EACH year as Independence Day anniversary celebrations approach, I take time out to continue to measure the extent to which our nationalism has grown with our national status, always (thus far) to (somewhat regretfully) conclude that we are more given to mere identification with symbolism than true reflections of nationalism.
Last year, from a hospital bed in Cuba, I raised here (in this column) the question of whether and when we will address the possibility that we can be accused of harbouring the continuity of a sexist line in our national anthem that calls on the Good Lord to bless our island and ‘guard her sons from woe and harm.’
I noted that Canada has acknowledged the existence of a similar ‘flaw’ in its anthem and moved to act in accordance as expected in today’s world of political correctness. But (as far as I know) the response to my observation – one year later – has been ‘no response’ to this uncomfortable truth.
With our 40th Anniversary of Independence just days away, I walked the streets seeking someone to tell me something about Saint Lucia’s National Pledge. Sad to report: I couldn’t get three people to tell me what year it was adopted (by Cabinet Conclusion in 2003); I couldn’t get two to tell me who wrote it (Jeff ‘Pele’ Elva); and I couldn’t get one to recite it. (‘With God as my guide, I pledge allegiance to my country, Saint Lucia; I proclaim that I will serve my country with pride and dignity and will defend it with vigour and valour in the pursuit of excellence, justice and equality for all.’)
I won’t go here into that other uncomfortable truth as to why it took us 22 years after independence to get an official National Pledge; or that other equally uncomfortable truth that it also took many years after Independence Day in 1979 for February 22 to be declared on official national public holiday.
But then, yet another uncomfortable truth arose last week with the renaming of a city park. It would appear that in the haste to complete the exercise ahead of the nation’s 40th Independence Day anniversary, no one associated with the decision and its implementation took time out to ensure that the name of the person after whom the named park was being renamed was correct.
As far as I can remember (lest I be accused of voluntary amnesia), the veteran undefeated MP for Castries Central and late Governor General whose name was affixed ahead of the park’s original name was ‘Sir William George Mallet’. (Mayor Peterson Francis can correct me if I’m wrong…)
Either that, or we can feel free to change the order or spelling of someone’s name without giving a hoot about the implications for current and future generations in a country where over two-thirds of the people are much less than 40 years old.
The plaque unveiled on February 13, 2019 to commemorate its opening nearly eight years earlier by then MP Richard Frederick (on May 15th 2011) renames the park as ‘Sir George William Mallet Serenity Park’. So, if my earlier recollection is not wrong, how does that measure-up against the real name of the benefactor of this renaming honour, as recorded in Saint Lucia’s history?
But then, that’s not the first time…
I recalled the sense of national shame I suffered (one of the few that really hurt me in my day and age…) when a similar plaque was unveiled at the Derek Walcott building at the corner of Chaussee Road and Grass Street with the name of our national Nobel Laureate spelt wrongly. (And I won’t even here state whether it was his Christian name or Surname…)
But then, how much do we care about naming our places after people when we have for decades accepted that the back street between Micoud Street and the William Peter Boulevard in Castries as being named (or renamed) ‘Wes Hall Avenue’. Every time I see that sign, I ask myself: What did the famous Barbadian crickter do in Saint Lucia’s name to deserve that honour?
And then there’s the William Peter Boulevard… Last Saturday morning I breezed through the new ‘boulevard flea market’ setup and asked three (not young) people: ‘Who was William Peter?’ Again, none answered correctly!
All that said and given that the authorities behind the not very serene name change (may) now have to remove the misnamed plaque and rearrange the renamed name, I still propose – like I did here last Saturday – that we erase all the political stuff involved in the naming and renaming exercises and agree to disagree (if we have to) that it would be more nationally appropriate to rename the Sans Soucis park after the serene Leverne Spencer, whose contributions to Saint Lucia span two centuries and continue to shine way beyond our regional and hemispheric shores and spheres.
Just one proviso: Jump high or jump low, let’s just make damned sure that we don’t spell our internationally-renowned high jumping athletic queen’s good name badly!