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The National Heroes’ issue

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It would appear that by March next year this country will have another national hero. We are told that the process will soon begin to select that person. My question is, why the hurry? On this matter I agree fully with Renwick Rose. “More National Heroes? Shouldn’t we be digesting our first bite?” he asks. Rose goes on to state: “I say this because I am convinced that we are yet to make the honouring of Chatoyer the national occasion that it deserves.”{{more}}

But there are other matters to be put on the table. Do we have a consensus on what is the purpose of having a National Hero? If we do, our treatment of Chatoyer and our commemoration of the event on March 14 do not demonstrate that. Is there something that tells us that we have to have another National Hero right away? How was the decision made on the names that are being proposed? There are still some clarifications to be made about our present national hero. First, the citation read at the ceremony in 2002 listed Chatoyer as Kalinago Chief. I am not sure how this came about. The second matter that also needs to be addressed for the purpose of historical accuracy has to do with the date on which Chatoyer died. He died on March 15, not March 14, and the historical records are at one on this. I am not calling for a change of the date on which we celebrate National Heroes’ Day, but simply to address the records. Any day in March is fine with me because March has significance for some of the candidates being proposed- Hugh Mulzac, George McIntosh and Ebenezer Joshua- Mulzac and McIntosh being born in March, and incidentally, in the same year, 1886. Joshua died in March.

I remain firmly convinced that, among other things, we should not name another National Hero until we introduce a system of national honours. I say this for two reasons. First, until we do so, a number of names are going to be suggested of persons who made sterling contributions to the advancement of the country that could most logically be satisfied under a system of national honours, rather than trying to bend the established criteria to make them national heroes. And, of course, continuing to recognise national heroes while persisting with the archaic imperial awards! The criteria for becoming a national hero as established under the National Heroes Act of 2002 means that only a limited number of persons will qualify. The individual’s service must alter positively the course of the history of SVG. The person selected must “…through his heroic exploits and sacrifice, contribute (d) to the improvements of the economic, social or political conditions of SVG and of Vincentians generally.” Their contributions must also be “…exemplified by visionary and pioneering leadership, extraordinary achievement and the attainment of the highest excellence which has redounded to the honour of SVG” That’s a tall order. Many will not qualify, but there are so many Vincentians that have done excellent service for the country that must be recognised, not by the outdated imperial awards, but by a system of national awards. Why do we hesitate on this?

The Prime Minister in informing us about the decision to have another national hero in place by next year urged that we use the national hero debate to unify the country. Looking at some of the names, I am strongly of the view that instead of unifying the country, the debate will further divide the country if that is possible. Why on issues of this nature do we have to have nominations by the political parties (that is apart from those nominated by the Governor General)? Is it not possible in this country to come up with a group of persons acting independently of the wishes of the political parties that can make the nominations? I suspect that Parliament or the Cabinet will make the final decision anyhow, so why ‘stymie’ the process?

With Chatoyer there was a sort of consensus, although up to now some persons have not fully accepted him as such. Let us complete what we started with Chatoyer. Most of the other persons are ones who are of the recent past, and this will become a recipe for disaster. Let some time go by to allow for more information and greater reflection. There should be no mad rush. It must not give the appearance of being part of a five year cycle.

(Comments can be sent to fraser.adrian@gmail.com)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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