James Mitchell and the Breadfruit Mentality Metaphor
EDITOR: St. Vincent and the Grenadines needs a new language of politics that serves to edify and uplift the nation, and which distances itself from the old time days when a Prime Minister could say things that belittle our people and which make no logical sense, simply for the sake of rhetorical flourish.
James Mitchell, who has the dubious distinction of being a man who recommended himself to the Queen for a knighthood, is guilty as charged. He said at the height of his power that Vincentians had what he colourfully and pejoratively called a “Breadfruit Mentality.” This was meant to be an insult.
He was trying to say that we had a poor work ethic. However, when Mr. Mitchell tried to explain himself and the logic behind the statement in his autobiography, he only succeeded in exposing the limits of his own reasoning and intelligence.
It is high time for his inappropriate expression to be debunked once and for all so Vincentians can understand that what was intended to be adverse criticism is really a high compliment.
Son Mitchell said on page 444 of his autobiography that the citizens of this country who wished to reap without sowing had the mentality of a breadfruit tree. Sir James was quite pompous and arrogant about this breadfruit mentality quip and made it plain that he had no apology to make over it.
I will ignore for the time being the fact that the breadfruit tree, being a plant, does not have a brain and that it is therefore a strange thing indeed for it to be described as having a mentality.
Mr. Mitchell might even appreciate this point as a trained agronomist. Interestingly, he went on in the very same autobiography to describe the breadfruit tree as a wonderful tree and said that it needed absolutely no attention, no fertilizing, no pruning, no spraying and yet it produced fruit that can be reaped without care.
This begs the question: is it really so bad, then, to have the mentality of the breadfruit tree? It would seem to me, given these facts, that to have a breadfruit mentality means being consistently able to get work done and bear fruit with little effort and input or help from anyone else.
That appears to be quite a good thing if you ask me, notwithstanding the intended meaning of the person who coined the expression.
The language of Son Mitchell has effectively been turned on its head. The breadfruit mentality metaphor, as stated by him, breaks down badly under scrutiny.
It is a telling indictment on us that a man who could hardly string together a good metaphor used to lead our country. What is true about his use of language was also true about his exercise of leadership.
He was guided by an incoherent and bizarre philosophy that led him to do foolish things like remove the breadfruit leaf from our flag.
The breadfruit leaf was an appropriate national emblem because of its distinctiveness and because of the important role that breadfruit played in our history as food after it was introduced by Captain Bligh.
Additionally, we just learnt that it is quite a good thing to have a breadfruit mentality. There are other reasons. Canada has its maple leaf. Cyprus has its olive branches. Why can’t we have our breadfruit leaf? Our national dish is Roast Breadfruit and Fried Jack Fish.
I wonder how that escaped the Mitchell assault on Vincentian essence. How do three diamonds represent St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Are we a mineral rich country? Can these types of jewels be found here?
Someone once said that the three diamonds on the flag represented the three daughters Son Mitchell had at the time of our flag makeover. That didn’t sit so well with Mr. Mitchell.
We need to embrace the breadfruit mentality and we need to launch a campaign for a more culturally relevant flag. In a flag, we need to have something that best symbolises our country and the breadfruit leaf is a strong contender. I wish that our leaders would take up the task.
I hope this article will help to foster a new understanding of what it means to have a breadfruit mentality and allow persons to see this wonderful plant in a better and more appropriate light.
There are implications for the way in which we understand or interpret ourselves and our society. Incidentally, Dr. Julian Duncan, Professor Emeritus of Botany at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies, is a most authoritative source of further information on the breadfruit plant.