People across the Caribbean bowed their heads for a moment of silence to mark the 200th anniversary of the end of Britain's trans-Atlantic slave trade, which claimed millions of lives and shaped the region's history.
In Jamaica, islanders held symbolic funeral rites in Kingston Harbor on Sunday for African slaves who died during the perilous ocean crossing. In Dominica, an evening ceremony was planned at the Baracoon building, where slaves were held for auction. In Guyana, a tribute was to be held in the compound of parliament buildings where slaves were beaten and sometimes hanged.
"We unite as a region and as a people in a collective moment of reflection, as we remember one of the greatest tragedies in the history of humanity, which denied over 25 million Africans for over 400 years the basic human right of freedom, the right to self actualization and for so many, denial of even their basic right to life," said Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and chairman of the Caribbean Community.
People attending church services and slave memorials across the 15-member Caribbean Community bowed their heads in silence at noon to commemorate the anniversary, which was also marked in Africa and by some 3,000 people who marched through London on Saturday.
Enacted on March 25, 1807, the Slave Trade Act prohibited British ships from transporting slaves, although Britain did not abolish slavery in its territories until 1833.
Although estimates vary, researchers say tens of millions of African men, women and children were enslaved and shipped to the Caribbean and the Americas, with millions dying in holding camps in Africa or during the trans-Atlantic voyage.
"Slavery was based on criminality, callous greed and murder," said Violet Jean Baptiste, a spokeswoman for the Guyana-based African, Cultural and Development Association. "Members of royalty, insurance companies and banks ... politicians, clergymen and businessmen amassed fortunes on their human animals."
A video message from British Prime Minister Tony Blair was played on Sunday at Ghana's Elmina Castle -- where Africans were held before they were transported abroad -- in which he expressed regret for his country's role in the slave trade and for the "unbearable suffering, individually and collectively, it caused."
Blair also condemned the slave trade earlier this year, but stopped short of offering an apology or compensation for slave descendants.
Bongo Wisely Tafari, a spokesman for St. Lucia's Rastafarian movement who participated in the island's tribute, called on the government to seek reparations from the British.
When the slaves were emancipated, reparations were paid to slave owners "as if to reward the horror and injustice of their actions over centuries," Wisely said. "It is time that Caribbean leaders correct this historic wrong."