I have to begin this piece by wishing Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty warm and hearty congratulations on being declared a national hero of the newly minted Barbadian republic. I think I can safely congratulate her on behalf of all Jamaicans and all citizens of the Caribbean. To become a national hero is not an easy accomplishment. Therefore, sincere congratulations are in order.
However, it raises a critical question. Who is a national hero?
I did a simple Google search and came up with the key talking points. First, a hero is admired or idealised for courage, outstanding achievements, a person who combats adversity through ingenuity, courage, and strength, in the face of danger. A national hero embodies all these noble qualities and has made significant positive contributions to the growth and development of their societies.
Where does Rihanna fit into this defined construct of a hero?
At the tender age of 33, this young lady has much time to make her mark. Barbados has thrust a highly acclaimed status on her, and the world waits with bated breath to see her next move(s). After all, the prime minister of Barbados Mia Mottley said that her appointment was a “signal to the world”. There is a lot expected from her by Barbadians and the entire Caribbean community. She has become a standard-bearer for the region.
A LIVING NATIONAL HERO
The reactions to Rihanna's ascendancy to the highest national honours have been many as can be imagined. I, too, was surprised and had to do a quick memory scan to see the heroics attributed to this famous R & B artist. I came up with a blank, but must confess that I don't know the extent of her involvement in Barbados' social life that may have made her a target for such honours. However, I get the impression that her “significant positive contribution to the growth and development of the Barbadian society” would be more of a financial nature. After all, she is said to have a networth of US$1.7 billion.
A person can impact a small country like Barbados with resources like that. Barbados has a gross domestic product of US$4.4 billion, and the Government's annual budget is coincidentally about US$1.7 billion.
I suppose there will be great expectations of her to use her wealth to benefit any glaring social deficiencies in the country. Rihanna's financial resources can create significant impact if wisely utilised. I would suggest focusing on niche social projects such as education, health, or women's intervention programmes. I certainly don't envy her new and challenging role.
Matters become more complicated because she is a living national hero. The only other living national hero in the world is her fellow Barbadian Sir Garfield Sobers.
The problem with being a living national hero is that it puts one's life under the microscope. So it may mean changes in behaviour and attitude, which might not be easy for a young person.
And what happens if something negative about the hero surfaces? Does the national 'heroship' get rescinded? It makes me wonder if bestowing such honours on a young person with a celebrity lifestyle is such a good move. However, Miss Fenty has accepted her new status and must have thought about the implications.
THE WORLD'S ONLY TWO LIVING NATIONAL HEROES
National heroes abound throughout the British Caribbean. Barbados has ten previously existing national heroes, so Rihanna is not much of a trailblazer. Barbados parades the likes of Bussa, Garfield Sobers, Frank Walcott, Errol Barrows, Samuel Prescod, Charles Oneal, Sarah Gill, Hugh Springer, Clement Payne, and Grantley Adams. Of particular note is Sarah Gill, the only female national hero of Barbados before Rihanna. It is good to see another female heroine joining the distinguished ranks.
Trinidad parades a single hero in the athlete Hasely Crawford. This dearth of heroes is surprising because Trinidad has produced several prominent figures like Sandy, a slave who played a significant role in that country's fight against slavery. Another is Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), who played an integral part in the battle for civil rights in the USA and was a leading figure in the regional black power movement.
Guyana has one official national hero in the slave named Cuffy, who led the 1763 Berbice Slave Rebellion. Another gentleman named Quamina, a slave who led the Demerara Rebellion in 1823, is considered an unofficial national hero.
Dominica, the other republic in the region, also parades only one national hero, Cecil Rawles. Rawles staunchly supported the concept of the West Indian Federation and was often referred to as the father of pan-Caribbeanism.
Jamaica has seven national heroes who played significant roles in the fight against the British and contributed to nation-building. The list of heroes includes Sam Sharpe, Queen Nanny, Paul Bogle, William Gordon, Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante, and Norman Manley.
However, what stands out is the lack of the great female heroes despite the fact that the region has produced so many women of excellence. Before Rihanna, we were represented only by Nanny, the Jamaican freedom fighter, and Sarah Gill, the Barbadian social activist and religious leader.
This lack of female heroes is even more reason to wish Rihanna success in her new role.
However, we all need to be patient with Rihanna. Allow her to explore her new role. Only she can accept her past, adjust to the present, and face her future challenges.
As for me, I must admit that my opinions on the matter have been somewhat distracted or clouded by the beauty of the honourable Barbadian triumvirate. So, I have to confess that I would happily make these fascinating women my national heroes anytime without hesitation.
I found the comments and responses regarding the responder's age and gender from people in the Caribbean rather interesting Most women and the younger people favoured Rihanna's new status and all fully supported Mia Mottley. On the other hand, I found the responses from most men to be disagreeable. However, they all endorsed Mia Mottley's leadership.
And, I have now realised that the real national hero, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, has been hiding in plain sight.
IT IS POLITICS, AFTER ALL
Recently, I saw the news that Prime Minister Mottley had called a snap election in Barbados.
Mottley had caught the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) napping and had them on the back foot screaming about an uncaring prime minister, who has decided to call an election during a severe pandemic, Omicron and all. Well, Mr BLP, a snap in a pandemic is now par for the course. It's is politics, after all.
Prime Minister Mottley's party already holds 29 of the 30 available seats in the Barbadian Parliament. Why a snap election? Is she afraid of something on the horizon? Or is it that she is just flexing her political muscles and testing the strength of her indomitable triumvirate.
Ahh, Mia Mottley… absolutely brilliant!
I predict another landslide.