The 'Father of the nation' is not the only one

Olivier Stephenson

Saturday, July 28, 2012    

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Norman Manley, Roger Mais, Marcus Garvey Claude McKay, Louise Bennett, Ranny Williams. The list of names of great Jamaicans in their respected fields of achievement is a mighty long one. It could go on virtually ad infinitum et ad nauseum.

The Jamaica Observer editorial on July 10, "What a way to treat the 'Father of the nation' NW Manley", has hit on an issue that I've been harping on for quite some time.

Indeed, Jamaica "generally" does a "poor job of preserving and maintaining historical sites. In fact, the word "sites" is actually interchangeable with the word "legacy".

We in the Caribbean, don't really seem to possess any deep perceptible inclination for placing a high premium on matters such as cultural heritage.

Is it because of some possible built-in myopic tendency in our regional or national psyche? Or, is it that we just basically lack the necessary foresight to "see not only the historical and educational advantages, but the economic benefits that can flow from these monuments," as the editorial asks?

"We have never been able to understand the thinking that accompanies this lack of appreciation for safeguarding our heritage," the editorial posits. No kidding.

In Jamaica, apart from those sites mentioned in the editorial regarding those historical landmarks that have become staples in the tourism industry - the Rose Hall Great House and Greenwood Great House in St James, Sir Noel Coward's vacation home of Firefly in St Mary, Lover's Leap in St Elizabeth and Devon House in Kingston - then the neglect of Roxborough, Norman Manley's birthplace in Manchester, is not even the tip of the iceberg, but one that's merely en route to the tip. It is not only sad; it is a national disgrace and tragedy.

With all due respect to Sir Noel - an Englishman, who fell in love with the island has found himself in death firmly implanted in the island's national heritage. Firefly is a lovely little house with a breathtaking view overlooking Port Maria Bay. The great playwright, nonetheless, has managed to trump many of our great figures with a spot on the national heritage list.

Who knows where Don Drummond, Alton Ellis, Baba Brooks, Roland Alphonso, Albert Huie, Maillica "Kapo" Reynolds, or Trevor Rhone lived, or for that matter, their actual birthplaces?

How many of us who vacation in the United States make it a point of interest to visit Washington, DC for tours of the White House, the Washington and Lincoln monuments, Arlington Cemetery, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institute; or the Statue of Liberty in New York?

If it's to England, must-sees are the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, or to William Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, or the Charles Dickens Museum, the author's last home in Higham, Kent.

Whether we are aware of it or not, Roger Mais was a national hero, albeit unofficial. Similarly, Claude McKay. Who knows where these gifted men were born?

A similar story to Roxborough stands true to that of the childhood home of Marcus at Number 32 Marcus Garvey Way in St Ann's Bay. The little cottage that rests on a hillside with a bust of Garvey below it, has remained in poor condition for a long time.

Bob Marley's birthplace at Nine Miles in St Ann receives a relatively decent flow of tourists and also to his former residence at Hope Road, so why not keep that flow going to other like places of interest? Both of the Marley sites come highly recommended by travel websites.

Paul Bogle's birthplace at Stony Gut, St Thomas consists of a stone monument accessible by a concrete walkway leading up to it. A semi-circular clearing indicates where the village of Stony Gut used to be after it was razed by local troops at the time of Bogle's capture in Spanish Town following protests.

The attempt to restore the Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston should never have become an issue.

Picture Carnegie Hall in New York City looking like the Ward Theatre. Or Radio City Musical Hall: or the Royal Albert Hall, or the Lyceum, or St Martin's Theatre in London.

The Ward Theatre, which opened in 1912, is the only theatre of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean.

In May 2011 it was reported that it would coat more than some US$6 million to refurbish the Ward in time for its centenary in December of this year.

"So what now?" Asked Barbara Gloudon in her April 13, 2012, Jamaica Observer article, "Celebration and Preservation".

Gloudon noted the real challenge was not only in restoring the Ward Theatre but its surroundings.

Now, if to restore one historic structure such as the Ward Theatre has taken this much stress, strain and kerfuffle, what says Norman Manley's birthplace?

Monuments and birthplaces aside, another matter still begging to be established is a national museum.

None other than former Prime Minister Edward Seaga himself, in October 2009 called for the establishment of a national museum for the collection and preservation of Jamaica's cultural heritage.

"We have a lot of heritage and we have a lot of creative work that needs to be properly preserved. What we need is a national museum. Rich as we are in the material that will go into a national museum, we have none," Seaga bemoaned.

The chatter still goes on regarding attempts to get a national museum founded, but that's what Jamaicans love and thrive on - talk. It's a veritable national pastime. Witness the number of radio talk shows on the airwaves.

And let's not forget Spanish Town and the deplorable, pathetic condition of those majestic structures that rest in the town square. The first capital of the island with the first King's House and the courthouse both look like Hollywood movie sets: all façade and nothing behind but emptiness - brilliant architectural shells.

Then there is good old Port Royal - at the rate talk and all the attendant grand plans for restoring that infamous seaport has gone to date, the rest of that little town could very well end up like the other part that sleeps under the sea.

The argument that we're merely a poor "Third World country" or "developing" nation will no longer wash. We are in the second decade of the 21st century.

As the saying goes, where there is a will - no, a national will - there is a way.

So much for: "Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love ..."





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