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National Heritage Month – A Work in Progress?

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04.MAR.11

The month of March, an historic one in Vincentian life, is with us once more. A month-long programme of activities has been organised both for the general public as well as specific sectors, schools for example. We tend to take such occasions for granted, but getting to the point of official recognition of a National Heritage Month has not come easy.{{more}} It has been a long struggle to overcome prejudice, discrimination and the lingering effects of a colonial past which hardly bred pride in ourselves, our history or accomplishments.

That colonial legacy had us clinging on to a false notion of “discovery”, as though the original inhabitants of this country never existed. Even when some progress was made in forcing some grudging recognition of a National Heroes Day, it was undermined and devalued by twinning it with a non-existent “Discovery Day”. To our credit as a people, we have finally been able to break with the colonial past and institute the National Heroes Day holiday on March 14, erasing the shameful “Discovery Day” concept in the process. A progressive development has been the extension to National Heritage Month.

The task is not completed however. Part of the big hurrah about reclaiming our heritage was a comprehensive review of related matters such as instituting a system of national honours, official declaration of a national dress, and forging a national consensus on National Heroes. A decade later, these tasks are still unfinished. We are still to agree, who else other than Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, deserves the title of National Hero; our yardstick of national recognition remains rooted in “the Queen’s” honours, while the person who spearheaded the move to institute a national dress has passed away without any definitive resolution of this issue.

This is not to say that we have made no progress whatsoever. In many of our sister islands, there is still the shameful “Discovery Day” holiday, decades after the achievement of national independence. The annual trek to pay homage to Chatoyer and the struggle for national liberation is admirable, even if more of us need to participate and such month-long series of activities as those organised to commemorate Heritage Month and Emancipation Month (August) are a clear indication of a people coming to grips with their history. One can only pause here, to pay tribute to the untiring efforts of former Minister of Culture, Rene Baptiste in helping to etch these events firmly on our national calendar.

The platform has been laid and we now need to step up another notch. The unfinished tasks need to be tackled with renewed vigour and commitment. This includes filling the gaping hole of having our history officially documented and in one place so that our youths can learn of our origins, accomplishments, sufferings and failures, and take inspiration from the heroic efforts of those who made our independence possible. Yes, we have come a long way, but we have much, much further to go.

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