National heroism in 21st century JamaicaSunday, October 17, 2021
I want to begin by telling you a story, perhaps one that you have heard before. Over 280 years ago Jamaica boasted a female military leader who courageously embarked on the journey from Portland in the east to St Elizabeth in the south-west to convince her 'brother-in-arms' that the British could not be trusted. In this mood of active resistance, she took the long journey across the backbone of our island, through the lush Cockpit Country — all the while hiding from British soldiers and plantation owners as she led the Windward Maroons with superior skill.
One tactical advantage she had over the British was long-range communications competence with the use of a cow horn, called an Abeng, which allowed advanced signals for lookouts and other collaborative manoeuvres which outsmarted the soldiers.
Her mastery of camouflage and innovations in guerilla warfare were adjunct to the reverberation of the drums. It was the music of the drums which would spiritually motivate her to press onward with fiery determination. These Ashanti drums reflected her call to action, brought hope, and gave her the power and the fortitude that emboldened every step of her journey.
This woman was Nanny of the Maroons, our female military leader, now national heroine. Her brother-in-arms was Cudjoe, who signed the treaty with the British in 1739, and she a year later. These treaties between the Maroons and the British came shy of 100 years before full emancipation.
Today, when we hear our music from Jamaica, we should understand that, in most instances, we are not just listening to scintillating rhythm combinations and melodies. Our music is rooted in mobilisation with a feisty and sometimes unapologetic acceptance that, as Jamaicans, we know the answer; a defiance in the face of great opposition as well as an unabashed resolve that no one can and will ever bludgeon our hopes into acquiescence.
Our journey as a people has been blessed through this strength of purpose that we are the fighters for our own destiny. This is perhaps why, years before full freedom, Nanny and Cudjoe could conquer a world superpower to insulate the Leeward and Windward Maroons from further abuse at the hands of the British.
As a people we have always been called to act and our music helped to create a momentum that drove political leaders to focus on the reality of the working conditions of our people and how they were living. This was called into sharp view during the 1938 labour rebellion with the need to reclaim the dignity of every ordinary man and woman through the centre of political and social dialogue. In that year, two of our national heroes, Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante, provided the leadership for the Jamaican people which helped win the social and political rights that were denied for a century following Emancipation.
Our music was a constant source of inspiration. The period of reggae consolidation in the 1970s was replete with some of the most radical social legislation the country had ever seen. On the back of Bob Marley's activism, and through his lyrics, our leaders received haunting declarations of the poor and disenfranchised: “No chains around my feet, but I am not free...'
The prime minister and Government of the day listened and implemented a wave of social legislation that gave ordinary Jamaicans hope and place in the land of their birth: Equal pay for equal work for women, maternity leave with pay for unwed mothers, free education for the children of the nation's poor, the National Housing Trust (NHT) to give the poor the opportunity to own a home, and the formation of the national youth service — a cadre of young volunteers that engulfed the country to make their contribution towards nation-building.
Additionally, our music called on us to focus on policy decisions that many are still not aware of. Through music, Jamaica took on a wave of international radicalism that confronted the powers of the world in ways that many Jamaicans are still unable to fully appreciate. We were the first from this hemisphere to boldly enter the hallowed halls of the United Nations and lobby against the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1950s. Emboldened by the music in the 1970s we promoted democracy in Zimbabwe and supported Fidel Castro in his revolution in Cuba and the Cuban involvement in the war in Angola. This with songs like Angola and MPLA, which heralded the freedom fighters of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola.
Yes, in the face of international resistance, we stood up for China when it was detrimental to our own survival as a young democracy and co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement, promoting our right to not align with those who demanded our alignment.
As the world seeks to move from confrontation to more harmonious living in the struggle for economic survival within individual countries, we too are at a crossroads nearly 60 years since our political independence.
Daily I am confronted with examples that Jamaica is still heralded as an international force by the power and global acceptance of our culture through our music. Almost every nationality around the world can sing word for word the lyrics of “One love, one heart”, or “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery”, and “get up stand up, stand up for your rights”. The fact that One Love became the song of the millennium and is translated into almost every language around the world is a clear manifestation of the transformative power of our reggae music.
However, are we using this power as a modern-day call to action to create a better way of life for our people? It used to take radio 38 years to reach an audience of 50 million; television, 13 years; and the Internet, four years. Encyclopaedias have been replaced by Google. It is estimated that the online search engine processes approximately 63,000 search queries every second, or 5.6 billion daily, totalling two trillion searches annually. YouTube — the world's largest online video platform — is accessed by approximately one-third of the world's population, viewing one billion hours of content every day, and uploading 500 hours of material every minute.
The reality is that if we can transform the world in minutes — in real time — perhaps at the same time with our music, what will it take to have a shared vision and the synchronicity of purpose for our country?
No doubt our music can build our future generation of power. But our music alone cannot save us from ourselves, especially at a time when the musicians do not trust us as leaders through their popular songs, Blood Money (Protoje) and Kabaka Pyramid's Well Done (Mr Politician man).
For all our people there is a need to understand that we are the revolution and the transformation. Regardless of who we are or where we come from, our desires must be driven by a universal purpose grounded in empathy and love to build communities, end violence, and protect women and children in our lifetime.
Our 21st century mission can only be accomplished if we remove our personal agendas in exchange for the upliftment of all Jamaicans. We must rid tribal arrogance from our dialogue and work together across the aisle to ensure that when we look back, we will leave a proud heritage for future generations to regard as being ahead of its time.
Up to 40 years ago Jamaica was respected for the courageous principles for which we stood. We were seen as formidable leaders. Regrettably, this is no longer the case. One just has to look at our world standing in the COVID-19 vaccination rates.
As we celebrate National Heroes' Day, we must ask ourselves, as leaders, what are we prepared to risk so as to take the tough decisions that will urgently move Jamaica and our people forward?
For my part, I am prepared to risk all of my political capital in the best interest of the future of Jamaica no matter the political consequences.
Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.