Why abuse our heritage?

By Michael Burke

Thursday, October 14, 2010

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Every third Monday in October since 1969, we celebrate National Heroes Day. It is the tradition in these last 41 years that the Saturday and Sunday preceding is the National Day of Thanksgiving. The honours system is really a part of the thanksgiving process to those who have helped to enrich the heritage. But heritage is about everything that we have inherited which includes our natural resources ("Jamaica land we love").

In Jamaica, discipline is still a goal to be reached. So we do not prepare for floods during drought and we do not prepare for floods during the rainy season. And while illegal sand miners remove sand and stones from gullies and leave only soft earth, we say nothing until heavy rain washes away houses with people in them.

In the Gleaner last Sunday, there was the story of an 84-year-old woman who was concerned that her house in Tavern, St Andrew, would be washed away. She said that people told her that it was her fault for building her house in the riverbed, but when she built her house 50 years ago, she was 50 feet from the river. What has happened is that the illegal sand mining has eroded the land. Will Papine Square itself be affected in another few years?

Will everything on the eastern side of Golding Avenue including St Thomas Aquinas Church, Mona Common, Golding Circle, St Michael's Theological College and the United Theological College then be affected? Will the Hope River go sufficiently west to erode the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies on the other side of Golding Avenue?

Will our forefathers be blamed for building the university in a river bed or for that matter, Mona Heights, Hope Pastures and Jamaica College, by a future generation who did not know that they were originally quite far from the Hope River? What about Saints Peter and Paul Church, Campion College and Sovereign Shopping Centre? Will the erosion eventually reach Half-Way-Tree and beyond?

In light of all this, are we still going to allow illegal sand mining in the Hope River? What is all of this talk about protecting the environment and what's more , protecting our heritage? What heritage will we have to protect if we erode the land? Will Jamaica evolve into merely a concept rather than being a beautiful and mountainous island?

Will the first verse and chorus of our national anthem be a myth as we have no land to ask the Eternal Father to bless and no land to love? Were I prime minister I would call for a national week of voluntary work where we would train the Hope River and even build two long walls on either side.

As someone who likes history, it was always my hope that as the decades passed and the long list of those honoured became known, young people, just by reading the list and information on why they were honoured, would learn the history of Jamaica in a nutshell since Independence in 1962. This is true with respect to the accounts of the individual lives of our national heroes and what they achieved being the core of Jamaica's history.

The Roman Catholic Church has several books on the lives of the saints. The reading of such books gives Catholic children and adults a history of Christian heroic action done by individuals. But our honour system as it stands does not provide a framework history of Jamaica.

Indeed in Jamaica, too often have people been given honours and people have been left wondering why on earth did that person either receive the award or get so high an honour. The latest example of this is the honouring of former United States Ambassador Sue Cobb. I have asked why Sue Cobb is to receive the Order of Jamaica and no one seems to know. I gather she is a most likeable person, but could that be the single basis for the award? Or are there reasons we can't hear about?

A year ago I complained in my weekly column about the high award for Usain Bolt, as I believed, like many Jamaicans, it was too much and too soon. At least I knew why Bolt received the honours.

But I do not have a clue about why Sue Cobb has been honoured at all, let alone one of the highest honours - a concern I wrote about a month ago. In the Jamaica Observer online responses, one person wrote that I should not concern myself too much with the honour system in a "banana republic".

But while Jamaica is not a republic and no longer an economy that relies totally on banana and sugar, even if we were, we should have an honours system that is respected. Next thing we know someone's pet dog or cat might receive the Order of Jamaica complete with "The Honourable" before its name.

A few centuries ago, the Roman Catholic Church, after thorough investigation, de-canonised some people who had been declared saints without justification. Perhaps the day will come when Jamaicans will do the same with respect to those honoured by the nation.


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