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National pride

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October is here with us again, the month of National Independence, and the National Independence Committee has chosen the theme of “National Pride” for the month-long celebrations. It is a noble theme, but a sore one for those conscious of our national deficiencies in this regard.{{more}}

To understand why, one must revert to the build-up to, and passage into independence in the months preceding, and immediately after the attainment of independence in October 1979. The failure to connect the achievement of independence with the struggles of our people against foreign domination and colonialism left a void and therefore did not imbue the occasion with its historical significance.

In a momentous year overshadowed by the eruption of the Soufriere volcano and contentious politics leading up to the elections of December 1979, division and partisan politics, rather than a focused united approach to independence, were the order of the day. Independence was seen more as a triumph for the governing Labour party and a springboard to launch its election campaign, than as a milestone along the road of national progress.

We had much celebration; “an Independence ‘jump-up”, an unforgettable Independence Calypso competition, won by Vibrating Scakes with his everlasting classic “Our Nation is born”, considered in many quarters as our unofficial national anthem. But what of the “symbols of independence”, as another calypsonian, Black Ebo, crooned?

Where was the national mobilisation and education on the significance of our flag, changed within a decade of independence, the anthem and pledge and their relevance? After 35 years, we are perhaps the only Caribbean nation without a recognized national dress, not sure of our national dish, and have difficulty defining our national culture. Yet we have had eight successive administrations since independence. Are these not our collective failures as a nation? How could we generate national pride in such circumstances?

Sadly, political partisanship has continued to hang over our national celebrations up until today, not only on the part of politicians and political parties, but even the regrettable practice by some business firms of only decorating their business premises when the party they support is in office. It is as though Independence is the property of the party in power.

The contamination and confusion has even touched one of the few remaining national activities during Independence month, the Secondary Schools Public Speaking competition. Not satisfied with division at an adult level, we seem intent on passing on this legacy to our younger ones. By contrast we still lag behind in teaching our history in schools, in enabling our children from an early age to develop a sense of national identity and in inculcating national pride.

All this makes the task of kindling national pride all the more difficult, it is easier said than done. Our SVG today is very much a “now-for-now”, “today-for-today” society. If we have a grouse, personal or political, then for us that is sufficient reason to scoff at or ignore Independence celebrations. Even those who should know better are guilty of this. The situation is made even worse by the failure of our all-knowing talk-show hosts on radio, to place emphasis on our positives, on what we have in common, on the meaning of Independence for us all, irrespective of affiliation, rather than concentrate on the virtues and deficiencies, real or imagined, of their respective parties.

How could we stir up national pride in such an atmosphere? Yet, it is a goal which must be achieved if we are to truly progress beyond our “crab-in-a-barrel” politics. Independence is not just a national holiday for fete and picknicking, it was in defence of it that our National Hero, Paramount Chief Josef Chatoyer, died and for it his people, the Garifuna were massacred, uprooted, exiled and sent to rot on the shores of Central America.

The fact that they survived, maintained language and culture in hostile circumstances, and today can return to teach us all that was forcibly driven out of us, is a direct lesson to us. It tells us that, bad as things are, all is not lost, that we can still retrieve if we are determined to do so. If ever we want a source of inspiration of national pride, we need to look no further.

Let us use it to reinvigorate our efforts at tackling those major deficiencies in our symbols of national pride and identity!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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