On the eve of our 42nd
AT THIS TIME OF YEAR with our Independence anniversary a mere few days away I normally refl ect on how far we have travelled since that memorable day in 1979. The Prime Minister at that time referred to the day as our coming of age. ‘Coming of age’ is, of course, a loaded term. It is in a sense a rite of passage that carries with it certain expectations. But with expectations also come challenges. We often hear the remark, you must act your age. But what does that really mean? It assumes that you would have gone through a period/ process that prepared you for that particular occasion when you would have come of age, with an understanding of how you were expected to act. Independence itself is a process with the expectation that we would cast aside our colonial ways and begin to set ourselves on a path where it will be about us. It was to be no longer ‘God Save the Queen!’ but about us pledging our loyalty to the land. Not to the Governor-General nor Prime Minister! The land was the new country that was being created on that day. Fittingly that land was St. Vincent and the Grenadines although our anthem referred to the Grenadines as our little sister islands, a contradiction of course!
Independence brings with it challenges, but our anthem says, “What e’er the future brings, our faith will see us through.” But what is faith? Some have interpreted it narrowly as ‘faith in God’, but it must mean more. We must add to that our obligations or sense of duty as a people, Christian or otherwise. There are many in our country who are not Christians or rather do not believe in a God. Must they be left out of this? Do they not have faith, if not, what drives them?
Additionally, we cannot speak about land or about St. Vincent and the Grenadines without reference to the people. The land by itself means little. For me, as I have always stressed, Independence is about people, all our people. How have they fared since Independence? They are the ones who built this country. Under slavery, they laboured driven by the whip, or fear of the whip. Even during this period, they carried the produce of their kitchen gardens or provision grounds to the market and so helped to feed the country. From the 1840s they began to ship produce to Trinidad and Barbados, often defrauded
by fraudulent ship captains or hucksters. When sugar was no longer a major crop, they planted the cotton and arrowroot that carried the country for a long time. The statistics will show more arrowroot being exported from the plantations but what is not mentioned is that many of the small farmers/peasants sold their arrowroot to the planters to be ground in their mills. The fruitful trade in vegetables, provisions, and animals (sheep, goats, cattle) continued with Trinidad and Barbados.
The different villages that began to emerge after emancipation were the result of the work of former slaves who had moved away from the estates and built houses and communities, at first on lands they rented either from planters, or crown lands from government, or purchased through government land settlement schemes. Town Boards and Village councils were run by people from the communities until they became politicised. We have to be talking to each other and working with each other, not only to build the country but to overcome problems. So, when I see, as reported by I Witness News that the PM questions the value of talking with the Opposition about low vaccine uptakes, I say to myself that we are heading down the wrong road. Government and Opposition will always have their differences but is there a point of agreement from which they can start to talk, not angrily on platforms or in parliament but in a forum that encourages sane dialogue? They have to set an example to the rest of the population. Is there really another way? Yes, maybe we the people can make such demands.
● Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian