What are we leaving behind as the legacy projects of Jamaica 50 celebrations? Hindsight is 20/20, and in looking back, there are some things I would have liked to see done as part of the legacy of Jamaica 50 celebrations.
Right at the top of my list would be Anthem 2, a powerful piece of patriotic music in the genre of Anthem 1 commemorating the nation's first 50 years of Independence. Anthem 1, the national anthem, is a musically rich, sublime prayer of commitment, hope and expectation. Anthem 2 would commemorate, give thanks, and re-energise in a similar spirit.
Along the same lines, Jamaica 50 offered an excellent opportunity for a mass planting of the national tree (the blue mahoe) and the trees which bear the national flower (lignum vitae) and the national fruit (ackee), especially by children to whom the future belongs. The trees have significant economic value, and planting them on a commercial scale in year 50 would have been a valuable legacy exercise.
More challenging, but perhaps even more necessary, is the establishment of a breeding programme for the national bird, the swallow-tailed hummingbird, or doctor bird, which is now rare. The iguana has been successfully bred back from the brink of extinction. Several other native endangered species need assistance to ensure survival for the next 50 years. Over the last 50 years, Jamaica has joined the rest of the world in rising environmental consciousness and the Charter of Rights promulgates "the right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from ... degradation of the ecological heritage". Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, which launched the environmental movement, was published in 1962.
Marketing nat'l symbols
When it comes to the national symbols, at the very least, a pretty packaging of them for free mass distribution, particularly to school children, and using the media to reinforce their meaning and significance as reflections of our heritage and culture, could easily have been done.
A golden jubilee is a time for histories. We have badly missed that opportunity. Marcus Garvey, whose 'day' passed last Friday, August 17, told us that a people without a knowledge of their past is like a tree without roots. This year should have seen appearing definitive biographies of our national heroes, the prime ministers of the first 50 years, and the governors general, at least.
An explosion of histories of institutions, sectors, major events and developments, and key players should have taken place. Political, economic, social, religious, educational, scientific histories should have poured forth. These would need sufficient lead time for conceptualisation and execution and can't be dashed off like organising a function.
The Gleaner, one of the oldest surviving institutions in our midst, having been established six weeks after Emancipation in 1834, has put out from its archives, in conjunction with Ian Randle Publishers, a delightful glossy hardcover souvenir keepsake, Jamaica: 50 Golden Moments, 1962-2012. Speaking for itself, the publication, arranged decade by decade, says, "Jamaica: 50 Golden Moments, 1962-2012 captures, through photographic medium, high points in the nation's defining moments since August 6, 1962 ... . This sampling of golden moments includes events in the fields of politics, sports, the arts, finance and industry."
Low moments and non-golden moments are obviously excluded, but could be included in somebody else's history. The death of a prime minister in office, Sir Donald Sangster, five years into Independence, would be one such low non-golden memorable moment. As would be the deaths of the two national heroes who were alive in Independence, Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante, and the passing of prime ministers and governors general, as well as a decades-old crime wave, politics, and natural disasters.
Three weeks before Independence Day, the JIS unveiled with great fanfare its own photo album, Our Golden Jubilee: Snapshots of Post-Independent Jamaica, 1962-2012, "depicting seminal moments in the nation's life through the decades." The problem is, nobody who was not at the launch can see these images. The unveiling had nothing behind the veil that the public can see or purchase. The JIS has been taking orders yet to be filled.
Unused, unknown history
The Government's information service, recording as it does the affairs of state and of country, has one of the most comprehensive archives of print, sound and film material waiting to be mined and repackaged as historical material for public education.
The sound and film archives of the government-owned Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) have gone to pot, we have been advised. JBC is an early child of Independence, with the radio service launched in 1959, three years ahead of Independence, and television service launched on the first anniversary of Independence in 1963. But even when the station was operating in a 'bruk-pocket' Jamaica, valuable material was scrubbed from tapes so they could be reused.
RJR has sound archives going back to 1950, and one of its senior journalists, Earl Moxam, the finest historical journalist in the country, did an excellent job of mining those archives for the golden jubilee. It was a thrill to hear those voices from the past. A big drawback, though, is the lack of permanent access.
The archives of the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), built around the collections of the Institute of Jamaica's West India Reference Library dating back to 1879, remain largely unused as a gold mine of historical data. The library offers a low-cost research assistance service.
The UWI has an excellent sound archive in its Radio Education Unit, which remains largely unused. I had the pleasure of hearing sound clips from the REU of Martin Luther King addressing the UWI graduation ceremony of 1965.
There are surviving voice clips of Marcus Garvey speaking rapid fire which was captured on 78rpm records and are now available on the Internet. But apparently none of these belong to Jamaica. In any case, the academic study centres on Marcus Garvey, Jamaica's first designated national hero, whose remains were repatriated from Britain in 1964 to wild jubilation, are all abroad.
The University of Technology (UTech), first established as the Jamaica Institute of Technology in 1958 in preparation for Independence and quickly becoming the College of Arts, Science and Technology, has produced a documentary video on its own contributions to nation building since Independence. Many more institutions, public and private, could have done so.
With copies deposited with the NLJ, as mandated by law, what a rich treasure trove of our first 50 years there would be! Digital video technology, undreamt of in 1962, provides a rich - and cheap - medium for packaging and distributing history in pictures, sound and text.
At the launch of the UTech documentary, a video clip of the Inde-pendence negotiation conference at Lancaster House in London was looped while we waited for the start. I didn't even know that such a film document existed. How many other Jamaicans know about it?
We have allowed all of the conference participants and Constitution negotiators, except one, to pass on without a comprehensive documentation of those immediate events leading up to our Independence, calling upon their memories. The golden jubilee offered an opportunity to document the story of how we got our Independence and to tell it to mass audiences.
So, yes, plenty more histories for the golden jubilee! And, along with those histories, an Independence museum. Sports has been one of our strengths in Independence and the Government has made a big thing of launching a sports museum. But a full-fledged Independence museum, filled with memorabilia from 1962 and the following 50 years, would have been more important and more truly 'national'.
Despite the poverty, and the debt, I would have loved to see a monumental Parliament building, set in gracious grounds at National Heroes Park, opened and occupied on the exact day of the golden jubilee. Or at least ground broken with pomp and circumstance in the jubilee year. Government is running scared of negative public opinion that we are too poor to do it and a new Parliament building would be politicians feathering their own nests. We have been there with the National Stadium and the Jamaica Conference Centre. Public pride would soon replace public criticism.
Along the same lines, the golden jubilee should have seen the upgrade of a major public building in every parish capital. The parish council offices? The courthouse? The divisional headquarters of the Jamaica Constabulary Force? The post office?
Music has been touted as another great field of achievement of our Independence. Fab 5, with friends has put out a delightful CD, 1962-2012: 50 Years of Jamaican Music, carrying the biggest hit for each year. So much more could be done by so many others, including the Government, to document the music. Where is the CD/DVD with all the winners of the Festival Song Competition? Where is the documentation of the performance of 'folk music' over these years? Where is the documentation of the rich local gospel music output?
As my wife keeps telling me, many of these projects need not have been a burden to the 'bruk-pocket' Government which only needed to pull the concepts together, energise the country around the ideas, and canvass private-sector support, project by project. My big interests for Jamaica 50 centre on reflection, documentation, preservation, and education.
And speaking of education, it was an excellent idea to have the schools reconvene for Independence Day celebrations, as they did in 1962, but the plan was too late and too unstructured for maximum effect. Memorabilia and documentation should have been available free for the children to whom the future belongs, and programme guidelines and support made available to the teachers. The school used to be a centre of civic and community life.
Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.