Singing the Independence blues
The British flag, the Union Jack, is lowered at midnight on August 5, 1962 at the National Stadium in St Andrew after which the Jamaican flag was raised signalling the birth of the Jamaican nation. (Photo: JIS)

I was 15 years old when Jamaica, my island home, became politically independent on August 6, 1962. Frankly, it didn't mean much to me then as mentally the British-influenced education I had received up to that point in time made me feel inferior to every white and brown-skinned individual that crossed my path. And in the living room at home there was still a framed photograph featuring Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, holding pride of place.

In primary school we sang Rule Britannia, Rule the Waves and God Save the Queen. Africa, we were told, was the Dark Continent, and I remember reading a book that had illustrations of Bombo the elephant and other wild creatures intermingled with half-naked-looking black "savages" who I would later learn were, in fact, my ancestors. Needless to say, I felt uncomfortable in my black skin, gaining very little comfort from singing "Lord, wash me whiter than snow…" in church.

So there I was in Jarrett Park, named after a former slave-owning family, watching the Union Jack take its final plunge at midnight as the Jamaican flag, the black, green, and gold, was raised and unfurled in the glaring lights, accompanied by much fanfare and cheers. Honestly, my main reason for going at the time, like many of other black teenage boys present at this historic occasion, was to satisfy the urges of the raging hormones in my body that could only be satiated by copulating with a young member of the female gender, which such a crowded setting provided.

To put it bluntly, we were not prepared, by virtue of the education we had received up till then, to fully appreciate the true significance of that major turning point in our country's history. Sadly, some 60 years later, it is safe to say that our creaking educational system has not helped in the process of emancipating us from mental slavery despite the so-called benefits of gaining political independence. Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, one of the nation's most insightful leaders, in a recent speech bemoaned this very fact, that Jamaica's "biggest" failure since Independence is the education sector. Need I say more?

In 1958, when I passed "scholarship" (Common Entrance Examination), thanks to that visionary and bold step taken by Premier Norman Washington Manley to give children of the working class the opportunity to attend traditional high schools, which were more accommodating to the privileged few, I was so ecstatic because I had been selected to attend Cornwall College, a prestigious all-boys high school. I was only one of three boys from my district that got that opportunity. One was a brown-skinned upper middle-class youth and the other was the son of a high-profile civil servant.

My father was a headman on Barnett Estates, a sugar plantation. I will never forget that day when I came for lunch, from my nearby school, at a shop operated by my parents on Jarrett Street — a short distance from Montego Bay Boys' School, now Corinaldi Primary, where the then headmaster was former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke. Picking up The Gleaner, my mother, beaming with pride, announced that I had passed scholarship. My father replied rather gruffly that, that was a waste of time and it would have been better "if di boy go learn a trade". Tears filled my eyes and I felt so deflated, but many years later he would bask with pride in my many achievements and, yes, I forgave him because I understood why he reacted that way. Marcus Garvey would have too.

Contrary to the general perception, Jamaica's march to Independence was not as romantic as some would have us believe. Indeed, renowned academician the late professor Dr George Eaton in his seminal book Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica published by Kingston Publishers Limited (a Michael Henry-owned company which is now LMH Publishers) and which I had the privilege of editing, wrote: "Undoubtedly, also, the price paid by the community at large was that the march towards self-government and political Independence became so gradual (this was due mainly to the Federation tussle between the warring cousins [Alexander] Bustamante and [Norman] Manley) that it ended up being a damper rather than a stimulus to the spirit of innovation and national regeneration. When the final constitutional step was taken in August 1962, Jamaicans were not impressed or convinced that a new era had dawned or was about to dawn or that they stood on the threshold of a new exhilarating experiment in living.

"Unlike their counterparts in many African and Asian countries, the Jamaican populace had not been welded together by armed resistance or civil disobedience directed against the colonial power. They had not been electrified by a threatened assertion or declaration of independence, nor had they participated, except in a purely formal or perfunctory sense, in the more mundane but no less exalted task of devising an independence constitution. It was hardly surprising, then, that the island entered its independence stage in a mood of half-hearted, simulated enthusiasm, hardly filled with any real passion for its achievement. Colonialism, for Jamaicans, ended not in a bang, but a whimper."

Is it any wonder then, even to this day, that many Jamaicans still think that they would have been better off if Jamaica had remained a British colony? Are our feet too big for our shoes?

On the eve of our 60th Independence Day, faced with an undisciplined, blood-thirsty, and seemingly don't-care nation, the Government, amidst all the celebrations and hoopla, must resolve to create a way of life which will make citizenship a meaningful existence and experience for members of the society and release creative energies and talents which are needed to realise that objective. And, as Professor Eaton declared, "In this social equation, leadership can be a factor of critical importance, if for no other reason than that the dedication and inspiration of popular leaders can do much to raise the levels of effort and sacrifice on the part of members of the society."

It is this writer's hope that, even as we take pride in our many achievements as a fledgling nation facing many challenges, we also do a reality check and vow to do what we can in our little corner to make Jamaica "the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business." After all, "nuh weh no betta dan yaad!"

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

The British flag, the Union Jack, is lowered at midnight on August 5, 1962 at the National Stadium in St Andrew after which the Jamaican flag was raised signalling the birth of the Jamaican nation. (Photo: JIS)
Jamaica will celebrate 60 years of Independence on August 6.a
Lloyd B Smith

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