Jamaica at 50: a tribute

By Patrick Hunter Thursday August 09 2012 in Opinion
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There are probably as many Jamaicans living outside of Jamaica, as there are presently living in the country. And, there is probably a Jamaican in every country in the world. Chances are, if you were to interview everyone them, anywhere they are in the world, over 90 per cent would identify as Jamaicans. This, by no means, detracts from their attachment to, and participation in, their adopted country. It is just that the roots they have in Jamaica are strong.



Certainly, this is not a feeling that is unique to Jamaicans.



Jamaica at 50 is still very much a child. Not a toddler, perhaps, but more like a young teen who is still trying to determine who he or she wants to be. Yes, it is responsible for itself. It has earned the right to determine its own direction. But, it is not alone in the world, and therefore its decisions still depend on others outside its boundaries.



I remember, although I was very young then, the struggle with the West Indies Federation. It was one of many that Great Britain established – from their point of view – to incubate the sense of self-government among its colonies. Apart from the game of cricket, at least to my young mind at the time, and the University College of the West Indies, there was very little we knew about our federation partners.



The feeling of not having control over one’s destiny and, perhaps more significantly, being under the control of a government that was not even the colonial power, was unsettling. Although Jamaica was granted “adult suffrage” – the power to vote for and elect representatives – many years before, the federation appeared to have taken that control out of Jamaicans’ hands.



Jamaicans determined that, sink or swim, they wanted to be independent. They wanted control of their own destiny. So, in 1961, it opted out of the West Indies Federation, to go it alone as an independent country. Trinidad and Tobago followed. Attempts to construct a federation of the other islands fell apart shortly thereafter.



A year ago, a public opinion poll carried out in Jamaica, showed that 60 per cent of those surveyed believed that Jamaica would have been in a better position had it remained a colony. The poll was conducted among 1,008 Jamaicans. That poll seems somewhat contrived considering that both major political parties have agreed on Jamaica’s intention to become a republic. The governing Simpson-Miller Administration has indicated that it will introduce the constitutional amendments this year towards that goal.



I have sometimes wondered whether Jamaica’s timing for opting for independence was off. It was at the height of the Cold War. Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959 and, after falling out with the United States over the nationalization of U.S. interests, looked to the Soviet Union to get around the embargo imposed by the U.S. Indeed, Jamaica’s independence celebrations were hardly over when the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted. The U.S. was in no mood to allow then Soviet President, Nikita Khrushchev, to gain another foothold in the Caribbean.



The cloud of the Cold War then, I believe, stymied the independent dreams Jamaica had. Trading partnerships and other relationships were limited to countries “approved” by the U.S. Ten years later, when Michael Manley came to power with a Socialist bent, the U.S. was not amused.



Nevertheless, there is something very special about the love and faithfulness that born-and-raised Jamaicans feel. It could very well be the tremendous pride in the influence (especially the positive ones) that Jamaicans have had throughout the world. The slave rebellions, the leadership of Marcus Garvey, the independence of the British Caribbean colonies, the evolution of Rastafarians, its music – even its language and hairstyles – seem to have given Jamaica a unique presence in the world.



Its ability to produce sprinters of note, given its size and population, is the subject of wonder, equivalent to Kenya’s production of long distance runners.



For me, the roots are very much attached to my experiences growing up in Jamaica. I did experience the much-touted guardianship of the village elders. I could be “scolded” by an elder with my mother’s presumptive approval.



I was fortunate to know my maternal great-grandparents, although I did not take the opportunity then to quiz them on what life was like during their childhood and young days. One set of those great-grandparents were both teachers. Great-grandfather Brown was a headmaster at the local primary school, a lay-preacher, and Justice of the Peace. Great-grandmother Brown was the church’s organist. All four, I recall, were very well-respected in their communities, to the point that if it became known that I was their great-grandson, some of that respect would come my way, provided that I was courteous.



Of course, there were other pleasures and treasures, including schooldays at Cornwall College, the beaches, the fruits and, most of all, the people – funny, talented, creative and hardworking.



Sure, Jamaicans grumble like anyone else. They endure hardships, make sacrifices and move on. I fondly remember that, for the most part, they were kind to each other, particularly in the rural areas. Everyone knew each other. Everyone cared for each other.



Like all things, changes will, and do, occur. Jamaicans in the Diaspora have always had a sense of guardianship about this country of 144 square miles. Even if they are not physically there, they are there, spiritually.



There are many milestones in the history of Jamaica worth celebrating. And, that they will – we will. We will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. To paraphrase Miss Lou: Walk good, you hear, for the next 50.


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