Two well-tested adages are: "A people without a knowledge of their history is like a tree without its roots," and "None but ourselves can free our minds." In fact, these are both quotes from our first National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey, and he could not be more correct.
Ostensibly, National Heroes week in October is supposed to be a time that has been set aside to reflect on and celebrate our National Heroes in Jamaica; a time to revel in our rich culture and its impact on the wider world. In 2012, as we celebrate our 50th year of independence, this ideally should be the case. In this age of globalisation, what truly distinguishes us as a people? What makes us stand out in a world that is characterised by blue jeans, fast food, iPhones, iPads and BlackBerrys?
We, the UWI National Heritage Month Committee, argue that in an ever-growing consumerist-oriented world, where the newest mod-cons have become the aspiration of the masses, it becomes even more of an imperative that Jamaicans get in touch with their history and their culture, in order not to lose themselves completely. As such, we need to ask if one week (which for many boils down to just one day) is really adequate for a deep and comprehensive exploration of our past and our heritage. Furthermore, to what extent do we reflect on the contributions of our countless heroes, many of whom, though not officially recognised as National Heroes, need to be commended, and at the very least acknowledged for their contributions?
Heroes such as Leonard P Howell, Louise Bennett, Ranny Williams and Tacky, for instance. We argue that one week is inadequate for all of this, so we should designate the entire month of October National Heritage Month.
The ideal situation would be to designate the entire year for exploring our past and our heritage, but a month (as opposed to a week), would certainly be a start. A full month of cultural and educational programmes would be a first step to addressing the anomie and ideological drift that has overtaken our nation. As we are now in our 50th year of Independence, we need to reflect on the direction that we are moving in, as we move forward.
We need to ask ourselves how much about our national heritage is actively taught in our schools. Why isn't Caribbean history compulsory at secondary level? How much depth, detail and scope is devoted to our National Heroes in our schools' curricula? Admittedly, this year Marcus Garvey has been introduced into the school curriculum, and the ministry of education should be commended. But is this enough?
As educators, many of us at UWI seek to make a difference: to empower the youth and the public at large with a knowledge of their past and their heritage, not necessarily just in the month of October, but the whole year through. All said and done, however, the UWI National Heritage Month Committee believes that just the one week that is designated Heroes Week is clearly insufficient, and a move to change this is a move in the right direction. Once again, we urge the authorities to take a leap of faith and formally designate October National Heritage Month, for the sake of our heroes, many of whom are unsung.
Dr Michael Barnett
UWI National Heritage Month Committee
Mona, Kingston 7