Forward ever! Backward never! – A tribute to the Five Mohicans
by Robertson S Henry
Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Dr Ralph Gonsalves is preparing to exit the political landscape after five decades of activism. He is the last of a group of giant intellectuals who became known as the Five Mohicans.
The Five Mohicans are Maurice Bishop of Grenada, Rosie Douglas of Dominica, Ralph Gonsalves of SVG, George Odlum of Saint Lucia, and Tim Hector of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Five, when they exploded unto the regional political scene in the seventies, possessed the rebel seed to fight imperialism and colonialism, which resulted in the political revolution, an awakening of the masses, and a broadening of the political awareness of the people.
“We are predominantly an island civilization, occupying a particular geographic space and possessed of a shared history of European conquest, settlement, exploitation, colonialism, and empire. We have come to independent nationhood with a core of shared political values adopted and adapted from Western Europe,” stated Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
“We share European languages spoken and written with distinctive Caribbean nuances, flair and usages. Our seascape and landscape embrace peoples drawn from diverse cultures and lands.”
They consistently advocated for change to the status quo, including the realisation of regional unity, which continues to be a dream of many. For there to be political union of the Windward Islands, the OECS, or CARICOM, the political hierarchy must change to a mindset which must be socialist in thinking, yet democratic in execution.
To them, development of the islands should no longer remain at the bottom of the international priority list.
Equality for all was also a consistent narrative since the 1970s, as capsulated by Rosie Douglas: “All children have a right to a decent life; all children have the right to benefit from the fruits and resources of their country. What is good for the children of America is also good for the children of Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, China, all over the world.”
They raged against the winds of colonialism and imperialism, calling for the Caribbean to be truly independent from institutions, and free of symbols which symbolized its colonial past, and is a painful reminder of the slave trade.
“If we do not struggle for a system of justice, and continue to rely on other people’s systems of justice as the final arbiter in our affairs, we would ever remain, at best, half-free and half-slave,” stated Tim Hector.
The Five fought against the abuses citizens suffered under their respective Caribbean governments, aided and abetted by the ‘see-no-evil’ ‘hear-no-evil’ approach adopted by leading nations of the world.
“We don’t just speak about their kind of limited human rights, but we talk about the human rights that the majority has never been able to enjoy. The human rights that they believe that only the minority is entitled to: the human rights to a job, to decent housing, to a good meal when the day comes, to be able to form and to join a trade union, to be able to ensure that you can live a life of dignity and decency,” stated Maurice Bishop.
“All of these human rights have been in the human rights for a small minority over the years in the Caribbean, and the time has come for the majority of the people to begin to receive these human rights for the first time.”
Fuelled by a fear of not wanting to offend colonial masters, and tied by their imperialist navel string to the USA and other European nations, many Caribbean citizens wrongly labeled the Five Mohicans as “communists” and “supporters of dictatorships.”
George Odlum countered: “We have reaffirmed our commitment to promoting democracy, albeit with the emphasis on democracy at the national level. The inherent problem in achieving this objective is clear, since democracy at the national level is undermined by the lack of a commensurate level of democracy at the international level.
“The world’s peoples and leaders will rightly mock the call for democracy if this principle is not equally applied in the Security Council, the Bretton Woods Institutions, and the World Trade Organization, the main institutions that currently govern world affairs in peace, security and the world economy, respectively.”
The communist sing-song was sung by Prime Ministerial choirs, backed up by newspaper columnists and editors.
Odlum added, “The United Nations must demonstrate leadership of democracy at the global level if we are to believe in this principle as a foundation for peace and prosperity in the new millennium. All Member States must be able effectively to participate in matters of peace, security and the global economy in order to give real meaning to democracy and governance.”
Explains Ralph Gonsalves: “Metaphorically, we are the songs of the Caribs, the Arawaks, and the Amerindians. We are the rhythm of Africa; the melody of Europe; the chords of Asia; and the home grown lyrics of the Caribbean itself. We in the Caribbean possess a permanence of being which goes beyond energy, will, and creative power; this permanence of being is reflected, in part, in that existential condition, not easily definable, but which we know is real, which existential condition is the living soul and spirit of our Caribbean civilization.”
The legacy of those five intellectual giants sown into the political fabric of Caribbean civilization continues to cloth its onward march towards recognizing the region’s true potential, as the battle cry of “Forward ever! Backward never!” continues to echo across the Caribbean landscape.