Time to record the history of Independence

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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JAMAICA as a society, with little exception, places no value on its history. This is an obvious loss to our people for countless reasons. A people who do not know and understand where they came from is deprived of the lessons which can help to tackle current issues and guide them in creating their own destiny.

A thorough knowledge of one's history is the basis for individual self-awareness and the society as a whole. History has enormous value to the young because it can inspire them to achieve and give them the confidence to overcome problems because they know that their forbears triumphed over far more daunting obstacles.

For Jamaicans, recording and learning our history is particularly important for our self-actualisation, because as people descended predominately from Africans who were subjected to slavery and colonialism most of what passes for history is misleading. Most of the history about Black people and Africa has been written by persons biased by racism.

We have to not only make our own history but we must record it, otherwise it will discourage and devalue us rather than uplift and embolden. Recall in this regard the message of Messrs Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley: know thyself by knowing your history back to the African antiquity.

One classic example of who writes history is the account of the abolition of slavery. Traditional views written in Britain were entirely Eurocentric and convey a fairy tale that slavery was ended only by high-minded Christians who knew slavery was wrong. The true history written by Jamaicans like Douglas Hall, Richard Hart, Verene Shepherd, and Carey Robinson is that our ancestors liberated themselves from slavery by continuous revolt. This is a far more glorious account in which we were active in making history and not the subject of history made by others.

Given the paucity of time and resources devoted to recording our history, the question is why? It seems the answer lies in a combination of accepting the misleading history written by others and the fact that recalling most of our history, especially 500 years of slavery, is too painful. We must face it, accept it and reconcile ourselves to the fact that such brutality is part of what Jung calls the "collective unconscious" and is a large part of why we are the most violent people in the world. This is clearly seen in the Diary of Thomas Thistlewood.

History is not only ancient times, but anything in the past, even as recent as yesterday. We are approaching the 50th year of Independence and we have not done enough to record the history of how we achieved Independence. We must go beyond the recall of the exploits of National Hero Norman Manley and the riots of the late 1930s. We must this year devote ourselves as a society to recording as much as possible about Independence.

The majority of Jamaicans were born after 1962 and do not have a full appreciation of what it meant. The people who were adults and active in the struggle are in their 80s and 90s. We must capture their story by oral history. Our opportunity and their capacity to record this history is disappearing with each and every day. Each of us has a responsibility to learn and record that history.

We can all be historians because everybody has a story that is worth knowing. Let this not be like the pangs of disappointment we all experience when we recall with regret the things we neglected to ask our grandparents.




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