HAPPY 51st INDEPENDENCE DAY, JAMAICA!!!
We’ve reached another milestone on our path as a sovereign nation, which began on midnight, Monday, August 6, 1962. We’re now 51 years old!
This is still quite young in the scheme of things, which means we’re still going through growing pains – in some instances, these growing pains are very painful indeed! – but still we must recognise this as a moment of reflection, remembrance and celebration. Okay, I see the question marks above your heads readers, especially from the Jamaican readers! Celebrate? What exactly do we have to celebrate, you ask? A growing national debt, growing unemployment and increasing numbers of unemployable? Rise in all categories of crime? Decreased national productivity to breathe much-needed life into the ailing economy? Increased living expenses yet no light at the end of the tunnel for increases in employees’ salaries?
Okay, okay, okay, I get your point readers. These are all happening now in Jamaica land we love but I don’t think it should negate us pausing for a moment to recognise this milestone in our history and development as we now turn 51, reflect on the past 50 years, and contemplate the future. After all that is what history is all about, as so brilliantly put by Eric W. Sager, from the Times Colonist, on March 15, 2013, in his Comment: History is more than just getting the facts right:
History is not the past, dead and gone for all but a few fact-obsessed zealots. History is the past that exists in the present: It is the social memory that guides us between past, present and future. Without it, we have amnesia, and we cannot see our way clearly.
This is my new favourite quote about the role of history! Jamaica, have we included our history in our toolbox to develop the country? Hmm, that’s a whole other post or more!
Celebrating Jamaica 51
So back to Jamaica’s 51st Independence celebrations. On Monday, July 22, the Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna, launched the Emancipation and Independence (Emancipendence for short) celebrations for 2013, announcing that the theme for this year’s celebration is Celebrating Jamaica: Triumphant, Proud and Free. The Minister outlined that “the objectives of the celebrations are to: commemorate the country’s 51st year of political independence, and give Jamaicans an opportunity to collect keepsakes from ‘Jamaica 50’; offer presentations in dance, music, theatre and visual arts; and to recognize national heroes, Jamaican icons, and institutions” (Jamaica Information Service, Monday, 22 July 2013). The celebrations will run from July 31 to August 6, with July 31-August 1 dedicated to observing Emancipation. The Minister also announced that the budget for these celebrations is JA$100 million.
The public’s disapproval to the Minister’s announcement was swift, with many within the society bitterly against the celebrations, describing them as a waste of resources as the money could be used for other more dire activities. The Minister was prepared for this backlash and made it clear at the launch that “it is important to stage these activities within a fiscally responsible framework” and that “even during periods of austerity, these activities are vital because of the role of culture in empowering the spirit of the nation during these times” (Jamaica Information Service, Monday, 22 July 2013).
This kind of public response is nothing new; for instance, the public’s responses to the national celebrations for Jamaica’s 18th Independence in 1980 were similar. In 1980, the 18th Independence celebrations were a week-long affair, from Sunday, July 27, to Monday, August 4. However the divisions within the country, driven by bitter political rivalries and the rising spate of gun violence, left many persons suggesting scrapping the celebrations outright. One letter writer to The Sunday Gleaner, August 3, 1980, pg. 5, stated the following:
Sir, if the motto for Jamaica’s independence is “Out of Many One People” then I think the celebration to mark this year’s Independence in August should be suspended. Never in the history of Jamaica have the people been so divided. The celebration then would only make a mockery of this motto.
Déjà vu anyone?
I agree with Minister Hanna, but up to a point: it is how we celebrate/employ our culture during these austere times that makes the difference.
Let’s take a look at the celebrations for Jamaica 51:
Hmmm… To be honest, these activities are really no different from what happens most Independence Day celebrations since I can remember. For instance, there’s always Mello Go Roun’, the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen Coronation event and Grand Gala. And the same goes for the Jamaica Independence celebrations at the parish levels. I think what we’re seeing here is the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s (JCDC) regularly budgeted programme of activities.
Of course the celebrations for Jamaica 50 were extraordinary because of the significance of 2012 being our Jubilee year as an Independent nation. So again, why the public backlash against spending the budgeted JA$100 million on these forms of celebration? My guess is that members of the public cannot see the tangible benefits of these slated activities for Jamaica during these times of economic hardships and uncertainties. Does our history hold lessons from which we can learn?
To answer my question I searched through one of my favourite historical resources, the Gleaner Archives. My initial plan was to provide a list of the past National Independence celebrations from 1962 to 2013, but decided best to provide an example of how our past holds lessons for our present and future activities; in this case for more strategic Independence Day celebrations that integrates our vision for Jamaica.
August 6, 1962: the beginning
The celebrations for 1962 were monumental. After all, this was the day that marked the beginning of our 51 years as an Independent nation so the country went all out to celebrate this new beginning. I wont go into the details of these national celebrations as the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) has a section of its website dedicated to the 1962 Independence celebrations.
However, I came across the following jointly sponsored advertisement in The Sunday Gleaner for July 8, 1962, pg. 9, from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and the Independence Celebrations Committee, that caught my attention:
While the emphasis of this ad is for sprucing up Jamaica for the big day, think of how such a concept would do so well for the morale of our citizens during Jamaica 51, especially once strategically tied to the Vision 2030 Jamaica: National Development Plan? I think people would see such a move as a small but tangible effort on the part of the Government to place Jamaica on a better footing: increase awareness of the need for greater emphasis on the environment as it is recognised “that healthy, productive and protective environments, social systems and economies are the bases of development, sustainability and human welfare” (Goal 4: Jamaica has a healthy natural environment, Vision 2030, pg. 30).
And we could rally everyone to get on board via the mechanism of our culture. These are small steps, but, as one of our Jamaican proverbs so succinctly put it, yuh haffi “creep before yuh walk.”
Jamaica langah dan rope but it takes many threads combined to make the rope strong. Let’s be a bit more strategic in what we do as a nation. These austere times demand more creative and innovative approaches that not only serves to celebrate and reflect but also strengthen our resolve for positive growth. This kind of approach will go a far way in making “Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.”
Until next time…
Jamaica Information Service (2013). Emancipation and Independence Celebrations Launched. Monday, 22 July 2013
Planning Institute of Jamaica (2009). Vision 2030 Jamaica: National Development Plan.
Sager, Eric W. (2013) Comment: History is more than just getting the facts rights. Times Colonist, March 15, 2013
The Sunday Gleaner for July 8, 1962, pg. 9
The Sunday Gleaner, August 3, 1980, pg. 5