National Icon proposal worthy of discussion

Thursday, August 31, 2017

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It's a bit disappointing that up to last night the petition to make late folklorist Mrs Louise Bennett-Coverley an “official national icon” had secured just over 1,000 of the 15,000 signatures required for the Government to give the suggestion serious thought.

Disappointing because we would have thought that someone like Miss Lou, as Mrs Bennett-Coverley was more popularly known, would have enjoyed such tremendous public support that any effort to further honour her would move smoothly through the process.

It is also disappointing because Miss Lou, given her contribution to the development and exposure of our culture, should not have to be subjected to this type of trial in order to be accorded the type of recognition proposed by Mr Kevin O'Brien Chang.

Making the case for the national recognition, Mr O'Brien Chang states in the petition: “...(She) had an unsurpassed impact on Jamaican culture. She championed our folk customs for over 50 years as broadcaster, actress, television personality, and stage performer, and is the country's most popular poet. We are therefore proposing that a new category of national honours be created for Miss Lou, and that she should be made our first official National Icon. (Conceivably, other widely acclaimed individuals like Bob Marley and Usain Bolt could be added in future years.) We are also proposing that a life-size statue of Miss Lou be erected at the Emancipation Park entrance.”

The cynics among us may argue that Miss Lou has already been properly honoured by the State, as she was invested with the Order of Jamaica in 1974 and the Order of Merit in 2001.

However, what we understand Mr O'Brien Chang to be proposing is a category of national honour for people like Miss Lou who have given so much to the country but whose contribution is not at the level regarded as deserving of the title national hero.

It is a proposal worth discussing.

We recall that at Miss Lou's funeral service in August 2006, then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said that the Government would “move with appropriate dispatch” to consider how the country could further honour Miss Lou's life and the legacy.

We may be wrong, but since then we have not heard or seen any development relating to that vow.

But there is another troubling aspect to this matter of the signatures, because we believe it also demonstrates a basic ignorance and lack of appreciation for our heritage among younger Jamaicans who are the ones more likely to get on a computer and add their names to a petition on a website.

Maybe what is needed is a strong programme focusing on our cultural heritage, at least up to the end of secondary education, to preserve that knowledge. Probably that would have prevented the type of nescience displayed by a dancehall character recently in relation to Miss Lou.

There's still time to get the required number of signatures as the deadline is September 7. After that, regardless of the public response, the State should consider the proposal.




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