Emancipation Day is a major national festival in Trinidad and Tobago. The observance was declared a national holiday in 1985 and is celebrated on the 1st August each year. This date marks the day that enslaved Africans throughout the British Empire were finally liberated from the bondage of slavery.









How did it come into being?

After slavery ended in 1838 Emancipation was celebrated with much ceremony each year. Africans stayed away from work and engaged in celebrations including processions, church services, fetes with drumming and dancing.



Figure 1 Djembe Drum, NALIS Emancipation Day Exhibition 2008 Photo credit: NALIS


Trinidad and Tobago made history as the first country in the World to proclaim a national holiday to commemorate the end of African enslavement. In the 1970s, the Black Power Movement led to a resurgence of celebrations of Emancipation. The increased popularity of these events intensified advocacy by groups such as National Joint Action Committee and Traditional National African Association, which led to calls for a national holiday.

In 1985 then Prime Minister, George Chambers, made the historic decision to memorialize the liberation of enslaved Africans with a public holiday.



Figure 2: Emancipation celebrated with drumming, Photo credit: NALIS


How do Trinidadians and Tobagonians celebrate this holiday?

The celebration of Emancipation Day has grown tremendously, so much so that Trinidad and Tobago is now known as the Emancipation Capital of the world. Thousands of Trinbagonians and a significant number of external visitors from around the World come to Trinidad and Tobago, to what is recognized as one of the world’s foremost African festivals.

The build up to the 1st August includes weeks of activities by various community based and non-governmental organizations, libraries and cultural organizations, corporate and government entities. These can include exhibitions, panel discussions and lectures often featuring well known Pan African scholars, cultural performances, music, songs and dance. Many organizations host African fashion shows depicting not only African based dress but local customs based on Caribbean and local African culture.



Figure 3 People in African wear celebrate Emancipation Day, Photo credit: NALIS


The grand finale of Emancipation Day begins with Kamboule, a large procession through the streets of Port of Spain.  This mass procession is highly theatrical, featuring African drumming, steelbands, moko jumbies and dance groups. The procession leads into the large Emancipation Village for a day of performances.


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Figure 4 Moko Jumbies Parade during Emancipation Celebrations, Photo credit: NALIS


International artistes who have performed at Emancipation celebrations include the National Senegalese Ballet, Lorraine Klassen and Jabu Khanyile. The Emancipation Village usually features an art exhibition and a bustling marketplace where shoppers can buy African clothing, painting, and craft from African merchants from Tanzania, Nigeria, North America Ghana and other Caribbean islands.

The festivities reach a crescendo with a Flambeau procession at sunset. This symbolic march honours the rebellion of the African Ancestors against slavery.



Figure 5 Ladies celebrate in African clothing, Photo credit: NALIS



Emancipation Day is a time of national recognition for the accomplishment of the descendants of former enslaved Africans who are now leaders in government, business, education, science, sport, arts, music and commerce around the globe. The holiday is an opportunity for the community to reflect on its achievements, and the significance of Emancipation in the daily life of Trinbagonians.



Figure 5: Renowned artist Leroy Clarke (dressed In navy blue), celebrates Emancipation Day with friends, Photo credit: NALIS


The Heritage Library Division and public libraries have a vast array of resources. For more information on Emancipation Day and its celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago, see NALIS’s subject guide.

To discover more on Trinidad and Tobago’s rich history:


Authored by: V. N. C. Phillip, MLIS, MBA, BA, Information Services Librarian, Heritage Library Division


Sources of interest:

“African Cooking and Recipes.” Africa Guide, 1 Jul. 2022,

Alladin, M. P. Folk Dances of Trinidad and Tobago. Maraval: 1974. 
“Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for Promoting the Industry of the Manumitted Slaves; and for Compensating the Persons Hitherto Entitled to the Services of Such Slaves.” NALIS, 5th Jul. 2022, National Library and Information Systems Authority,  

Besson Gérard, and Bridget Brereton. “The Africans, Slavery and Emancipation.” The Book of Trinidad, Paria Pub., Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, 2010, pp. 99–107. 

Carnegie, James, and Patricia Patterson. The People Who Came. Bk. 2, Harlow: Longman Caribbean, 1989. 

Dookhan, Isaac. A Pre-Emancipation History of the West Indies 1st ed. London: Collins, 1971. 

Duncker, Sheila. A Visual History of the West Indies. London: Evans Brothers, 1965. 

Elder, J. D. African Survivals in Trinidad & Tobago. London: Karia Press, 1988. 

Emancipation Support Committee. “Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village.” Emancipation Support Committee, 4 Jul. 2022,

“Emancipation Day Exhibition 2008.” NALIS, National Library and Information Systems Authority, 7 Jul. 2022,

Honychurch, Lennox. The Caribbean People. Book 3. Cheltenham: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1995. 

Orie, Lester. A Dictionary of African Names: Towards a New Consciousness. Princes Town: Siddharta Publication, 1984. 

“Slave Deeds.” NALIS, National Library and Information Systems Authority, 8 Jul 2022,  



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