Mon | Jan 22, 2018

Hilary Beckles | Yam patch and banana ground

Published:Sunday | August 28, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Once again, we won the Bolt gold vote. For me, there was never a moment of doubt. I told him that much at Mona. He has taught me, a historian, how to read the future.

This manuscript, then, is more a tribute to the moment - its message and meaning - than a celebration of the man's performance and his iconic magnificence. There will be adequate time for reflection on extraordinary social identity.

Humanity deeply loves and cares for this man. He touches the heart and soul of citizens everywhere who are committed to the joy of existence with performance excellence. But he didn't fall from the sky. He was made in Jamaica. That's what the label he wears says. There is, therefore, by extension, a reason why the world loves Jamaica and what, through Bolt, it has come to represent. We need to know this perception, have it domesticated and manufactured, and exported. We have a duty to do so, now more so than ever. It's an expectation.

I know, for sure, that this love has more to do with performance excellence, plus personal generosity and social accessibility, than mere greatness alone. The world has always been filled with performance excellence. It's the combinations of persistent greatness, plus a willingness to be socially engaging and comfortable with all communities, that has generally won the hearts of generations in all cultures. These virtues have always survived the corrosive capacity of history to assign prominent men to the dust bin.

Usain is highly unusual in this regard. This was the social mindset his mission blazed in Brazil. He paid tribute to Rio with his openness and accessibility. It was this transparency that stood in stark contrast to the hyperbolic delusion of false robbery that sought to tarnish the good name of the host and the fellowship of the favelas.

The philosophy of peace and love will always be powerful and perfecting of humanity. In this regard, our young 21st century is blessed to have as its emissaries of performance excellence two young men of August born. President Obama and Dr Bolt are both cut from the same cloth: professional greatness with social generosity that expresses a caring intellect with a love of community.

This is why, on the other hand, men like Donald Trump and Justin Gatlin find themselves as standard-bearers of bravado rather than brilliance and hubris rather than humility.




It is for these and such like reasons that Ban Ki-moon, the world's leading man at the United Nations, is urged to grasp what it is that Bolt has given the world shaped by his wisdom. Furthermore, and it is this context that should stimulate the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to recognise that world peace emanates ultimately from personal kindness and public generosity. These are the places and spaces into which the bolt of lightning has penetrated and must now be respected and honoured. In the language of the young people, "I am just saying!"

In the navel string of this narrative is to be found the root of this truth. But there is no doubt that something special is cooking in rural Jamaica. Its peasantry, recently considered too tamed and tired to take on the world beyond the Blue Mountains, is wheeling to come again. From its bosom has come an energy that has erupted and is bursting through the confinement of 'downpressive' IMF conditionalities and is now dictating its own terms. It's an ancient African spirit that refuses to be enslaved; rejects confinement and containment; and once bartered and battered can no longer be bought or sold. It is at once restless and priceless.

This is the why the world loves Usain and the Jamaica that bred him. This is the heartland of the Jamaican peasantry I met and embraced in the diaspora of Birmingham city. Its cultural celebration connects to the performance power of yellow yam and green banana and finds the yield of highest productivity in the presence of Usain and Elaine. Those of you who have never shelled gungo peas for your grandmother on a Sunday morning may struggle to understand Shelly-Ann's lessons and legacies.

Pain in the favelas is not unfamiliar to Usain. It's the place from which he is running, and the world he wishes to turn upside down. Pele's spirit filled the space, and Usain and Elaine did what had to be done. The philosophy is clear. From the poor and the oppressed shall come forth the seeds of a civilisation that respects the right of each person to excel, irrespective of whether they are raised in a banana ground, yam patch, or cassava piece. Caviar is cool, and blessings upon the consumer, but the democracy of which we speak is one in which the cream shall be unrestricted in its rise to the top.

First there was Usain and Shelly-Ann; now there is Elaine and Omar. The gold roll in Rio speaks to the rise and rule of the rural folk who have never given up in their demand for justice and respect and to have their voice heard 'right here so'. It's the indomitable determination to turn a terrible history right way up and fashion a future based on fellowship.

Dr Bolt has made unforgettable global public history. It's the kind of history that history has always called upon special private citizens to make, often at great personal costs. To be a history maker of magnificence is, therefore, to be human, and for this reason, all of us who stand taller with their performance have a duty to protect them from the social ravage of public lavish.




At home, he has shown us that two types of history are before us. There is the history forged in Rio with his cohort in a grand stadium that will serve to inspire and uplift our people; and there is the history that a foreign prime minister urged us recently, in our Parliament, to get over and forget.

There is, then, the history of our peoples' heroics on a level global playing field, and there is the history of the imperial heresy of slavery and its legacies. But we shall not erase this past, nor will we allow the heretics to forget. Our heroes, not theirs, have untied our legs and freed our minds. 'Run we shall run' until we reach the ocean that brought us hither and which we shall convert into a river of redemption.

Unbound and unbowed is how the world from Rio beyond Russia has come to love Jamaica and its Bolt. It is for them the iconic symbol and capital of speed. From here each world citizen will know that the peasant folk of this island are in a hurry to carry humanity to its highest height.

Henceforth, there are two expressions to be deleted from the local vernacular as we teach this age of speed how to truly love and respect our performance excellence. No Jamaican should again utter the words 'soon come'. Rather, all should utter the refrain, 'is long time I waiting pon you'. Neither should any ever again say, "I running late." Alas, this is now an oxymoron.

- Professor Sir Hilary Beckles is vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies. Email feedback to