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In Search of National Heroes

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Our country is once more embarked on the search for national heroes. My initial response was to ask what the hurry is. I am not convinced that we have done a lot with our first national hero, apart from the few programmes that have been organised on National Heroes Day. So, it is to a large extent a once a year thing. Before Chatoyer was declared our first national hero, there had been some advocacy on the part of the National Youth Council and other non-governmental organisations.{{more}} Chatoyer was declared a National Hero in 2002, but the year before March 14 had been declared a public holiday as a step toward his official recognition. Long before this, in the 1990s, the National Youth Council had been organising a wreath laying ceremony at the obelisk which had been built in 1985 to mark the spot where Chatoyer had died.

We have also not dealt properly with the issue of a national hero. What is the purpose of a national hero? Why do we want one? The Order of National Heroes to which the Governor General Sir Charles Antrobus gave assent on February 25, 2002 does provide us with criteria for selecting any person on whom we find it fit to bestow that honour. Is this something we need to review? Is that even possible, since we would have already selected at least one person on the existing set of criteria? It would seem not, since that would mean having different national heroes determined by a different set of criteria.

What are the criteria?

1. Has given outstanding service to St Vincent and the Grenadines and his contribution has altered positively the course of the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

2. Has given service to St.Vincent and the Grenadines which has been exemplified by visionary and pioneering leadership, extraordinary achievement and the attainment of the highest excellence which has rebounded to the honour of St Vincent and the Grenadines or

3. Has through his heroic exploits and sacrifice, contributed to the improvement of the economic, social or political conditions of St Vincent and the Grenadines generally.

This is a tall order and many persons who have contributed significantly to the country in a variety of areas of the life of the country will not be able to meet the criteria as outlined. I make this point to reiterate a position I have been taking for some time. There is need for a system of awards, which recognises the outstanding contributions of Vincentians who gave dedicated service to the country, but who would not qualify to be national heroes. I am, of course, not talking about the colonial awards, the

MBE’s etc…which are antiquated symbols and certainly not appropriate for an Independent country of 33 years standing. In the same way we have arrived at getting a national hero, we can agree on other national awards. I am predicting that in responding to the call for nominating candidates worthy of national hero status, that a number of outstanding individuals will be proposed who would have made useful contributions, but who would not qualify to be national heroes.

Let us use as an example Hugh Mulzac. He cannot qualify to be a national hero, but he is a Vincentian who has done outstanding work in the United States of America and in doing so has given some publicity to the country of his birth and to people of African descent. We can recognise him through a system of national awards. Then, there is Elma Francois, who is Vincentian born, but lived and made her contribution to the Labour Movement in the country of Trinidad and Tobago and was declared a National Heroine there in 1987. Those are two who have made their contributions outside of SVG, butthere are numerous others, teachers, nurses, community workers, and people in other areas who would have contributed significantly to this country, but who would not qualify to be national heroes. We erred in making provision for the selection of national heroes without establishing other awards to honour outstanding Vincentians.

I mentioned the criteria earlier. Let us look at them in some more detail. The individual has given outstanding service that has altered positively the course of the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Altering positively the course of our history! Few people can qualify under this provision. The second is more achievable – that his service has been exemplified by visionary and pioneering leadership and attaining the highest excellence which has redounded to the honour of our country. If my notes are correct, this is followed by ‘Or’ and then the third is mentioned. The individual should be one whose ‘heroic’ exploits and sacrifice contributed to the improvement of the economic, social or political conditions in the country.

Does the individual have to qualify under all categories? Are there only two categories and can you only qualify by satisfying number 1 and number 2 or 3? I ask this because of the presence of the ‘Or’. This is not meant to be a criticism of the Order of National Heroes. National Hero status should be one that can only be obtained by a limited number of people, so that the country is not swamped by a number of national heroes, making a mockery of the Order. My concern is that so far we have failed to provide for other national awards. Then I am suggesting that we do not rush this one, but make provision for adequate debate in the country. Let us also have a conversation about what we consider the purpose of declaring a National Hero. In other words, what does the declaration of a National Hero mean to us? Is it just something that we feel we have to do periodically? Are the deeds of the individual selected meant to inspire the nation, particularly the young?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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