From the late 'Foggy' Mullings' old ultra-safe seat of South East St Ann, Lisa Hanna, as minister of culture, is imploring us to use the memory of our National Heroes as a rallying point to build a better nation in the 21st century.
Minister Hanna was speaking at the annual salute to National Heroes at the poorly maintained National Heroes Park, on National Heroes Day, under the theme, 'Our History, Our Strength'. But first, we must get the history right. That enlightening running tussle between the youth and the old man with their own experiences and biases, Orville Taylor and Ken Jones, over the history of National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante just goes to show how weak even history within living memory can be and how much work there is to be done to get it right. The contest of views and data sets is a necessary part of the work if it is to be done right.
The problem with hero history though is that hero status converts human heroes with feet of clay into immaculate angels beyond all reproach. While Miss Hanna wants us to use sanitised hero history as the grand motivator to build a better nation, in the real history of the two National Heroes who have formed and led the two major political parties and their affiliated trade unions and who have led the Government of Jamaica at various times, there is also much to learn about how not to go about building a better nation.
There are reams of data, for example, on how the two political parties quickly descended into political tribalism and political violence which has been a defining feature of not building a better nation.
The party-trade union- government mix has had its own seriously negative impact on transforming and modernising the Jamaican economy, leaving the beloved Jamaican worker trapped in low-end work and poverty.
But responsibility does not stick to the Teflon-coated hero leaders.
Perfection is not a necessary feature for hero recognition. To avoid the mistakes and failures of the heroes, we must acknowledge them. As Jesus taught us, the truth has a powerfully liberating quality inherent in it. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
That accomplished jazz pianist turned politician, Seymour Mullings, we are now learning has left us without any formal recording of his virtuosity on the instrument. His immense political contribution as member of parliament, minister of a whole heap of things, and deputy prime minister, is equally patchy as far as systematic documentation goes. Fortunately, state documents should be lying around the place in some abundance from which the Foggy Mullings political story could be constructed along with living memory.
So many outstanding Jamaicans depart leaving only a hole in water as far as recorded history is concerned.
As we celebrate culture and heritage, too often we limit culture and heritage to song and dance, food and drink, folklore and fashion - the stuff of entertainment and celebration. I was really glad to hear resigned former chairman of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, Fae Ellington, pulling in other critical elements of culture and begging for their proper consideration as we appeared together last Sunday on RJR's weekly news review show, 'That's a Rap', with Earl Moxam and Delano Franklyn.
Quite frankly, if ackee and saltfish, and kumina and bandana disappeared tomorrow, Jamaica would still be recognisably Jamaica. But suppose our parliamentary democracy did? Or our judicial system of justice rooted in English Common Law?
Suppose the contributions of the Church should be wiped away, not just materially as in education but in the formation of the national spirit and view of the world, how would we be different as a people? I always like to point out, not some heavy church contribution but that the Christian hymn, Amazing Grace, written by converted slave trader turned parson, John Newton, is better known and used by more Jamaicans than any of Bob Marley's songs.
Suppose we lost English as our international language and spoke only the language of the tribe from which we variously came out of Africa and Asia?
As Minister Hanna spoke about "cultural identity" at the salute to the National Heroes at National Heroes Park on National Heroes Day, many residents of surrounding communities came out with their children to enjoy the high-quality, tastefully delivered musical treat. As The Gleaner reported in too brief an item the next day, "the family-friendly atmosphere at the park facilitated parents taking their children, some still in prams, to witness the latest renewal of the ceremony".
The country needs parks and green spaces particularly in the city, more beaches and mountain spaces, all safe for use. The country needs more museums for the display of all aspects of history, heritage and culture. The few museums that were established in the past are now being left to go to pot.
Celebrating heritage and culture needs much more than special occasions like Emancipendence and National Heritage Week. But those celebrations do matter. Where I disagree with Fae and agree with the Government, if the story about the reason for her resignation from chairing the JCDC is true, is spending money on the big annual celebrations. Even more money should be spent on setting up and maintaining the parks and museums and in building and maintaining public buildings as centres of heritage and cultural pride.
National Heroes Park itself needs to be radically uplifted as the chief heritage and culture space of the country and gracious green space which can be safely used by citizens.
CULTURE AND HERITAGE
Trained historian Arnold Bertram, a former minister of culture, and self-confessed ganja-farmer Ras Puddler, and the Observer, share the Big Silly Blunder Award for last week. And their blunders are not unrelated to culture and heritage.
Bertram wants the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, named after Jamaica's second prime minister, to be renamed after one of his favoured heroes of the proletariat, AGS Coombs. Or to be more technically correct in the interest of historical accuracy, he has indicated that he did not actually make the call for the political rebranding himself but merely supported the view of members of the audience to whom he had delivered the inaugural AGS 'Father' Coombs Lecture, who had moved a resolution calling for the renaming of the airport.
The Observer editorialised, 'Fahget it'!' But the shredding of the Bertram-supported renaming proposal that the paper's 'Talk Back' feature provided from readers took the cake. Someone even suggested, matching absurdity with its own kind, "how about naming the Paul Bogle statue after Robert Pickersgill?"
On the occasion of the Coombs Lecture, Arnold also proposed that a committee be set up to collect and archive data on Jamaican history. "You must have something of a secretariat that can collect data, that people know they can send information to, or people know they can go to collect [get] this information."
But that is the mandate of the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) from the time it was established in 1979, the 100th anniversary year of the West India Reference Library of the Institute of Jamaica which the NLJ absorbed!
What is really needed is an enforcement of the Deposit Act and a far more vigorous use of the treasure trove of archived material so that the NLJ does not operate merely as a museum of unused material as current Director Winsome Hudson fears.
Growing and smoking ganja is almost as cultural as eating ackee and saltfish. But ganja remains illegal. Ras Puddler, carried away by the occasion of the Peter Tosh Earthstrong concert last Sunday, and possibly by what he was pulling from a chillum pipe, identified himself and allowed the Observer in a piece of highly irresponsible journalism to photograph him puffing away and to interview him for an incriminating story started on the paper's front page on Wednesday. The next day the paper with equal front page publicity announced, 'Arrested!'
Puss an' dwag doan have the same luck, and circumstances alter cases. People other than Ras Puddler bun di weed at the Tosh concert, including foreign nationals, in full view of police officers without a single arrest, the paper reports. And Peter Tosh himself had lit up in front of then Prime Minister Michael Manley and Leader of the Opposition Edward Seaga at the One Love Peace concert in 1978 without incident. But with this concert done and an identified man appearing on the front page of a national newspaper flouting the law, did Ras and the Observer expect law enforcement not to do anything? Now here's a real hero defending the heritage of the weed!
Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.