Ken Jones, Contributor
Not much more than a month ago, Jamaicans celebrated National Heroes Day with some amount of pomp and pageantry. However, it now appears that in spite of the Government's planning and participation, the ceremonials and the words of mouth had not enough to do with the antecedents and the spirit of the historic occasion. We are now hearing that Up Park Camp, the noble site at which the very first National Heroes Day parade was staged, is to be abandoned, making way for ideas, suited to certain current tastes, but devoid of national respect for age and heritage.
The initiation of Heroes Day at Up Park Camp in October 1969 was no ordinary event. It was planned to make a positive impression on all who witnessed, heard, or read of it. It was then and there that Alexander Bustamante and Norman Washington Manley were awarded their everlasting titles of national hero. A vast crowd of persons from many walks of life attended and heard the reading of the citations honouring two of the nation's greatest sons.
The scroll to Bustamante said in part: "Bustamante planned for Jamaica's future and when he was released, took up the battle, faced the challenges and drove and led this nation forever onward, forever seeking progress for the many; forever moving on to greater things ... ."
And of Norman Manley it was written: "Norman Washington Manley was the son of his times; a son of Jamaica, rooted in the land of his birth, in his people and in all their history and all their heritage, in all their sufferings, in all their strengths and in all their glory ... ."
Bustamante was there in person at Up Park Camp - the very place at which he was imprisoned for 17 months because of his liberating work on behalf of the trampled masses of his and succeeding generations. Manley, who had died just weeks before, was no doubt quite present in spirit, and moved by developments, was perhaps having second thoughts about his own proposal to move the military camp to Caymanas lands.
It might have seemed a good idea in the pre-Independence days while we were still associating Up Park Camp with the imperial rule about to be terminated. However, subsequent events and more thoughtful consideration should have prevailed and put to rest a concept we set aside some 50 years ago. What could have brought it back to the table when there are so many urgent issues pleading for our attention?!
what about the liberation story?
The present prime minister, not having taken our enlightened people into his confidence, finds it necessary to explain and defend that which in today's conditions might be considered both unpopular and nationally demeaning. Can retaining the Military Museum be enough to compensate for gross disfiguring of the nation's history and heritage? The museum tells the story of the army, but what about the story of the liberation!
Forty-odd years ago, the Government of the day devised a monument to National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante, and they erected it at Up Park Camp on the spot where he was once held prisoner. The then prime minister promised that it would last forever, surrounded by 38 acres including "a garden for the residents - members of the Jamaica Defence Force ... ."
To quote his words: " ... no building will be put on that spot for as long as ever; on that spot will remain that monument commemorating the release from detention of Alexander Bustamante, September 1940 to February 1942."
Some time before her passing, Lady Bustamante visited the monument and plaque she had unveiled. Alas! The promise had been betrayed by those entrusted with its care. The site had grown up in darnel, weed, and tares. We had already entered the age of forgetfulness and infidelity. And now we are hearing that Bustamante's own political movement is reviving and endorsing a plan to "rain on his parade" - a plan that even the successors of its author are looking on askance.
The size of the former imperial army headquarters has already been cut down to size. From it we have carved out Tom Redcam Drive. We have converted the military hospital into the Children's Hospital. We have used its lands for building the National Stadium and the Arena. We have transformed two of its ancillary properties into housing projects at Harbour View and east Mountain View Avenue.
What was once 500 acres of breathing space for the city and its people has been reduced to 90 hectares. Are we to further choke the lungs of the capital with coverings of concrete and the noxious fumes of motorised traffic?
The people are without sufficient information in this matter, and in days gone by, we might have been satisfied to leave our welfare entirely to the judgment of our representatives. Today, we have a responsibility to consider weighing our material needs against the well-being of our health and spirit. There must be a balance between a piece of earth and peace of mind.
Ken Jones is a veteran journalist. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org