Columns

An unfortunate state of Emancipendence holidays

LANCE NEITA

Sunday, August 10, 2014    

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Emancipation and Independence came and went and there is still some mystery about what we are celebrating and when we should be celebrating it. Emancipation Day was first in the line and had the advantage of occurring over a weekend. Jamaica partied from Friday until Sunday, waking up just in time to realise that the traditional long weekend -- into Monday -- was on hold this year. So it was back to work Monday and Tuesday. Then, hold it, there was some confusion as we took a break in the middle of the working week to recognise Wednesday as another public holiday, Independence Day. Then it was back to work on Thursday and Friday.

Only in Jamaica. Two holidays five days apart, with the first one eating up all the month-end savings and party flavours, and come Wednesday, little money to spend, and even less energy to spend it.

This is my personal opinion, but I have already said how difficult I find it to justify two public holidays several days apart. As was the case last year, and the years before, the double-dip holiday represents an enormous amount of time and money; and for business and industry, a stop and start. We already have double holidays on our calendar; but Christmas and Boxing days come back to back, while Good Friday and Easter Monday fit neatly into a long weekend package.

At least one leading writer, Kevin Chang, agrees that the present arrangement is clumsy. He goes further to suggest that we should establish once and for all a four-day weekend starting the first Friday in August and ending the following Monday.

Some people disagree with any proposal to change the dates, suggesting that it's pointless trying to turn back the clock. And, who knows? Perhaps it is. But wait until next year, 2015, when we will find Emancipation Day falling on a Saturday (August 1), and Independence Day once again in the middle of the business week, on a Thursday.

Now a public holiday on a Saturday is, to me, a grand waste of a good holiday break from work. It is usually like any other day, with shops, supermarkets, and watering holes all doing their usual Saturday afternoon business. It does not generate the atmosphere that goes with a public holiday; gas stations are busy, traffic flows as per usual, and you get the feeling that people are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

But never mind my Sunday morning grouse. After all, the nation got a wonderful Independence gift this year with the opening of the Linstead-Moneague Highway, with belated promises to some Faith's Pen vendors to relocate them along the new route.

Then there was that massive Grand Gala on Wednesday -- the night before a working day. Nonetheless, congratulations are in order for those who planned and managed this magnificent show. However, the $57 million spent on the Gala is questionable in the context of the hard times and onerous debt that plagues Jamaica today. A guest columnist in another newspaper, Kevin Simmonds, suggests that: "Independence Day celebrations in Jamaica have been a mask, over the years, hiding the fact that Jamaica has not significantly progressed on a year-to-year basis since gaining independent status from English rule and governance."

Grand Galas are fun, but they only provide a respite from the real problems of the day. Many years ago, a French queen, Marie Antoinette, was fabled to have said "let them eat cake" in response to a report that the people were running out of bread. And, on the funnier side, I am reminded of the cartoon character the King of Id who, when told that the peasants were marching on his castle to demand food, instructed his gatekeeper to double the guard on the pantry.

Now, please don't get me wrong. I value Emancipation Day and Independence Day as the high points of our march through history. For those who came in late, Emancipation Day marks the anniversary of our emancipation from slavery on August 1, 1834. It has been celebrated by generations over the years. Augus' one, as it is commonly called, has always been the day for picnics, beach outings, sports, curried goat, and traditional village festivities.

In 1962, when we attained Independence (August 6) it was decided to declare the first Monday in August as a public holiday to accommodate the emancipation and independence sentiments in one long weekend of celebrations. However, with Emancipation Day taking a back seat over a period of time, the Government called for a review of the calendar and accepted a recommendation in 1996 from the National Symbols Committee, headed by the late Professor Rex Nettleford, to re-instate 1st August as Emancipation Day, and celebrate Independence Day on August 6.

This move was not without controversy in the House, as Edward Seaga, who was the Opposition Leader at that time, thought that the move would result in "the downsizing of Independence" and questioned whether anything would be achieved by the change.

