Making of a nation
Book: N.W. Manley and the Making of Modern Jamaica Author: Arnold Bertram
Published by: Arawak Publishers, 2016. XIX+ 451 pp.
Reviewer: Verene A. Shepherd
N.W. Manley and the Making of Modern Jamaica, written by an experienced historian and former politician, should be required reading for politicians (regardless of party affiliation), policymakers, journalists, and especially students studying at the tertiary level in Jamaica, in particular those reading for degrees in history, law, social studies and political science. Graduates who become or who continue as teachers will be particularly critical in the dissemination of the political history of Jamaica that this book tells. Too many young people only hear the name Norman Manley if they opt to do history in CXC, during Heritage Week each October, on his birthday on July 4, or when invoked publicly by the PNP. Young people might very well be attracted to the knowledge that young Manley's early life had its socio-economic challenges and setbacks; that he was a track star; and that he also gave lots of trouble before settling down to a serious career and later making "something of himself".
The only reason I did not say that this book should be required reading for ALL Jamaicans is that I know that the length of the book would be a deterrent for a population that does not read as much as it used to, especially paper copies of books. In this regard, the author and the publisher should consider developing e-copies and even an audio version (with Manley's voice added) so that whatever is the preferred medium, the valuable content would be accessible to all who have an interest in the evolution of modern Jamaica and one of the key actors in that evolution. The photographs, appendices, and bibliography are added dimensions to the book.
The publication of this book is quite timely, consumed as we in Jamaica are with our relations with Trinidad and Tobago and the future of the regional integration project that was so dear to Norman Manley's heart. Jamaica's exit from the Federation of the West Indies in 1961 is often thought to have been a foundational reason for the tensions between the two countries, especially as Eric Williams pronounced at the time that "one from ten equalled nought".
So, why did Manley agree to the referendum that was a prelude to this withdrawal? Did he give Sir Alexander Bustamante a gift in 1962? Did he squander his chances of being Jamaica's first independence prime minister? Was the referendum really the major factor in the PNP's loss of the elections, or were there other underlying socio-economic factors like lack of funds; decline in grass roots party organising; the death of his stalwart support, Noel Nethersole; and Vernon Arnett's demitting of the office of secretary?
What is the history of political parties in Jamaica? Why did Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, two cousins who started a united party, split into what today we call two warring tribes?
More important, what was Norman Manley's role in Jamaica's constitutional decolonisation, especially between 1938 and 1962, and what lessons have we learnt from his ideas and work? These and other questions are answered by this marvellous and meticulously researched book, a book that traces Norman Manley's life and work from birth to death as well as discusses his legacy in modern Jamaica.
While Norman Manley is the central focus of the book that spans the colonial, post-colonial, and contemporary periods in Jamaican history, it also explains the roots of class, colour, and race prejudice in Jamaica that affected even wealthy mixed-race people, and which had the potential to blight one's future; the role of education and family in an individual's success (Chapters 4-9); the emergence and role of early nationalist organisations and black nationalism and the important figures in such organisations and consciousness (including Robert Love, Domingo, Garvey); as well as the history of political organising that shaped a nation's evolution from emancipation to the present. The book should, in fact, cause us to reflect on our present within the context of a country and a region that Norman Manley hoped for.
Studies on Norman Manley are not absent from our literary landscape, but this book adds to the list and goes beyond others in filling out critical details in the historiography of the political development of Jamaica. The context within which Norman Manley's ideas developed and the men and women, historical events, and ideas that influenced him occupy a significant part of this book. We get a glimpse into the limits to his achievements played by the colonial and post-colonial environment and of historical forces in ensuring that socialist thinking and action would not get widespread support in Jamaica something that his son, Michael Manley, later found out.
Of course, Michael was much more articulate on questions of "coloniality" and post-colonialism, where Jamaica's role within the British Commonwealth is concerned - questions that pro-colonial Jamaica is yet to answer definitively.
Be that as it may, we look forward to other books from the creative mind and pen of Arnold Bertram, books that delve deep into the past to help us to understand our present and the people and circumstances that shaped both.
n Verene A. Shepherd is professor of social history at The University of the West Indies, Mona, and the host of Talking History on Nationwide 90 FM.