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Honouring Jamaica's first national hero

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, August 17, 2018

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How many of us out there can answer the question: Who is Jamaica's first national hero? Do you know when was the date of his birth anyway? You don't know? You'd better start a quick search and be ready to show off how well-educated you are — or how fast you can Google the answer. Our nation's first national hero is Marcus Mosiah Garvey, born August 17, 1887.

By now we should know that our national heroes are discussed by our people almost more than any other group. We are often discussing the who and why of those worthy of the honour. Today, we are now ready to celebrate the 131st anniversary of the birth of the Jamaican who was conferred with the Order of National Hero in 1969 when the leaders of that time sought to find individuals who could inspire the newly independent nation.

As Garvey grew into adulthood, he began to share not only with his people, but others of the outside world, his views of making a better life for descendants of Africa. In 1917 Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica, and then in the following years branches were instituted in several countries, Cuba and the USA among them. He became a renowned voice in areas of the African continent where he was highly honoured and respected. One of his most noted declarations: “Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will” has encouraged many across the world.

Since then, Garvey has been hailed for his sensitivity to the needs of people open to black radical thought. For some, his views were too strong, and it is felt that his conviction for mail fraud in the US was engineered by those who were concerned about his growing influence and power. He was deported to Jamaica in 1927. It was not a friendly homecoming. Eventually Garvey left for England, where he died in 1940.

In 1964 Garvey's body was brought back to Jamaica with the intervention of Edward Seaga, who was by then a member of the nation's Cabinet. He was laid to rest at National Heroes' Circle and his remains lie there to this day.

Garvey was a scholar and lecturer who spoke highly of the value of education. He once said, “It is by education that we become prepared for our duties and responsibilities in life.” Another quote says: “Never stop learning. The world's greatest men and women… educated themselves outside of the university… you have the opportunity of doing the same thing the university student does — read and study.”

In keeping with his views, a multimedia museum for the extension of his knowledge is now brought to the people's attention at Liberty Hall on King Street in downtown Kingston, for the benefit of the Jamaican people at home and guests visiting from abroad.

In respect to the country of his birth, Garvey has left behind a rich legacy. His words and thoughts remain alive. Today, on the anniversary of his birth, Liberty Hall will host its 9th Annual Marcus Mosiah Garvey Lecture, and the museum will be free and open to the public. There will be other celebrations, including the laying of floral tributes at his grave site; and a civic ceremony will also take place in his birth parish of St Ann.

In this time, Jamaicans have the opportunity to celebrate National Hero Marcus Garvey as we will. He advised that, “We must…elevate and honour black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our… history.”

Passing of literary giants

The voices of the Caribbean, from east to south, resonate with the news of the death of noted author V S Naipaul who passed away on August 11. Naipaul and Derek Walcott were two of the region's most interesting writers. For years the quality of the creative spirit was strong with them, and patrons of Caribbean literature revelled in their art of writing. Their contribution in the area of literature was of such a level that both men received the Nobel Prize, one of the highest awards in the world.

Walcott wrote mostly for the theatre and is also known for his poetry. At one stage of his career he came to Jamaica each summer as he prepared for his theatrical works staged in Trinidad. Derek was noted for his sharp and often caustic wit which never failed. He was a grandmaster from one end of the region.

Naipual, who was born in Trinidad but lived for many years in England, also gained attention for his novels on West Indian life. Somewhere along the lines these two Caribbean men could have been close colleagues, but it wasn't so. There was disaffection between the two men, at times quite childish and petulant.

It was the talk on all sides. People in Trinidad and St Lucia chatted about it: What was the purpose? The two a dem can write, so why the chupidness? Derek got a lecturer's post in the USA. The work was good, except that he got into serious trouble when an incident with a female student nearly got him incarcerated. He wisely headed back home. He still wrote for many more years.

We didn't see Naipaul much. He seemed to have little care for his homeland. He wrote and said things which were seen as sexist and racist. He was often in contention with others — and seemed to enjoy it.

Time was moving against them. Derek went first, battling illness for some time. His journey came to a close in 2017. He passed away in St Lucia, place of his birth. For Naipual, the book of life closed in England. They were two men who were blessed with great gifts. Despite their personal flaws, their power of creativity will be remembered. The Caribbean will never be the same again.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@gmail.com.

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