Round Table with Oscar
August 25, 2015
Underneath history

Looking back at the last 100 years of life in SVG, what are the events that we might ‘Power Point’ on the screen? Help me with this. In the first 50 years, will we include events like two world wars, hardships and a riot in 1935; the rise of new organizations like the Working Man’s Association and trade unions; then the coming of Adult Suffrage and the first general elections, diluting the political authority of the estate-planter elite?{{more}} How about the new political leaderships and our place in the West Indian Federation; then Associate Statehood and the provision of more social and infrastructure facilities? Should we mention the banana industry and the credit unions up there with the rest? Let us pause here.

When we look at history as headlines, or billboard slogans, as we have just done, it is ‘official’ eyes that we use to see our past. We make ourselves into objects of institutions and we disappear from sight and significance. Even the history of the banana industry and the credit unions becomes overloaded with numbers. Tons of fruit and acres of cultivation, combined with millions of dollars, along with official elites, fill the history pages. It is as if they had left home early, tools in hand, trod the mountain road, returning to home and shop and church till next day. This one-sided ownership of history snuffles out and buries the day-to-day lives of those who make history outside of the official institutions.

I had a peek into the underside, the underneath history a few days ago.

A community leader, 100 years old, being laid to rest, revealed in the words of her children the material and the spirit that our grandparents made history with. A mother of 15 children, widowed for the greater part of her adult life, Letitia Dick Jackson was an exemplary rural working class woman. Poverty did not crush her; in fact, she created wealth for the nation out of her own inventiveness and her desire to have her children do well. She created food when scarcity abounded and clothes when the time demanded it. From a bed sheet, a starched shirt adorned one son who had been called to start a teaching career the next day. Into the community, sons and daughters, at home and overseas, took up effective roles, leading positions, and made simple, as well as outstanding contributions to civic life, education, and security services. History and historic personalities were hammered out of the 100 years of day-to-day sacrifices, struggles and triumphs of the family relations of Letitia Jackson on the underside of history. The history on the billboards was borne on the shoulders of home experiences, daily toil, committed minds, wedded lives, spiritual empowerment and social visions of our generations past. And sadly, we have been taught to consider their lives as the dross that history does not need.

Just add together the million ‘underneath’ Vincentian _ Yurumein persons and lives that have built and hurt this landscape over the last 1,000 years, and see our past through a frame that respects, even exalts them. Perhaps in that way of seeing things, two world wars may no longer find a significant place on our history billboard. There is in your daily life practices, and also in mine, potential and space to make history from underneath. In our simple struggles and facing our more complex challenges, the quality of intention and the material in ourselves that we put into living can really make a difference in what the results will be in the longer term. Our daily living activities count. Yours and mine, just as Letitia’s and thousands more of us. History is ours to make.