Let's have a National Heritage Month

Let's have a National Heritage Month

Michael Barnett

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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IN the Friday, October 16, 2020 edition of the Jamaica Observer a story entitled 'Grange announces adjustments for Heritage Week celebrations 2020' illuminated how the observance of National Heritage Week this year, which was formally from October 11 to October 19, was primarily virtual because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The culmination of National Heritage Week was celebrated with a church service at the historic William Knibb Memorial Baptist Church in Trelawny on Sunday, October 18, and very importantly a wreath-laying ceremony for our national heroes at National Heroes' Park, followed immediately by a virtual presentation of this year's national honours and awards to all of the respective recipients took place on Monday, October 19, 2020. What this meant was that the public holiday that we have come to know as National Heroes' Day was effectively the culmination of National Heritage Week, and with it the end of all of the activities geared to celebrating our national heroes and our national heritage, at least so far as the month of October was concerned.

The key question I would like to ask is: Why should we limit October to an observance of just a National Heritage Week? Why not formally designate the entire month of October as National Heritage Month and have activities that celebrate our national heritage and our national heroes throughout the entire month?

Our history, our heritage, and our past struggles are defining factors in shaping who we are today. So why do we limit ourselves to just a week built around National Heroes' Day, year in and year out?

Wouldn't more time for reflection aid us in terms of charting a confident and definitive course for our future, especially now during these perilous times of COVID-19 and the associated economic insecurity that has come along with it? These are some of the questions that have crossed my mind this year as we come towards the end of the month of October.

Actually, truth be told, it is an issue that has been on my mind ever since 2008 when February was formally designated Reggae Month. Before then, February was solely Black History Month and it did not share the month with reggae events, as it presently does. What this has meant ever since — though not necessarily intentionally — is less time in the month devoted to black history.

Some notable Jamaican public personalities have argued that Black History Month was ostensibly a black American/African American phenomenon, and as such didn't really have any relevance in Jamaica. I, among others in the society, strongly disagree with this. Black history is not limited to the African American experience alone. Much of Jamaica's history encapsulates the African Jamaican experience and, therefore, black history. Unfortunately however, much of this history is not delivered at the secondary school level, let alone at the primary level. To date, Caribbean history is not compulsory in the secondary school curriculum, as I believe that it should be. Thus, I would argue that events that highlight our history and heritage overall are very important to us as a nation, but especially for our younger generation.

It is worth noting that many of our young folk are coming to tertiary institutions in Jamaica without a strong grounding in history period, let alone Caribbean history, and I can attest to this as a university educator, who straddles both the humanities and the social sciences.

One of the famous quotes of our first National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey is: “A people without a knowledge of their history is like a tree without its roots.” If we were to designate the entire month of October to reflecting and focusing on the intricate exploits of our national heroes and our sole national heroine, as well as the countless struggles that our ancestors waged against slavery and colonialism in the past, just think of the impact that this could make on our society.

Commendations must go to Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange and the staff at her ministry, as well as the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) for programming the core activities for heritage week, under the theme 'Celebrating a Heritage of Resilience and Pride'. However couldn't the same theme have been applied to a whole month of activities?

If additional groups and cultural stalwarts in our island were encouraged to organise and coordinate events across the island to supplement the activities of the JCDC and the Ministry of Culture, wouldn't it be possible to then have an entire month full of national heritage activities, just as in the case of this year's Reggae Month, February 2020, which was notably jam-packed with activities and events, and arguably the most successful Reggae Month since its inception in February 2008.

So, in summary, let us, as a proud nation, dispense with National Heritage Week and, with the assistance of the Government, move things forward and formally replace it with National Heritage Month.

Michael Barnett is a sociology lecturer in critical race theory at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or barnett37@hotmail.com.


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