Of Jesus, Garvey and CurrieThursday, September 09, 2021
Marcus Mosiah Garvey is Jamaica's first national hero. He was conferred with this honour posthumously in the 1960s in keeping with the repatriation of his mortal remains from England to Jamaica.
A liberationist and pan-Africanist at heart, Garvey led the world-famous “Back-to-Africa” movement under the banner of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), an organisation established under his leadership to pilot the global initiative to unite all black people for the sake of their development.
In a speech delivered in 1934 at the height of a global recession, Garvey pointed to progress for black people under the banner of 'Unite! Organize! or Perish!' He said our confused and disorganised world is now presenting another opportunity for us to organise ourselves with the supreme object of racial establishment. Racial establishment, I say, because the time is now for us to determine what we are to be in the affairs of struggling humanity. We must be a nation, we must be an imperial whole, we must be a people standing together strong and firm, conscious of our duty and our responsibility to ourselves and to our God.
Garvey outlined the ethical imperative of the movement as a duty to God and neighbour and a responsibility for the health and well-being of humanity in general and black people in particular.
Garvey's injunction to unite or perish was evident recently in the actions of Chief Richard Currie of the Maroons in St James. In response to attempts by the police to destroy a ganja farm on Maroon lands the chief and his fellow Maroons resisted the officers. Reports are that the chief brandished a firearm, that turned out to be illegal, as a sign of his commitment to defend his people — even in the face of death. In a later report in The Gleaner newspaper (August 30) the chief had this to say: “I urge the Government of Jamaica to keep the peace and to allow me to look after my people in peace and to allow my people to live comfortable in this our ancestral homeland.”
Like Garvey, Chief Currie was anxious to demonstrate faithfulness in service to people he described as his own.
Unite and defend is a movement which looks beyond self-preservation. Safeguarding the self is the way the prominent follower of Jesus, St Peter, chose to respond when faced with the challenge to deny or affirm Jesus as defender of the people, especially the poor and marginalised.
In Mark 14:66-72, Peter denies any knowledge of Christ three times. Mark tells us a cock crowed in keeping with Jesus' prophetic utterance that Peter would indeed deny him when faced with challenges. Peter traded faithfulness to Jesus for self-preservation. He denied his association with Jesus thrice and placed himself in a long line of people who are willing to protect self at all cost, even to the detriment of the community.
St Mark puts Peter's denial in perspective in the context of a first-century Roman Empire that was beginning to fall apart and was faced with ongoing conflicts in Palestine. This was especially so with the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the implication for the Jews, who were given legal permission to practise their religion.
It seems some Christians in the first century, like Peter, when faced with challenges denied the reality of Jesus as Saviour or liberator. This practice of denial is referred to as sin in the Christian tradition and represents people who, when faced with day-to-day challenges, turn their backs on the efficacy of religion and community towards selfishness and self-centredness. In the narrative from Mark's gospel commitment to courage, fortitude, and faith, like Jesus in arrest, trial and crucifixion, demonstrates fixity of purpose and overcoming doubt and uncertainties in challenging times.
Fixity of purpose is evident in the Maroons' practice of religion and their active resistance, not for its own sake but for the building and maintenance of community. This is not an easy undertaking and could easily take into account Buju Banton's reminder that this movement is “not an easy road”.
Embracing community over self as exemplified by Jesus, Garvey, and Currie must nevertheless incorporate the Peters of this world, who will give up on their goals when faced with challenges. From a religious perspective this means an affirmation that, even in the midst of obstacles God offers a quality of life which is not available elsewhere. It is this life that Garvey and Chief Currie recognise in people and in themselves and are willing to do everything in their power to protect and preserve.
Religion has been and continues to play a key role in the lives of the Jamaican people. Indeed, faced with challenges in the past, the people of Jamaica drew on their religious experiences in order to resist evil and injustice, while embracing Garvey's ethical imperative of duty to God and neighbour and a responsibility for the health and well-being of humanity in general and black people in particular.
This ethic, challenged by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing struggle for community and identity, will stand or fall on the willingness to embrace each other as sisters and brothers. This is reason enough to commend the police for restraint in addressing the standoff with the Maroons and in seeking the route of dialogue and mediation.
In this practice of self-control, we can learn from Peter that, when faced with considerable pressure and life-threatening circumstances we, too, may deny Jesus. Yet, with the resolve of a Garvey and the courage of a Chief Currie we have models for remaining faithful to God and community. From this perspective religion and resistance must not be seen as antithesis, but rather as complementary.
Canon Garth Minott is deputy president of United Theological College of the West Indies. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login