Bruce Golding, then leader of the National Democratic Movement, was concerned about the number of holidays and suggested that the two be merged. But Prime Minister P J Patterson carried the day, defended the recommendation as a "sharpening of focus and a re-awakening of consciousness". Argument done!

Of course, there may have been political undertones to this new development as well. The PNP were now to be seen as the party that rescued and restored Emancipation Day, while the JLP -- under whose watch the Independence weekend had flourished -- had their serious reservations, but thought it best to keep silent in the face of popular support for a revived and traditional Augus' one holiday.

Today, we have to ask the hard questions as we grapple with the economy. Can a poor country like Jamaica afford to lose valuable production time in the middle of the week? In 1997, the Cement Company reported a dip in production which it attributed to previously unscheduled public holidays -- the new Emancipation Day, an election day, and the famous holiday declared in honour of the Reggae Boyz World Cup qualification. It would be interesting to have a look at the statistics regarding productivity in relation to Friday and Wednesday during our 'Emancipendence' (an unfortunate word) celebrations this year.

A laughing matter

In the meantime, let's pause for a good laugh. As, in case you didn't see it, I am about to tell you a story published last week, which should make us feel good about living in Jamaica.

According to an Associated Press report, women's rights activists and female legislators have filed a complaint against Turkey's deputy prime minister, who said last week that women should not laugh aloud in public.

The legislators say that the women have filed a complaint with court officials in Istanbul accusing the deputy prime minister of violating charters on gender discrimination and allowing women to become "targets" of possible violence if they laugh in public. But the deputy prime minister has shot back by saying that not laughing loud in public is among the requirements of being an honourable woman. The women in Turkey have protested his comments on social media by sharing photos of themselves laughing.

Only in Turkey. Now believe me, I did not make this up. It came from the foreign press. I leave you to imagine whether this could ever happen in Jamaica.

Finally, I hope you are enjoying your summer as much as I am enjoying mine. It's hot and dry, but people -- especially our women -- are still laughing and smiling and waving. Years ago a Jamaica Tourist Board advertisement told visitors that Jamaicans carry things on their heads to keep their hands free for waving. There is some truth to that. As the British High Commissioner has found out, people still have time to stop and chat, no matter how busy the times. The Jamaican ability to laugh, and laugh loud, is one of our greatest attributes, and contributes to our sanity. The Turks could learn a lot from us.

A dose of summer...work

Noranda Bauxite Company in St Ann took time out to share their summer with over 400 youngsters from my community. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be associated with this company's effort as employees and community volunteers took turns in mentoring and coaching the youngsters. The company opened its doors to 100 tertiary-level students who are working on a four-week rotation basis in different sections of the operations. They have been working in engineering, accounting, mines production, land rehabilitation, property management, maintenance, safety, legal, industrial and community relations, and in other areas to learn about the essential aspects of management and administration of a bauxite company.

But it has not been all work, as another 300 youngsters participated in a summer camp sponsored by Noranda, which focused on cricket and netball, sportsmanship and character development. This is a programme highly rated by the community and it has been described appropriately as a prescription for the long, hot summer. The youngsters, aged 9-13 years, are coached and guided by 25 adult volunteers.

Principal of the Bethany Primary School, Charles Johnson, is never shy to speak about the benefits of the programme; for example, the fact that a number of the cricketers have gone on to make the national team and even the West Indies team.

So there, for me summer has been a child mentorship programme, World Cup, coaching juniors in cricket and netball, the Grand Gala, and a grand highway opening. I will have something to write about when I go back to school. How about you?

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. Comments to the Observer or to lanceneita@hotmail.com

Can a poor country like Jamaica afford to

lose valuable production time in the middle

of the week?...It would be interesting to have

a look at the statistics regarding productivity

in relation to Friday and Wednesday during

our 'Emancipendence' (an unfortunate word)

celebrations this year.

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