Shalom, everyone! The holiday of August Mawnin’ or Emancipation Day is celebrated each year throughout the former colonies of the British West Indies (English-speaking Caribbean) on the 1st of August on the Gregorian calendar. The holiday commemorates the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire as a result of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, effective August 1, 1834. The term “August Mawnin'” is the rendering of the words “August Morning” in the various Creole-English languages (Jamaican Patois etc.) throughout the English-speaking Caribbean.
Due to the decline of the plantation economy, and the continued rebellion and violence from enslaved Africans fighting for freedom, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was read in the British House of Commons on July 26, 1833. The Act, which received Royal Assent on August 28, 1833, abolished slavery throughout the British Empire effective August 1, 1834. Under the terms of the Act, effective August 1, 1834, all slaves throughout the British Empire would be “emancipated” however, this emancipation was gradual. All slaves below the age of six years would receive immediate emancipation on August 1, 1834. All slaves six years and older would become “apprentices,” and were required to serve their former slavemasters for an additional period of six years. After six years on August 1, 1840, these apprentices would receive full emancipation. This period of apprenticeship, however, was reduced to four years with all slaves throughout the British Empire receiving full emancipation on August 1, 1838., which some exceptions in the British territories in East India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and St. Helena.
The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 provided compensation to slave-owners totaling £20 million pounds sterling. The British Government finance this compensation via a loan from British bankers Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Moses Montefiore. The slaves themselves received no reparations.
In the early morning of August 1, 1834, some slaves in Jamaica climbed the mountaintops to usher in the dawn of their freedom. They would continue the celebration of their freedom in morning church services of thanksgiving. For this reason, the August 1st Emancipation Day is called “August Morning” or “August Mawnin’.”
August 1st is observed as an official public holiday in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Other Caribbean nations observe the holiday as “August Monday,” the first Monday in August. All government offices, schools, and most private businesses are closed. Celebrations of “August Mawnin'” include religious services of thanksgiving, official addresses from national leaders, and official cultural celebrations of dance, music, art, poetry, drama and historical re-enactments of the dawn of freedom for our ancestors in the region. Other celebrations include family reunions and outings. In Jamaica, August Mawnin’ coincides with the August 6 Independence Day celebrations, where both holidays are collectively referred to as “Emancipendence.”