Jamaica Gleaner / This is the season when we reflect on our seven national heroes – Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley. In addition, we give consideration to who deserves to be a national hero and who else wants to be a national hero. According to the most recent Gleaner -sponsored Bill Johnson Poll, Jamaicans do not perceive many Jamaicans deserving of the highest honour – the award of national hero. However, two per cent of Jamaicans would give Vybz Kartel, dancehall artiste, the title of national hero. How do we assess this? Kartel is a prolific songwriter. However, he also has two serious negatives. First, he has penned some violent lyrics and second, he has been convicted of murdering his friend. Nevertheless, two per cent of Jamaicans still think he should be a national hero. This is coming from the British play book when Henry Morgan, a notorious pirate, was given a knighthood and made governor of Jamaica. However, Britain has become more discerning these days. Take, for example, Geoff Boycott, former test batsman for England, who has scored 151 first-class centuries but has never been knighted. Why? It is said that because in 1996 he beat Margaret Moore, his ex-girlfriend. Do you think that in Jamaica a known wife-beater would be disqualified from getting a national award? Well, being convicted of murder is not a deterrent from being perceived as a national hero.
In Jamaica, the order of national hero is awarded for services of the most distinguished nature rendered by Jamaican citizens to Jamaica. This honour is awarded on the retirement of the recipient from active public life or posthumously. Surprisingly, there are no specific criteria for the award. It is very subjective.
In 1975, Billy Hall, a veteran journalist, suggested five criteria for the award of national hero. I have adopted some. A national hero should be someone whose work has affected significantly the direction of the main course of Jamaican history for the better; who sacrificed reputation and/or life in the interest of the struggle of the people; showed unusual courage by defying or challenging the oppressive rulers and their philosophy of exploitation; who, by force of personality, presence and performance, becomes a leading figure and symbol of a significant event, era, or movement in Jamaican history in the interest of the common good; whose contribution has a lasting positive effect, and who was loved by the people on whose behalf he or she was working and is appreciated by the present generation.
A national hero is not perfect but inspires the citizens to greater heights.
Because Kartel is the best lyricist in Jamaica is not enough. The lyrics would have to challenge the status quo ; empower people to produce their best; change the violent culture and ‘informa fe dead’ mantra; risk life and property for speaking out about the ills of society.
Tremaine Brown, a deportee from England, is a better candidate for national hero because he jumped into a gully with rushing water and strong current and saved a boy, Renaldo Reynolds. A reporter asked Tremaine what reward he was expecting and he said he was expecting nothing because he did it out of love. Tremaine, son of a revivalist pastor, cannot swim but risked his life and got injured for a boy he did not know.
Our national heroes are persons who risked their lives for the betterment of Jamaicans. They epitomise a life characterised by sacrificial living – putting the needs of others above their own; ensuring the upliftment of the nation; giving their all. That’s what national heroes are made of. So, who wants to be a national hero?
– Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to [email protected] gleanerjm.com.