In Part 1, I noted that after Sir Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott made their small island home the nation with the highest number of Nobel Laureates per head of population globally — Saint Lucians are still learning to honour their own, while yearning for more knowledge about the unknown and unsung heroes who laid the paths for all that followed.
But they’re not alone, as most Caribbean Community (CARICOM) citizens hardly know about national heroes and dates of significance to neighboring states, or about the many Caribbean people who also put the region on the world history map.
Each Caribbean Island, or territory, independent or not, has its own set of heroes and historical figures worth honouring, starting with its First People and later freedom fighters.
Names associated with political struggles and trade unionism include, Antigua’s Vere Bird, Barbados’ Errol Barrow, Dominica’s Rosie Douglas, Grenada’s Maurice Bishop, Haiti’s Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jamaica’s Marcus Garvey, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines Garifunas and Trinidad & Tobago’s Eric Williams and Uriah Butler.
Caribbean writers and political thinkers like CLR James, Eric Williams, Walter Rodney and Hilary Beckles emerge from time to time and contribute greatly to better understandings of our origins and legacies.
But not many in the English, Dutch and Spanish-speaking Caribbean know, for example, of the effects of the literary contributions of Martinique’s Frantz Fanon and Aime Cesaire on the early leaders of Africa’s independence struggles in the mid-20th century.
Caribbean nationals know all their national and colonial holidays and religious Holy Days, but none are associated with their struggles for freedom, thanks to centuries of miseducation aimed at hiding most of the Caribbean’s true history.
CARICOM Governments, The University of the West Indies (The UWI) and the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) all agree that after decades of post-independence Brain Drain, history (and not just Caribbean history) is an endangered subject regionally and needs an urgent rescue mission.
Few Caribbean nationals know of Saint Lucia’s John Quinlan, who addressed the 1887 royal commission with calls for reparations or repatriation for former enslaved Africans in the British colonies in the Caribbean and The Americas and addressed the Pan African Congress in the UK in 1900 on behalf of the Caribbean.
Too few know about Barbados’ Bussa, Grenada’s Fedon, Guyana’s Cuffy, Jamaica’s Nanny and St. Vincent’s Chatoyer; and too many will not know either, that Kwane Ture (who coined the term ‘Black Power’ in the USA, married popular South African singer Miriam Makeba and moved to the continent to establish the All African People’s Revolutionary Party) was also a Trinidadian named Stokeley Carmichael; or that Malcolm X’s mother was a Grenadian, or that Louis Farrakhan’s mother was from Saint Kitts, or that Cicely Tyson was from Anguilla, or that Hamilton (the Bermuda capital) was named after then USA’s first Treasury Secretary after Independence, Alexander Hamilton, who was born there.
Not many today will know either, that Dominican lawyer Telford Georges was the first Chief Justice of Tanzania; and Saint Lucia’s Darnley Alexander was the first Chief Justice of Niger, Nigeria’s largest state.
Or that Saint Lucia’s Jean Baptiste Bideau fought alongside Simon Bolivar for Venezuela’s independence and died defending it after serving as Governor of Eastern Venezuela – and now has national hero status in the Bolivarian Republic.
Not enough is being done at regional and institutional levels to bridge the obviously widening knowledge gap that still prevents Caribbean people from knowing each other better.
The information is available, and the information technology (IT) is also ever-present in this new age of instant global communication, when online learning has been accepted as a New Norm but is not being sufficiently engaged to quicken the pace of the learning process so vital for creation of a genuine Caribbean sense across the region.
The Reparations Movement started by CARICOM governments almost a decade ago has in the past nine years raised levels of consciousness and increased popular interest in Caribbean history, from Slavery to Independence, Colonialism to Republicanism and more about how, when and why enslaved Africans were brought to the Caribbean.
Much still needs to be done by way of digging deeper into the past to find our now and better see our future, but those still here who crept and walked those longer miles that made our journeys the shorter ones they are today, must never be forgotten.
Much still needs to be done to work with families of those forbears who’ve left troves of works of literature and art that need to be properly researched, documented and safeguarded for future sharing, including veteran journalists from the pen-and-paper age who will have left countless chronicles of history after putting their pens down – and like Rickey Singh (who turns 86 on February 1, 2023) and the countless others of his esteemed ilk still with us, rapidly ageing gracefully.
The parching thirst for more information on Caribbean heroes will only always grow and can only be quenched — but not ended — with more true stories about who we are and from whence we cometh.
The scientific and technological progress exist to hasten the pace of regional education by elucidation, even though historical trends of traditional learning and sharing of knowledge between generations are increasingly-stifled by imported trends like extremist advocacy and actions for immediate change, pursuit of external interpretations of concepts like ‘political correctness’ and adoption of foreign cultural norms, accentuated by artificial divisions between Government Agencies and Civil Society, deepened and widened by the eternal gap created by the widening distances between objectives of Private and Public sectors — and the ever-widening differences in speeds of justice and shares of wealth for and between Haves and Have-Nots.
But despite all the above, this is not the end of the road, just the beginning of a fresh start, on another front, in the never-ending battle to always know and honour our heroes, past and present.