The Queen’s Baton
THE excitement is not surprising. Jamaica has always extended a warm welcome to the Royal Family. The Jamaican leg of the Queen's Baton Relay is worthy of the attention it received as, after all, we are the world's sprint capital.
The Commonwealth Games have much at stake from this visit as the baton needed not only a warm reception but our full approval. The Queen must have been quite impressed with the enthusiasm which greeted this symbol of friendship and goodwill that was passed around from hand to hand.
This baton is not on a world trip like the Olympic Torch. It's on a journey around a select group of countries that are voluntarily linked with a central head residing in former mother country England.
It's an unusual association in that its not an economic or political union, and is not bound together by race, privilege or anything else except history and a reluctance to let go.
It's one of Britain's most sophisticated and subtle reminders to the world of her status and place in history as the most powerful nation in the world in a former time.
But that's what monarchy is all about. It survives largely due to its traditions and customs so peculiar to one nation, yet envied by the rest of the world. England is smug about her monarchy because she stands alone and owns a gem and a template that others have tried to emulate without success.
Here in Jamaica, the tradition offers political opportunities to make popular statements about abolishing the monarchy and changing the name of the Throne Speech to some other moniker.
We talk glibly about removing The Queen, but when it comes to the punch we don't. Every single prime minister since 1972 has promised to do away with Her Majesty as the head of state (yes, it is true, The Queen is constitutionally still the head of the country). But we don't mean it. After all, who wants to risk not being invited for the next grand coronation to take place in Westminster Abbey when the time comes?
Who does not want to shake hands and curtsey to the royals, attend cocktails and receptions and get photos taken with the grand lady when she chooses to visit her little outpost?
Guess who is the only politician of note who has ever declined a royal invitation or command performance from The Queen?
None other than Sir Alexander Bustamante, himself an unapologetic admirer of the English and their customs, but always outspoken when such interfered with his personal comfort or with Jamaica's image.
The story is told by Theodore Sealy, legendary and former editor of The Gleaner, who covered the pre-Independence talks held at Lancaster House in February 1962 when a joint delegation led by Premier Norman Manley and Bustamante travelled to England for meetings to plan the crossover.
"A very interesting thing occurred regarding a luncheon at Buckingham Palace to which The Queen had invited both party leaders. As it turned out, Busta had been invited as leader of the Opposition. He sent a note to the palace with due protocol to state that he was not able to attend as thus invited, because he was not in England as leader of the Opposition, nor was Manley there as premiere. They were both there, he said, as leaders of their respective parties come together to negotiate a constitutional independence."
The Queen then altered the nature of the invitation. You think Busta did fraid? It made Manley furious and the palace saw red, but the two cousins dined in fine style, and approached the rest of the deliberations in fine fettle, culminating in that famous photograph of both men smiling in unity at the conference table in London.
I have said it before that I am a confirmed royalty watcher as I am always amused at the stiff upper lip and so on of the true Englishman, but amazed by the precision, the symbolism of their protocol and the tradition behind each button, each insignia, each title.
The Queen has proven to be one of our favourite visitors, and if she chooses to return she will get as warm a welcome from our politicians and all as she received when she first came calling in 1953. She was a young girl then, had just succeeded to the throne, and was making headlines around the world.
I often boast that I was invited to one of the functions, if you please, never mind that I shared this honour with 20,000 other schoolchildren who were trucked into Kingston to see her drive around Sabina Park in the back of a Land Rover. We stood for long hours waving our red, white and blue flags and singing Rule Britannia and Dis long time gal me neva see you, and got just the barest glimpse of a pale-faced couple smiling and bestowing the royal wave to the packed grounds.
Those were the days of Rule Britannia, you know, and the colonial government rolled out everything to ensure that The Queen was impressed with her little colony. The Gleaner waxed eloquent in its editorials: "Let the people cheer. Let their voices ring out on the plains and from the mountain tops in giving out shouts of acclamation of their adherence to the great British monarchy in whose history has been written our own charter of potential promise." Wow!
This was 1953. And cheer we did, when over 5,000 turned out to welcome the royal couple as their BOAC Stratocruiser landed at the Montego Bay airport on November 25.
We lined the streets as the motorcade swept through the countryside with stops at Falmouth, Discovery Bay (where she officially opened the Queen's Highway), St Ann's Bay, Ocho Rios, Moneague, Linstead, Bog Walk, and Spanish Town.
Bonfires blazed, over 7,000 decorative lights were installed on the streets of Kingston, and parades, receptions, concerts and dinners tested the mettle of the young queen and found her well-prepared for her reign.
The programme went smoothly, but not without moments of humour as when favourite radio announcer Roy Lawrence enthusiastically announced that the governor, Sir Hugh Foot, had just lifted his foot to The Queen. At another function we heard that Sir Hugh and Lady Foot were about to introduce "the little feet" to Her Majesty.
And, of course, Louise Bennett had us doubling up as she described how Jamaicans were rehearsing their bow — "Ben down lower sah, ben yu back, nobadda ben yu knee, yu haffe learn de rightful way to bow to royalty."
Since 1962, we have toned it down a bit as we have grown accustomed to all that stuff. We are even able to take the Queen's Baton in our stride. Next time around who knows, it may be Prince Phillip's or King Charles' baton that we may have to pass around. I am sure we will handle that one more discretely.
The Queen's Baton will turn up again, this time at the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, July 23 to August 3. The names assigned to each event represent an evolution from the Empire days to its
present Commonwealth nomenclature. They were known first as the Inter-Empire Games in 1911, then the British Empire Games 1930-1950, the British Empire & Commonwealth Games 1954 to 1966, the British Commonwealth Games 1970 to 1974, and the Commonwealth Games since 1978.
Jamaica's first entry was in 1934 in London, with participation in every event since then, apart from 1930, 1938, 1950 and 1986. We also hosted a most successful event in 1966. The world will be watching us this year as we take to the track. Looking forward to our spot of glory on the Commonwealth and world map in days to come.
— Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. Comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org