Devon Dick | Eulogising an encounter with Eddie
When the Most Honourable Edward Seaga was leader of the opposition, Senator Prudence Kidd-Deans arranged for me to make a presentation of my first book, Rebellion to Riot: The Jamaican Church in Nation Building to him. What ensued was no diplomatic discussion on divinity. Rather, Mr Seaga showed great interest in the book and the contribution of the collective church in nation building. The discourse was engaging. Seaga, having done research on folk religion, was knowledgeable about the church’s contribution to the development of Jamaica.
Seaga was also an active participant in the church, having been raised a Seventh-day Adventist. During his time as prime minister, he was confirmed an Anglican by Bishop Alfred Reid and attended the St Andrew Parish Church. However, his ties with the former state church did not prevent him from promoting the Pentecostal wing of the church even as he explored and appreciated folk religion. Seaga was the first prime minister to give national recognition to fundamentalist denominations, whereas formerly the political space was dominated by traditional churches. My encounter provided an opportunity to explore such topics.
What I did not expect was a question Seaga asked and a suggestion he made. Seaga asked how many times his name was mentioned and how many times Michael Manley’s name was mentioned in my book. And he checked the index to verify. Fortunately for me, in the book there is a picture of him and Manley, then leader of the opposition, at the 1981 National Prayer Breakfast holding hands and being prayed for by Gerry Gallimore, then chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast. I wondered why he asked about Manley only. Perhaps, Seaga saw Manley as a worthy political competitor. Furthermore, he told me if I wanted to sell many copies of the book, I should name many people in the book. He was a pragmatic marketer.
Seaga also showed generosity of spirit by returning the favour. He gave me a book of some of his thoughts.
The encounter in Seaga’s office was interesting, seeing the many pictures of him with renowned leading regional and international figures. It was a history lesson. Hopefully, some of these pictures will be placed in a museum with more detailed captions. That would be a fitting eulogy to Seaga.
Care needs to be taken to ensure a fitting tribute to this former statesman. I recall Olive Lewin, founder of Jamaica Folk Singers, on receiving a prestigious award, telling a Caribbean audience about the support given by Edward Seaga in her pioneering work in folk music. With his involvement in local music and his contribution to the folk genre, imagine how it would have been to welcome home his body to the arrangements of reggae music such as ‘No woman nuh Cry’ or ‘Three Little Birds’ by Robert ‘Bob’ Marley instead of the playing of the pre-Independence German Opera piece, ‘The Pilgrim’s Chorus’ (Tannhäuser) composed by Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-83). Space could also have been made for the Tivoli Band and Jamaica Folk Singers. It would have been a more fitting honour to Mr Seaga; one who has reaffirmed our identity and appreciation of our musical heritage.
An appropriate eulogy to the culturally conscious former prime minister would be to ensure the arrangements for his stately farewell, incorporate folk music and folk religion.
Sincere condolences to the Seaga family.
PS. Condolences to the families of C. Evans Bailey, Gilbert Bowen and former fellow Gleaner columnist Martin Henry. Bailey, former president of the Methodist District, will be remembered for quotable quotes, including the one he gave in 1983 at Sabina Park as Baptists celebrated 200 years. At that encounter, he said Baptists should not baptise the converted only, but also convert the baptised. Bowen served the Methodist Synod and Mead Haven Ministers Fraternal as secretary with faithfulness and aplomb.
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.