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Historic Achievement on National Heroes Day

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I write this article today, Wednesday March 16, with certain doubts in my mind based on rumours that have been circulating about the historic walk by Earl “Ole’ George” Daniel and Joel Butcher. I hope that by the time this article is published the matter would have been cleared up. Reports in last weekend’s newspapers featured Ole’ George as he sought, along with Joel Butcher, to undertake a six day walk without sleep geared to defeat the current record of five days 11 hours that is listed in the Guinness Book of Records. {{more}}

It was indicated too in the weekend papers that the walk was being closely followed by the BBC and Associated Press. One assumed, based on the reports, that the relevant mechanisms were put in place to legitimize what was accomplished. Rumours circulating as I write are to the effect that the walk would not be recognized. I am unable to verify this or even to find out what are the snags.

What has struck me up to now was that neither the BBC nor Associated Press seemed to have given it any coverage. Nor was it taken up by the regional newspapers! I am surprised too that SVG Television relegated it to its Sports section on its Tuesday night newscast.

Regardless of the recognition that is given, it is an enormous and historic feat and deserves the widest and highest recognition and publicity. I am one of those who felt it would not have been accomplished. The thought of that really baffled my mind, especially when I considered the kind of terrain that the walkers had to encounter. Ole’ George however was extremely confident and never seemed, at least publicly, to have doubted his ability to perform the feat he did with Joel Butcher.

This, of course, is testimony to his discipline, mental strength and physical fitness. It could not have been accomplished without a combination of all of those. What also stood out was the fact that it was completed on National Heroes Day.

Those two gentlemen were certainly heroes. They brought the country together as nothing else has. It really lifted the spirit of Vincentians who greeted them as they moved through the communities and turned National Heroes Day into a carnival like atmosphere.

Having said that I was quite disgusted with what happened on Monday, March 14 as the gentlemen made their way to Kingstown and to Heritage Square where they were to end their walk. The thousands of Vincentians who turned out on the streets wanted to see ‘Ole’ George. There were many that did not know him. This was, however, not possible as crowds and vehicles engulfed the two heroes, the vehicles with their fumes making it difficult for the walkers.

What was conspicuously missing was the presence of the police. Private citizens had spoken about the need for police outriders, especially during traffic peaks and even at nights in the dark, lonely areas. One can, under the circumstances, accept the absence of police outriders, but what happened in Kingstown on Monday was a national disgrace. There was total confusion at the Ju-C corner, with traffic moving to and fro’ and spectators spilling over onto the streets.

It took Snake, a character from around town, to assume the initiative and to direct traffic. Finally a few minutes before the arrival of the walking party or more accurately said, the throng that took over, a traffic policewoman appeared, but it was difficult to control the crowd at that time. Large numbers of people seemed to have joined the gathering at Sion Hill, so that what greeted spectators in Kingstown was something more akin to carnival. Not only was the police presence missing where directing traffic was concerned, but there were few other police to be seen, especially given the enormous crowd.

I am not sure who or what was responsible for this, but one assumes that any such activity in Kingstown or anywhere would have commanded the attention and action of the police.

It was really heartening to hear and witness the responses of the crowd. They were overjoyed by the accomplishment of two Vincentians and expressed their praise in many ways. What was demonstrated here was the fact that, like anybody else, Vincentians are capable of rising to the occasion and that there is little that persons with the discipline, mental power and physical strength could not achieve.

I am always of the view that stimulating national pride and serving as a national role model are the characteristics of a hero. I am certainly not suggesting that they be made national heroes, because that involves much more, but they were certainly heroes to Vincentians, appropriately on National Heroes Day.

Ole George and Joel Butcher eclipsed the other major activity of the day, that is, including the wreath laying ceremony at the obelisk at Dorsetshire Hill. This was badly organised and certainly not in keeping with the occasion. There was first of all some confusion with the time, some people having been given an 8:00 a.m. starting time and others 9:00 a.m. I believe that the Governor General was there for the earlier starting time.

This kind of thing is certainly unacceptable. At Dorsetshire Hill, I was struck by the profound ignorance about the occasion. Two students from the Carib community were wondering about the difference between Carib and Garifuna and one asked the other if there were Caribs living at Owia. All of this struck me because of what I had written last week.

I had made the point then that after the declaration of Chatoyer as the first national hero and March 14 as National Heroes Day, little appeared to have been done to provide the necessary information about Chatoyer and to make his name a national one. After March 14, we forget him until the following year, same day same place. In any event on March 14, peoples’ thoughts were on Ole George and Butcher, not Chatoyer.

I was also struck too, by the poor turn out at the performances of the National Garifuna Ballet Company of Honduras. Would you believe that the Garifuna people look on this country as the motherland?

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