From all reports the activities relating to our commemoration of national Heroes Day turned out to be another success, as they ought to be. The important annual Garifuna Conference organized by the Garifuna Foundation, the visit by the Garifuna delegation from Central America and the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the Chatoyer obelisk on Dorsetshire Hill, reputed site where Chatoyer was killed, all left positive impressions.
Much praise must deservedly go to the organizers at all levels- the Garifuna Foundation, the community and schools cooperants and the participants (the local “culture persons” who, in spite of the odds keep our cultural flag flying), the Garifuna communities abroad, and, I must add, the invaluable assistance of the Vincentian consulate in New York which demonstrates the value of positive leadership. The supportive and facilitation role of our government was also a major factor especially given earlier attempts to sow divisions between it and the leadership of the Garifuna community abroad.
There are, for me, two aspects of the commemorative activities on which I would like to comment. These are the issues pertaining to national sovereignty arising from the proposed sale of the sacred island of Balliceaux, and the ongoing matter of the naming of more National Heroes.
On the first matter, it is ironic that on the eve of our National Heroes Day activities, an advertisement should appear in the international press, announcing the possible sale of one of our Grenadine islands, Balliceaux. That island is considered sacred by the Garifuna people. It was the first stage of their enforced exile from their homeland where thousands of them died before the remainder were shipped off to Central America, with a view to them finally perishing out of existence.
Not so ironic though if one has historical memory. As long ago as 1976, around this same time of year, the VINCENTIAN newspaper (Feb.13), carried an advertisement for the sale of another “private” Grenadine island, Mayreau, for the sum of EC$9 million, and three years later, right on the verge of our national independence, an outstanding son of the soil, now deceased, Alfie Roberts, wrote from Canada to the local press about the advertised sale of the famous Mustique island.
Alfie, who had the honour of being the first “small islander” to play Test cricket for the West Indies, then urged the government to take steps towards resolving definitively the private ownership of Grenadine islands “in favour of the undisputed sovereign and indivisible national patrimony”.
More than three decades later we are confronted again with this issue.
It was therefore heartening to hear the positive response of the Prime Minister at the March 14 activity, accepting the recommendation of the Garifuna Foundation for Balliceaux to be acquired as a national heritage and developed by government and civil society in that regard. There must be no prevarications as to whether some private purchaser wants it for what might seem to be a “good” purpose. Let us have it resolved “definitively”, to quote Alfie, for once and for all.
More National Heroes?
The second set of issues arise from the indication by the Prime Minister that more National Heroes are to be considered. Thus far, Paramount Chief Chatoyer is, deservedly, the sole Hero, but for some reason it appears that the government is not satisfied with the sole designation. Each year we hear about more considerations.
Without at this stage even dwelling on the merits or demerits of further claims, there are to my mind two more sets of urgent priorities.
First, we need to have Chatoyer properly honoured and recognized as such. It is all “good and noble” to have the wreath-laying ceremony at Dorsetshire Hill. That should continue to be part of the national tribute as the Balliceaux pilgrimage, but our sole National Hero deserves more. More in terms of a larger location, a concerted effort to mobilize a much broader national participation, including schools, and of course the inadequate educational programme needs to be addressed. One of the Garifuna leaders, James Lovell, has put forward perfectly sensible proposals which we can adopt and follow. Is that not much more reasonable than continuing to speculate who else should be heroes? After all, they are all dead and hardly likely to complain whether they become heroes now or in 10 years’ time.
We can also take the opportunity to resolve the ongoing issue of National Dress and institute National Awards for those recognized for outstanding national service. Let us not bite off more than we can chew. Let Chatoyer have his exalted space and be suitably revered as such before getting into all these unnecessary arguments about who deserves what. We have time for that. This time is for Chatoyer and our heroic ancestors.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.