Tue | Jan 23, 2018

Brian-Paul Welsh | Who can fly the flag?

Published:Monday | August 1, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh
Jamaica Tallawahs fans wave the national flag during a cricket match with the Trinbago Knight Riders recently.

Fifty-four years ago, a bold symbol emerged that was imbued with the spirit of a new nation. This magical fabric flew proudly for the first time in the night breeze above the National Stadium, shining in black, green and gold, and signalling a consolidation of the hopes, dreams, values, and ideals of Jamaica, land we love.

"The sun shineth, the land is green and the people are strong and creative" is the symbolism of the colours of the flag, according to the Jamaica Information Service. Black was chosen to depict the strength and creativity of the people; gold, the natural wealth and beauty of sunlight; while green conveys hope and agricultural resources.

Choosing to cut the lights inside the stadium for the grand reveal of the newest symbol of national identity served as a necessary metaphor for Jamaica's emergence from the shadow of her colonisers: triumphant, proud and free.

The period after emancipation from slavery and leading up to that ceremony of political independence was a time of protracted peasanthood for the majority of the African population in this country because the structure of society had not changed to accommodate former slaves as full people, full Jamaicans. Burchell Whiteman described that time in our history more euphemistically as 'a long twilight of unfulfilled hopes'.

The messages embedded within the flag represent a unification of purpose, strength, creativity, abundance, beauty, and industry and were designed to inspire a population that was energised by the excitement of finally loosening the colonial yoke, but still weary and disoriented after years of manipulation. The flag and its intrinsic symbols, therefore, encapsulated the spirit of a mighty people bursting from the tattered seams of abject poverty and disappointment.




As we first gazed upon that new spectrum of colours and internalised their attending ideals, we committed to the fulfilment of the hope that Jamaica would one day be the place of choice. Along the way, we set a timeline of roughly 70 years to achieve this, and we are now exactly 14 years away from that goal. Part of her charm is that Jamaica still smiles in spite of disparate and sobering realities.

It is a daunting and unenviable task to distil a nation's culture into an emblem or symbol, not only because of the level of artistic proficiency required, but because of the danger that the people will be unfavourably depicted, or worse, that the consensus of ideals it conveys will seem unattainable. So the 'imagineers' behind the creation of the things we consider emblematic of our cultural and political identity were very deliberate in their representation so as to symbolise the things we collectively value and aspire toward, and sincerely depict the dreams of a liberated people.

Are the values embodied in the flag ones we embody within ourselves at present, or will they remain a dream for the future, the peg on which we know our hat can never reach?

When we cram inside the National Stadium for our annual hooray dance a few nights from now, will we reflect on 54 years of largely unfulfilled hope after centuries of systemic oppression, or will we bicker among ourselves over who can wave the flag, where, and for what purpose?

When our flag flies over the stadium and our anthem resounds in the atmosphere this summer, will we be one people, despite our many opinions, or will we stand in scrutiny of the others on whom the flag also casts a shadow?




Without meaning to invoke the nationalist propaganda of some of our neighbours at a time like this, it is important that we pay considerable reverence to the significance of the moment our nation first claimed its identity and, perhaps, more important for us to seriously contemplate how we have utilised our rightful claim of sovereignty and self-determination in the time since then.

As we drape ourselves in national colours and dance a merry jig, let us consider the role we have played in fulfilling the hopes imprinted within these powerful symbols of idealised nationhood and whether we have lived up to these ideals.

Marcus Garvey urged us to free our minds by engaging in a process of self-liberation. As wiser minds have recognised, Emancipation, like Independence, is, therefore, a process and not a calendar event.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandcynic.