Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Emancipendence is more than festivity

Published:Thursday | August 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Jaevion Nelson

Now that we have culminated yet another 'emancipendence' celebration with the Independence Gala - to the tune of $57 million - we must question the efficacy of such an expensive investment and what it means for our development, vis-a-vis self-governance and knowledge of who we are as a people.

Imagine, after 52 years of independence and 176 years of emancipation, many of us still do not know that it was Marcus Garvey who said we must "emancipate ourselves from mental slavery" and not Bob Marley, who popularised it. If we intend to seriously impact the dismal path our state has found itself on, we must make significant changes to our educational curriculum to include the teachings of people like Garvey.

We can't keep celebrating an independence which we know very little about beyond the performance of what we think are important pieces of our history.

Emancipendence celebrations

Our 'emancipendence' celebration must be (more?) purposeful. It must cause us, as a people, to have more pride in our country and feel as though we all have value, whether we are the descendant of a slave, backra massa, Indian Chief or Chiney Man. It must help us to know that we are beautiful no matter the colour of our skin and that it will not limit our opportunities and empowerment. And, importantly, we must culminate on August 6 each year more knowledgeable about who we are as a people.

I am sure the organisers have thought about these things. Our Government has a responsibility to ensure all Jamaicans, regardless of race, colour, class or creed, feel they belong and are of value to the country. I applaud the efforts of the Ministry of Culture/Jamaica Cultural Development Commission to integrate educational events/activities in the annual programme to include issues like bleaching and beauty and slavery and indentureship. However, I don't know if at the end of 'emancipendence' Jamaicans recognise it is more than just a fanfare and having a wallawampus time. Are we more knowledgeable about our history? Are we (more) proud to be Jamaican as we would during the Olympics?

The Independence Grand Gala, for example, must do more than let us know that we are a diverse country - that we are 'Out of Many, One People'. It must raise our awareness about pertinent issues that are critical to our socio-economic and development needs as we seek to achieve Vision 2030.

Besides, I don't think Grand Gala should fashion the format used in 1962 when Princess Margaret was chauffeured in a luxurious vehicle and we put on a grand show to celebrate our independence. It's also a similar kind of pageantry that saw slaves performing for backra massa.

Let's forget about the fanfare for a while and think about our political culture as an independent nation and how it impacts on our development.

Politics in Independent Jamaica

I, like our leaders, believe Jamaica can be the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business. However, our political leaders must be more honest about the past for us to move forward. According to political scientists and criminologists, the political instability during the 1980s was a cruel time in our history. Among other things, they attribute our high levels of crime and violence to this period.

Our leaders must admit their role in this unfortunate period for us to move on. Many lives were destroyed. We have to speak openly about what happened in that period to right what's wrong with our political culture—to be truly independent of a time in our history that we are clearly ashamed of. It is also important that we learn from it. We might need a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with the political wrongs of the '80s.

Imagine, there was a time in post-independent Jamaica when people had to hide certain books pertaining to black consciousness because it was deemed offensive to have one in your possession! Books were banned. You couldn't buy them here or take them into the country. In fact, people like Walter Rodney, who was known for working with the masses to empower them about their potential, were banned.

In all the celebration, which is also important to national pride, let us not lose sight of the fact that this is about recognising how far we have come as a people. Let us use the lessons we have learned over the years to move forward. We need to go back to a time when we were more interested in social and ideological issues that impacted on national development.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to and