IN THE DAYS leading up to the Big Moment at midnight August 5, 1962, when the lights in the National Stadium in Kingston were to go out and return after the Union Jack was lowered from the flag pole and replaced by the new flag of Independent Jamaica at the start of the new day, a rumour went round advising people to stay away from the stadium. The rumour had it that there would be murder. It was never clear by whom and why. Some took it seriously and stayed away but thousands of others jammed the stadium, determined to be part of the historic moment. It is not every day a new country is born.
Leading up to the event, a team of youngsters had been sent on an all-island run, taking the new flag from parish to parish. The run was to end at the National Stadium where the flag would be handed over to be hoisted. On the last day of the run, it rained. When the runner with the flag arrived at the stadium, the flag was wet. The plan, as we later heard, was for it to be exchanged for a dry one which would then be unfurled. In the rush, the exchange did not take place. It was the soggy one which was given to the JDF soldier and hoisted to replace the Union Jack. This was the story, which I got as a journalist. It has never been denied.
Credence is given to the story because the photo of the new flag, as it appears after it was run up the flag pole, shows it hanging somewhat listlessly, not snapping in the breeze as it would've done if it had been in a movie, made to dramatise the birth of a nation. But this was real life. When we discussed it at the time, my take was that we should be honoured to have as our first flag one which was moistened with the sweat of a young citizen and the rain of blessing.
Another great moment of that historic night was the response of two of the senior journalists of the time, men hardened by their journey through Jamaican history, which they lived and reported on daily. A few minutes after midnight and the dawning of our Independence Day, there they were in the stands at the National Stadium with tears on their cheeks: Ulric Simmonds, The Gleaner's political reporter, a hard-nosed pragmatist, and Frank Hill, not only a journalist but member of the famous Hill family of activists who were participants in the arena of political change. Strong men are not supposed to cry, but these did not hide their tears that night. They were not alone in joyous weeping.
After the introduction of the new flag, I cannot recall any great outburst of civic emotion. Some were still mourning the departure of the Union Jack. I do remember the pride I felt on seeing a Jamaican flag among others flown outside the United Nations headquarters in New York. We had arrived. We were in the big time. Another measure of pride was when our athletes competed and won. It was the Jamaican flag for which they stood, not another nation's. It was "fi-wi own", at last.
THE BLACK, GREEN AND GOLD now flies proudly, not just over our land, but the rest of the world. What is it about our flag? Why does it have such an impact on the world? The current answer is the achievements of our track and field athletes. They quite literally "carry the flag" for the rest of us. It is not just what we do on the running track, however, which has us in the spotlight.
In a recent edition of the popular TV series Project Runway, finalists were taken to the UN headquarters in New York to look at the flags of different nations and each to choose one for the basis of a design. The drama of the Black, Green and Gold inspired a creation which was not only meticulous in its styling but had a boldness, a defiance almost, which swept the designer into the winner's circle.
IN THIS 50TH YEAR OF NATIONHOOD, we're distinguished not by the flag alone. The impact of the musical sounds born here and imitated elsewhere is part of the drama. Who can tell if the spirit of audacious sounds of today had been present in Sixty-Two, we might well have become the first nation to have an anthem built on the popular rhythm of the people. National anthems depend heavily on the call to arms, to defend the realm. "Bombs bursting in air", our American friends sing in defiance of the enemy and despite "the rockets' red glare", they proudly proclaim "that our flag was still there".
Our founding fathers didn't go for an image of combat and so it is ironic that today we bear the heavy burden of violence, even as our Jamaican anthem sings a prayer for the guidance of "God's mighty hand". Consider... if we can be so violent without an anthem's encouragement, imagine what would it be like if we had a song glorifying warfare.
OUR FLAGMANIA of recent times started with the qualifying of the Reggae Boyz for the World Cup in 1997. Then, we were a force to be reckoned with, in the arena of soccer combat. We began to dream of ruling the soccer world. We painted our faces in the colours of the flag like ancient warriors and went forth to conquer. Our triumph didn't last for very long. Today, we have to ask what happened to that fighting spirit of the Boyz? While we're thinking up an answer, the mega-track stars are basking in world adulation, taking the Black, Green and Gold to the top of flag poles around the world. The Boyz, unfortunately, are limping along. Will their glory return?
OUT IN THE STREETS today the colours are everywhere. The gold, however, is a little uncertain. Few, if any, of the small versions of the flag have anything even vaguely resembling the prescribed GOLD. You might find a spot of yellow in some, but the most popular version, the one sold on street corners and at stop lights everywhere, is a kind of watery lime-green, as if the dye ran over to where it didn't belong. Why hasn't this occupied the attention of the Duke Street Mob who couldn't find any other way recently to commemorate Anniversary Year Fifty than by staging the worse "Dawg War" since "Matches Lane?"
Would that some of the energy which was wasted at that time could have been channelled into organising home-grown industry to produce flags to fly everywhere. Can you imagine if we could have kept some of the millions of dollars here instead of fattening the already obese coffers of Far Eastern manufacturers? What a milestone this could be if we had printed even one yard of flag material or filled even one small portion of the numerous orders for patriotic souvenirs, not with "Made in China" but the magic words MADE IN JAMAICA - fi real!
MEMO FROM A FRIEND: Don't miss the Jubilee Village. The magic begins with the shuttle buses which are being used by even "the rich and famous" who delight in the camaraderie shared en route to the village. Why aren't more compliments being paid, or we are motivated only by kass-kass?