PM Gonsalves, former Prime Ministers Kenny Anthony, and PJ Patterson were quickly off the mark advocating following Barbados into a Republican form of government. This issue I will take up next week. In SVG many were delighted that Rihanna Fenty had become Barbados’ eleventh national hero. The discussion naturally touched on having a living person as a national hero. I intended this morning, Wednesday December 8, to have written on a different matter but a discussion on radio has pushed me in this direction. Part of the conversation had to do with whether or not Kevin Lyttle should be made a national hero. Sometimes as I listen to discussions on some of these Talk Shows, I wish that the facilitators would spend more time acquainting themselves with the matter/s being discussed rather than leading the discussion into a blind alley.
It should have been pointed out first of all that Barbados is the only Caribbean country to have appointed living persons as national heroes. Trade unionist Frank Walcott was named national hero in 1998 but died in 1999. Sir Garfield Sobers was also made a national hero in 1998. He is today still very much alive. Sir Garry was made a national hero when he was 65 and had retired from the game to which he contributed so much and provided the platform for his elevation. Rihanna achieved this honour at the still tender age of 33. Now I want to leave Rihanna out of the discussion and to deal generally with this issue. Let me first say that I am an admirer of Rihanna for what she is able to achieve at a relatively young age. But what has endeared her to me is the different causes she has supported and the contribution she has made to Barbados and in many different areas. I was so pleased about a year ago or it might be earlier this year when she threw her support behind farmers in India who were protesting some developments that were going to affect their lives.
All the other Caribbean countries that have national heroes have bestowed that honour on persons who are dead. The reason is that they would be in a better position to examine the individuals whole life span and assess the impact they had on national life and the inspiration they might have brought to their country. The national hero should be a national symbol who has been able to inspire a nation. People in their thirties or forties have, barring unfortunate circumstances, most of their lives ahead of them. Many things can go wrong that can tarnish the image of a national hero. If someone is given another honour, it is much easier to take that away but extremely difficult to do so with a national hero, given what that represents. One of the problems we have in SVG is that this is the only honour we are able to bestow on our people. The other honours which we give are British honours, given mostly to party loyalists, of course with some exceptions.
I always felt that when we instituted the Order of National Heroes Act in 2002, we should have established a system of national honours. We could have introduced the country’s highest national honour with whatever name we choose to call it and bestow it on an individual who had helped to promote the country and had brought honour to the country. The National Heroes Act that we now have in place allows us to be able to examine an individual’s total life, his/her ups and downs and make a careful assessment. One is not expecting a perfect human being because such does not exist. There are too many examples of people whom we admired strongly, but in the end might have betrayed the admiration we had for them. I don’t want to use this example, but it is the best I can find at this moment. That is of Bill Cosby who continues to deny the accusations made against him. The point however is that things can go wrong and can destroy the image of a national hero. The individual still living might have accomplished quite a lot. Give that individual while he/she is still alive the highest honour we can give and also be prepared to make the individual a national hero on careful examination of his/her full life.