by Yao Atunwa
The need for a National Heroes Day is an imperative need for Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, at this point in our history.
Conversely, to continue to relate to our national heroes in an ad hoc manner, which we have been doing for many decades, quite frankly reflects a lack of seriousness on the part of governmental leaders to do what may seem as a basic gesture at first glance.
I would like to raise the contention: If it is so basic a gesture, let us assume for a moment that it is, why haven’t we as a people sought to establish one or make a fuss about the fact that we do not have one? Is it a mere question of motivation on the part of elected officials to seek to address a great lack in demonstrating the highest esteem for the most significant contributors to our social development as a people?
As the title of this article would indicate, the intent on this occasion is to speak of a collective body or fraternity, not merely individuals. In fact, it is more likely that individuals will eventually receive recognition over time, in however limited fashion, I may add, as was TA Marryshow, the great warrior for the decolonisation of Grenada and the wider Caribbean, with the re-naming of the nation’s community college in his honour. The late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was also honoured with the re-naming of the Point Saline International Airport the Maurice Bishop International Airport, as well as bearing the name of the major thoroughfare in the south of the island, the Maurice Bishop Highway. As was the installation of a sculpture in the likeness of the nation’s first prime minister Eric Matthew Gairy in the nation’s botanical garden in more recent times.
In spite these manoeuvers to pay tribute to these great individual leaders, the real aim ought to be celebrating our nation’s resilience in the face of oppression, with recognising that the plight has been and remains the same: seeking to promote our humanity; that struggle is very much still with us, for there is a great deal more work to be done to free ourselves from the chains of oppression. It is much needed that we as a people remember that such has been our objective as a nation. It is very important that we reflect on our rich tradition of resilience to overcome great odds.
Hence, viewing the absence of a national holiday in honour of those who were most keen in committing to the great struggle for self-expression and self-respect as a people in the current context of our nation still seeking to assert itself in the face of current European/American dominance is to realise that we need adjusting of our lenses. And there is no doubt in my mind that the instituting of a National Heroes Day will begin to do so, for the great symbolism that such a day will represent to our people. It would be the first holiday that our people would have created that is initiated through purely organic means, unlike Independence Day, Emancipation Day, and Thanksgiving on 25 October to commemorate the US invasion: all conferred by non-Grenadians by and large, though we would have engaged in those processes. Ultimately, those days were not our appointments is the point intended.
Those dates are representative of our entanglement with these power centres more than anything; they were not our choosing per se. We are still yet to own our history; to engage in the ownership of our historiography, as in how we go about recording, remembering and practicing our history, to begin to say and demonstrate what is most significant to our sensibilities, and therefore is not dependent on the input of others, be it their approval or mere recognition. Such will be the great symbolism of establishing a day to give recognition to the great struggle for self-expression, self-respect and dignity by our people since reaching these shores. Personalities like Julien Fedon, Henri Christophe, Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, Malcolm X, to add to the ones mentioned earlier, will signify to us their power as sons and daughters of Grenada more than they ever did. And, as a result, the common mission to advance our struggle for self-affirmation will be advanced like it never has.
We would be activating the unifying quality that is unescapable when the intent is to celebrate not merely an episode in history or an actor but the common plight in those actors and the essence of their efforts. For once we would have claimed a space on the calendar out of our own doing to give great amplification to what is most significant to us as a people, an ability to truly expressed and affirm our humanity as a sovereign people. We are not there yet – far from it. Certainly, a much greater challenge when we are beholden to outside interests and in the manner we do, where it seems as though our lives depend on propping up grossly asymmetric relationships orchestrated through indebtedness and a lack of political will in the present context to even speak out about such much less to change course.
I view March as a significant month in our nation’s history; one that is rich with historical events of great popular support. March stands out as a very viable month to host a most solemn celebration to commemorate our stalwarts and more importantly, as mentioned earlier, the common plight to struggle for self-expression, self-respect, and dignity as a people. 2 March, the date of the start of Julien Fedon’s 1795 Great Uprising against British Rule would be very fitting a date, as would 13 March, the date of the advent of Grenada Revolution led by the New JEWEL Movement. Both episodes would have met the criteria of great struggle to change the course of history, in seeking to promote the interest and general welfare of the masses of workers, as was Gairy’s instrumental role in the 1950s and 1960s as a trade unionist representing the agricultural workers in an agrarian society.
I am inclined to suggest a rebranding/re-purposing of 25 October by also considering using this date, as it would seek to undo the basic falsehood that the US intended to save us. I say let us not just expose the lies, let us tell the true narrative by acknowledging and celebrating our martyrs and others who knew what the mission was and embraced it conscientiously and vigorously, including the ones who fought imperialist powers offshore just the same, such as Henri Christophe in Haiti and Malcom X on American soil. The re-designation of 25 October will surely begin a process of undoing the US invasion and the spell implanted in the psyches of our traumatised populace by the great deceiver in Ronald Reagan and his supporters; that the US intended to save us.
We might as well refer to this aim as the invasion of a false doctrine that was perpetuated by these notorious war criminals the world over. This is the position that many in our midst may find too diametrical to our government’s current position insofar as our dealings with the US and the UK governments. But I wish to remind you that that is, in fact, the space these states occupy in our minds; that what is best for our consciousness and spirits is locked out or denied because another people own much of that real estate (if you will). Therefore, we are hardly thinking in our best interest, in the present context. I want to take this opportunity to remind you, citizens of the tri-island state, that instituting a National Heroes Day is not a mere gesture. It is our duty in reminding ourselves of our priorities in the face of a great struggle to be who we are, a freedom-loving people like everyone else.