Columns

Ray of hope for history

MICHAEL BURKE

Thursday, July 19, 2012    

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I was pleasantly surprised on more than one occasion last week when people my age or older supported me in discussion with younger people about the progress we have made since independence. And to be absolutely fair to the young people involved in those discussions, they actually listened as they argued and asked questions.

If oral tradition is not passed on, the young people will believe, as many do, that numerous things they have or have access to were always available. A young person could, for example, read the account of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ today and ask the following questions. When Mary set out to the hill country of Judea to see her cousin Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist), why didn't she have Joseph drive her to Elizabeth's home in the hill country of Judea in his four-wheel-drive car?

When everyone had to return to their own home town to take up the census that King Herod decreed, which was co-incident with Mary's advanced state of pregnancy that resulted in her nursing Baby Jesus in an animal shelter, why didn't Mary and Joseph look in the Yellow Pages and then use their cellphones to find out where accommodation was available?

If young people have a wrong idea of the available infrastructure in Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ because no one told them, how will they understand that roughly 1962 years later, Jamaica did not have certain things and that what we have today would not have come without political independence?

In 1962 there were three finished highways in Jamaica: the Queen's Highway in St Ann, Dunrobin Avenue and Palisadoes Road (now Norman Manley Highway). Others had been started but not yet finished. In the rural areas, any diversion from the narrow cobblestone-and-tar main roads landed one on a dirt road.

There were a few housing schemes in Jamaica (one of which was built before self-government in 1944 and that was the one in Homestead, Bamboo, St Ann, by the Roman Catholic Church). Most people in urban Jamaica either lived in a tenement yard or in a slum. A large number of Jamaicans had to fetch water as there was no piped water in their homes and less than a quarter of Jamaica had electricity, most of which was in the Corporate Area.

At Independence Jamaica had two radio stations and no television (that would come the following year in 1963). Telephones were affordable only to people who were at least middle class and even three decades after independence many applied for telephone lines up to 20 years before getting one. High school education was mainly for the rich although the common entrance started five years before in 1957 (due to self-government, which was a major step on the road to political independence).

And for the benefit of my younger readers, I did not read any of this from any book, view it in any old documentary or hear this from someone older than me. I saw Jamaica transform into a country that improved its infrastructure before my eyes, and can therefore appreciate the efforts of those who made it possible and tell you what I have seen. I was eight and a half going on nine years old at the time of Jamaica's political independence.

Some argue that progress would have come anyway because Cayman and Bermuda are still British colonies and have fairly advanced infrastructure. Many Caymanians are annoyed when Jamaicans argue this way. Nationalistic Caymanians truthfully respond that their progress is due to self-government (a sort of half- political independence), and that the only thing that Britain does for them today is to pay the salary of the governor. In other words, end results do not always tell the full story.

The very few developmental projects of the British colonial authorities were really done after the Morant Bay Rebellion and they were done only to ensure that there would be no more rebellions. But more importantly, George William Gordon and Paul Bogle paved the way for political independence. And their work was built on the leadership of those who fought for emancipation starting with the pioneer warriors represented among our national heroes by Nanny of the Maroons. Along with others Nanny ensured the Maroon Treaty. She was also a model to the slaves like Sam Sharpe to fight for their own freedom.

Marcus Garvey would lead the fight for us to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery as he stated - words later repeated in song by Bob Marley. Everything that Garvey did was around the objective of mental emancipation. This in itself was a forerunner to self-government and Independence. This culminated in the riots of 1938 of which Bustamante found a way to be seen as the leader instead of the real leader St William Grant.

It would be Norman Manley who would fight for self-government and political Independence, even if Manley's vision was political Independence as a federation of the English-speaking Caribbean islands.

ekrubm765@yahoo.com

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