The National Hero debate: Add or Deepen?
Eye of the Needle
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
March 18, 2022
The National Hero debate: Add or Deepen?

PRIME MINISTER Dr Ralph Gonsalves has again said that it is high time for the designation of additional persons to the hallowed status of National Hero, hitherto the sole preserve of Paramount Chief of the Garifuna nation, the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer.

The statement was made during his feature address at the wreath-laying ceremony to honour Chatoyer on National Heroes Day.

One can well understand the underlying political and personal pressures being exerted for the additional appointment, given that it is two decades since Chatoyer’s elevation and in spite of the additional recommendations being boiled down to four names, no concrete step has been taken for any new appointment. The recent action by Barbados to add to its list of National Heroes may also have added to the pressures.

This columnist has long expressed concern over such “pressures” influencing the timing of the appointment of additional Heroes. How demand-driven is it? Why the constant nudging and urging? Then, in spite of the apparent acceptance that the addition/s should come from among E.T.
Joshua, R.M. Cato, Dr. J.P. Eustace and George A. McIntosh, there is no known consensus on whether it should be all or between 1 to 3 of those so recommended.

“Whilst it may be possible to get some concessions on the candidacies of Dr. Eustace and Mr. McIntosh, it seems more difficult to arrive at a consensus on the Joshua and Cato nominations. A further complication is that while a compromise to accept both may be possible, there is a body of opinion that neither deserves such exalted status”. (Taken from In the Eye of the Needle, SEARCHLIGHT, Nov. 21, 2017).

Almost five years later it is my opinion that the situation has not changed significantly. In addition, with the deceased Sir James Mitchell having now fulfilled the requirement of being deceased, there are those among us who would attach his name to those of Joshua and Cato as a possible candidate. After all, since the Committee to make the recommendation was established, members of the public have been raising other names, most on very tenuous grounds, so why not Mitchell, some may argue. We must remind them that this is serious business, not a popularity contest or one for political football.

I have some other concerns. Chief among them is the nagging one that why are we looking for more Heroes when we have not demonstrated the level of respect for the lone National Hero which ought to be accorded to one of such revered status? More than anything else we have failed in the area of public education about Chatoyer and the Garifuna. Yes, we have progressed from the colonial understanding of them being “savages” and “cannibals” as perpetrated by the colonizers. But it is my opinion that in spite of the romanticism about Chatoyer as a “warrior”, there is insufficient appreciation of what his defence of his homeland means, an understanding of his other attributes and how his National Hero status reflects on our treatment of his people, the Garifuna, and the Kalinago descendants as well. Have we erased the negatives still spouted so often about the “Carib” people?

Then there is National Heroes Day itself. Of course, there must be commendation for the ULP government’s actions in giving recognition to the day and its activities organized annually in that regard. But can we say that we are satisfied with the annual ritual at Dorsetshire Hill? If not on an annual basis, is it not possible, and desirable to at least every five or ten years, upgrade the ceremony on a massive scale, especially focusing on our children and youth to get them involved in the process instead of viewing the Dorsetshire Hill events as a television occurrence?

Both political parties send their leadership to the wreath-laying ceremony with all the usual platitudes, but don’t they collectively believe that it warrants a mass mobilization of their supporters to pay homage to the Paramount Chief? Are mass mobilizations only for political/electoral ends?

We can go further. Since the process of additional recommendations was started, there has been no significant ceremony or activity to help to imbue the population with a greater appreciation of the valuable contributions of the four prominent nominees. Yes, we have named buildings after them, but little else. Their birth dates and dates of physical departure pass annually with little notice except for old “cogs” like me.

It is Bro. Noel Jackson of the National Workers’ Movement with support for the Solidarity Car Park who has tried to make Joshua’s grave site a respectful one. Why can’t the ULP, in the case of Cato, and the NDP, in Joshua’s case, at least do something to honour the memories of those from whose legacies they benefit?

If we can’t do these simple things, why do we want to add to the list of Heroes? Heroes without honour?