WHEN did National Heroes' Day become irrelevant? According to a St Catherine community leader quoted in Tuesday's edition of this publication, "Young people are not aware of their history." Other persons credit it to "the lack of awareness among people, indicative of the state of the society". Could that be it, or is it that we have had so much celebrating, since Independence festivities in August and now, that we're suffering from celebration overload?
When we first began to pay homage to our national heroes, the calendar of events was not as crowded as today. Fuss-a-August (Emancipation Day) was a novelty for a while. Independence had its own place of honour. When the national budget got slimmer, and Government had to make a choice between float parades and bread and butter, the Independence fervour cooled somewhat. With the wolf at the door, official events of last August reflected the spirit of austerity, leading to controversy.
So now we come to National Heritage Week. This year, the spirit was distinctly underwhelming. If this important time of recalling our history and those who laid the foundation is to continue, there will have to be a more sustainable programme of reflection and celebration, more than just a few hours of rituals confined to certain times of the year. It has to be more than taking the name of our heroes in vain and more than heading to the beach to "lean up against the soundbox with some good liquor," as I heard it once described.
Some voices call for education highlighting the significance of the heroes' contribution... but how? Anything which is to be sold today has to come with hype and lots of it. It has to be "sexy". I don't even know where to begin if that is what it will take to promote respect for Nanny of the Maroons, already maligned by being identified as a black woman who deflected the bullets of British Redcoats by bouncing them off her bottom. Of course she couldn't have been smart enough to plan and execute tactics which led to defeat without obeah.
Sam Sharpe was not buried in the sand of a Montego Bay beach because his children were helping him to build sandcastles. Hanged from a gallows, the burial in the sand was to avoid any chance of his body being given a decent burial and becoming a shrine. It is a difficult story to tell, so we hardly tell it at all. As for George William Gordon, the most some of us can recall is that he's Ronnie Thwaites's relative, a man of privilege who founded a building society and got mixed up in something which cost him his life. And, oh yes, he was born in Cherry Gardens.
In St Thomas, they're still fighting over the identity of Paul Bogle. I've just about given up on the fate of the Morant Bay courthouse. The last time I saw a depiction of what the reconstructed building is supposed to look like, it appeared as if the proportions had been altered. As to the battle over the statue, the motive of Edna Manley, the sculptor, and whether the statue was really of Mr Bogle or his cousin, we can only wait for time to tell. Thankfully, at least little or nothing has been heard recently about him being portrayed riding on a great horse like Backra.
The heroes of more recent vintage, Messrs N W Manley and Alexander Bustamante are victims of the political cynicism which has robbed us of generosity in the reading of our own history. We find it hard to escape from the tribal hardness of heart which divides and conquers us even now. We assess each of these two men not as contributors to the building of the nation, but more about the political parties which they led and the divisiveness which those institutions have come to mean.
As to Marcus Mosiah Garvey, it is amazing that his name still survives the bigotry which lies barely concealed below the surface still, despite the "Out of Many One" motto which we dust off and bring out when it suits us. If we want to clutch at the proverbial straw to encourage celebration of our heroes, we can take some comfort in the activities carried on in primary and, in more recent times, some preparatory schools. Ideally, it should be much more than costumes and folk song and dance as prevails, but at least it is better than nothing. Our love for our heroes and their history cannot be turned on like a faucet in October, and turned off in November, to lie sleeping until next year this time. Think on it.
AT THE KING'S HOUSE: The lawns are a manicured carpet when it comes to National Heroes' Day. We love to tell the world what an indisciplined set of people we are, but I guess it would spoil our low rating in the daily social media put-down. If we were to admit to the regimental discipline, skilfully carried out by the uniformed forces, who can challenge the best in any changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. You might be interested to know that our Regiment held the spotlight at the Palace not too long ago, proving that we can be the absolute best when occasion calls for it.
No matter the heat of the mid-morning sun, the annual Heroes' Day Parade is worth watching. The same nagging thought hits me every time, however, shouldn't we bring this nearer to the citizens who are not getting awards and honours or gilt-edged invitations to come and watch? Why not facilitate the children from the places of safety, the shut-in seniors who deserve some light in their lives and affirmation that "we a smaddy too", part of the history we celebrate. So, it might not be in the sent-from-England protocol book; there will be panic about crowd-handling, but we can do it if we want to.
NO COMPLAINTS, PLEASE: Caterers, party planners, liquor suppliers, make-up artists, hairdressers and barbers, couturiers and milliners had no cause to complain. They can't tell us that their finances didn't get a big boost from Monday's dress-up and celebrate. After the parade, people went party-hopping, from one lunch table to the next. Feasting went on into the night, and why not? So what if the reality of the next day awaited?
As usual, there were the moments of drama, high and low, in the great fashion parade. The Hat of the Day award — were they giving it-- without a doubt would have been taken home by the irrepressible Mrs Gerthlyn Holman, the grande dame of the Kiwanis movement. Her outstanding community service brought her a well-deserved honour. Her hat, however, was definitely a head-turner. Part parasol and part millinery boasitude, it drew all eyes. Few could carry it off. When you got it, why not show it? Gerthlyn did.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS (and girls will be girls too): It was pure fourth form machismo as the Parliament crowd at the parade gave their traditional desk-thumping, even without the desk, in salute, as Audley Shaw stepped up to receive his Commander of Distinction medal. For a while there, he actually looked like a blushing schoolboy who knew nothing about something called the campaign trail. Much more of that could be told, but a word to the wise: "Leave that alone". Time will tell.