Verene Shepherd | Bertram's book on Norman Manley, Ja essential
N.W. Manley and the Making of Modern Jamaica (Arawak Publishers), written by an experienced historian and former politician, should be required reading for politicians (regardless of party affiliation), policymakers and journalists.
It should be especially so for 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 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 People's National Party (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 also gave lots of trouble before settling down to a serious career and later made "something of himself".
The only reason I did not say N.W. Manley and the Making of Modern Jamaica should be required reading for all Jamaicans is that its length (451 pages) will 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 the preferred medium, the valuable content will 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 is timely, consumed as we in Jamaica are with our relations with Trinidad & 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 10 equalled nought".
So, why did Manley agree to the referendum that was a prelude to this withdrawal? Did he give the Rt Excellent 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 importantly, what was Norman Manley's role in Jamaica's constitutional decolonisation, especially between 1938 and 1962, and what lessons have we learned from his ideas and work?
These and other questions are answered by this marvellous and meticulously researched book, which 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, postcolonial 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 and explains the role of education and family in an individual's success (chapters 4 - 9). It explains 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 cause us to reflect on our present within the context of a country and region that Norman Manley hoped for.
ADDING MORE DETAILS
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 postcolonial 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 postcolonialism where Jamaica's role within the British Commonwealth is concerned. These are questions which 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.
- Verene Shepherd is professor of social history, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, and host of 'Talking History', on Nationwide 90 FM.