Sun | Dec 4, 2016

History's insightful lessons

Published:Sunday | October 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Glenville Ashby
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Glenville Ashby, Reviewer

Title: We Come From Jamaica: The National Movement - 1937-1962

Author: Ewart Walters

Publisher: Boyd McRubie Communications Inc, Canada

Ewart Walters' We Come From Jamaica: The National Movement - 1937-1962 is a detailed look at the evolution of a nation from a scarred beginning through tumultuous times that could have pummelled another nation into irrelevance. Jamaica, though, as Walters argues, is unique and has continued to weather the storm.

The author offers a non-linear chronicle of his thesis. Sure, we are must swallow the bitter pill of slavery and its aftermath. But this is a work that is coloured and vivified by Walters' detours and skill in holding the reader's attention. As such, We Come From Jamaica is hardly your typical history book.

Yes, it fervently follows the trail of the National Movement, and the reader is ably afforded a panoramic view of geopolitics, realpolitik, colonialism, governmental transformation, constitutional change, trade unionism, the nascent pangs of welfare and governance, education, the emergence of the bicameral system, sports and culture, and the role of the media in nation building. But I would be remiss if I encapsulate this work as merely an account of the key episodes in a nation's history.

Walter's efforts delve more into social psychology than the dryness of historical data. In effect, it is a potpourri of several disciplines that allows diverse ways of exploring Jamaica's disturbing but uplifting journey towards Independence.

multiple themes

Walter's oeuvre transcends history and readers will glean the multiple themes that remain so relevant, not only in Jamaica, but globally. Indeed, there are salient areas worth studying.

For example, he highlights the advent of indentured workers with an incisive look at the Chinese immigrant. To Walters, the assimilation and edification of the Chinese Jamaican is the ideal template for immigrants, even today. More important, he connects the dots, making an astute observation. "They played a positive and interesting role in bridging the social and racial gaps between whites and blacks, and creating a new Jamaican." He later elaborates, "The thing is that the Chinese lived close to the blacks and intermingled with them through these endeavours and activities, thus proclaiming a strong, if subliminal, message that one did not have to be white in order to get ahead in Jamaica."

'Jamaica' showcases the dynamics of revolutions - how they are engendered, fought and won. It searches the mind of the revolutionary, laying bare the anguished soul that decides to lead a disgruntled people. It is inconceivable that any history book on Jamaica can omit Marcus Garvey's gargantuan contribution to pan-Africanism. Walter's well understands and gives credit where it's due. He moves on, chronicling the life of Sam Sharpe. That he should be recognised for his doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence in the vein of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr is a little known fact. And Robert Long's hard-fought battles for gender equality as early as the mid-19th century conjures images of contemporary struggles. That Paul Bogle stepped outside his sacerdotal boundaries to forcibly fight his oppressors serves as a pedagogical tool for students of political psychology. It may well be a lesson on how 'righteous violence' can effect social change.

Rebellion and revolt

The Morant Bay Rebellion was pivotal in securing rights for blacks and was "an important step in moving Jamaica towards nationalism". Of the changes that followed the bloody suppression of Bogle's revolt, Walters recalls, "The British Parliament in 1866 declared the island a crown colony. The new governor, Sir Peter Grant, now wielded the only real power ... (he) used his power well, completely reorganising the colony and creating much of the infrastructure that still exists today." And his depiction of Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante serves as a foundation course for leadership and organisational theory. For sure, the opportunism, soaring ambition and narcissism of the latter, a former trade union leader and prime minister, offers a bird's-eye view of the consummate political animal. This is the range of Walter's impressive undertaking.

Of Jamaica Welfare that emerged decades ago. Walters pens that "it was, in many ways, the true foundation of Jamaica, its mores and its outlook. An islandwide phenomenon, it created standards of living and behaviour. It showed people how they could remain in their homes and prosper. It, therefore, had a much more profound and permanent impact on the island than did the small increases in wages and that the unions arranged. It was the difference between eating a bulla-cake and learning how to make one. It was a nationalist agency for social change and renewal at a community level. It was a massive, broad and successful programme of upward mobility through self-help".

Today's successful use of micro-financing throughout the Americas and other parts of the world is based on this principle. This timeless philosophy for equanimity, growth and personal development was the cornerstone of Jamaica's National Movement.

Undoubtedly, Walters has deftly delineated the elements that forged the National Movement in a deliberate, analytical and spirited mode, leaving readers well apprised of a phenomenon that carved the character and moulded the psyche of a people and nation.

Rating: Highly recommended

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