End or the West End; it is to be celebrated wherever one lays one’s head. For some, that may mean going to the beach; for others, it may mean taking a trip abroad. It could also mean staying at home with a radio near by.
Celebration has many different faces, but it is essential through all that the theme remain the same — fellowship, compassion, understanding, respect. For today’s sportsmen, the challenge to abide by the aforementioned traits is strangely overwhelming, as was the case last month when Derrick Brangman refused to leave the pitch after a controversial dismissal. A subsequent one-year ban means that Cup Match lovers will not get to see the best of him — because he allowed his worst side to rule as the red mist descended.
Seemingly lost in the cut-throat quest to win at all costs have been the very virtues that brought this great two-day holiday in the first place. As such, our young neither know nor care deeply about how this precious gift came to be bestowed upon them — and there appear to be fewer and fewer authority figures (eg, coaches, managers) adequately equipped to remind when societal boundaries have been overstepped.
It is imperative that the clubs come to the forefront in this regard. No one should be allowed to represent St George’s or Somerset in Cup Match before having gained a full understanding of what went before and how they must carry themselves. Knowledge of self is so much more important than the collection of riches.
So said the late great Bob Marley: “Don’t gain the world and lose your soul; Wisdom is better than silver and gold.”
Paying respect to and honouring those who have gone before are at the heart of selflessness.
It is right that the cricketers know their craft so that they may execute their skills as best they can. But let’s not be fooled; these are not the best 22 cricketers on the island — hardly ever have they been. They are simply the best that either club can, or have chosen to, call on.
So it is more with hope than expectation that the cricket on display will be great. But it should always be more with expectation rather than hope that fellowship, compassion, understanding and respect come to the fore — at the match or wherever the celebration takes one.
What was set into action 184 years ago should not be allowed to run aground on the back of ignorance, intransigence and ill will. We have to be better than that. Much better.