Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bahamian History and Bahamian National Heroes... Happy National Heroes Day Bahamas!

Our history and national heroes


Monday, October 14, 2013 is a day for the history books of our nation as we celebrated the first National Heroes Day in The Bahamas.

This historic feat comes after years of lobbying and advocacy by several individuals and certain sectors of the Bahamian society for a public holiday in honor of our national heroes.  It was therefore heart-warming when on Thursday, October 10, 2013, Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes gave assent to the passage of two bills which paved the way for the National Heroes Day celebration and the observance of January 10 each year as a public holiday in honor of Majority Rule Day.

Discovery and a nation in transition

History records that in 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail upon the seas from Spain to discover what became known as the New World.  The Bahamas will always have its place in world history as the record shows that Columbus’ first stop on his voyage was Guanahani Cay, which he called San Salvador meaning “the land of Jesus Christ the Savior”.  The blessings upon The Bahamas are apparent in that in spite of our size, our country holds a unique place in history based on the voyage of Columbus.

All across the Americas, nations have paid homage to Christopher Columbus either by recognition of a public holiday or through monuments.  However, many nations have moved to change the name of the holiday for diverse reasons.  Some argue that Columbus was not the first European to sail the Americas, nor could he have discovered that which already existed.  In other words, The Bahamas which is recorded as his first landfall during his first of four voyages, was already inhabited by Arawaks, Tainos and Lucayans.  To reinforce the case against perpetuating the celebration of Discovery Day, Columbus is accused of genocide and eradicating many of the natives during his voyages.  The transition of Discovery Day into National Heroes Day, in our case, also marks another step in the life of our country as we cut ties with our colonial past, giving honor to the men and women of yesterday who fought to create the modern Bahamas as we now know it today.

A landmark event and movement

The Bahamas is one of the last countries in the region to make this long overdue shift as many of our Caribbean counterparts have over the years opted for a National Heroes Day.  It is fitting that the Government of The Bahamas has made this landmark step to recognize the heroes of our nation to ensure that the accomplishments and memories of such unique individuals are enshrined in the conscience of our people from generation to generation.

Additionally, the commemoration of majority rule will forever tell the stories of the struggles of our foremothers and forefathers who fought for the voice of the majority to be heard and the opportunity for equality to be achieved within our commonwealth.  It is our hope that these significant steps taken by the government will also ensure that a full account of history is taught and preserved for future generations.

Our history and our identity

For many years, those of us who were educated in The Bahamas during the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and even into the new millennium, were taught American and European history for the most part.  Regrettably, we still do not have a formal and comprehensive Bahamian history curriculum within our nation’s school system; this is a matter in need of urgent attention for our history is a major part of who we are as a people.

On a personal note, this writer recalls being introduced to Bahamian history from a political perspective during a government and politics elective course at The College of The Bahamas back in the late nineties.  This begs the question: What about the thousands of Bahamians who may not pursue tertiary education and never enter the halls of The College The Bahamas?  Their only hopes are the biographies and memoirs of past Bahamian leaders or the more popular informal education, which may sometimes be skewed, one-sided and/or inaccurate depending upon the mindset of the individual telling the story.

A dedication to Bahamian history

Spanish philosopher George Santayana stated in his “Reason in Common Sense” that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  For this reason, it is essential that the Bahamian people, specifically the younger generation, are aware of their history lest we repeat a part of our history to our detriment and the struggles of those before are rendered in vain.  The institution of Bahamian History Month will certainly shine the spotlight on past victories and defeats of those who came before us and fought the good fight to secure the liberties we now enjoy.  Moreover, it may encourage those persons with a story to tell to do so while recording their contributions and sacrifices made for the benefit of our nation.

The education of the populace is important to avoid a return to the dungeons of intolerance and inequality of The Bahamas of old.  It should not be unthinkable that The Bahamas can find itself in the position that it was in pre-majority rule or even pre-independence.  Colonization, albeit in a more subtle and economic form, is still a concern in today’s world – particularly for small island states like The Bahamas, with wealth and political power at the heart of this ill.

Commonality for the national interest

The camaraderie that existed between the individuals of diverse political affiliations, gender, race and creed who labored for the recognition of our national heroes must be allowed to spread throughout our archipelago.  We must always live up to our motto and progress “forward, upward, onward together”.  As we begin to identify and honor our national heroes, we must be ever mindful of their concepts of nationhood, their struggle for freedom, their contributions to our social transformation and their willingness to give of themselves for the benefit of our Bahamas.  These individuals may not have been and will not be perfect; however, their flaws should not disqualify them from national recognition or diminish their status based upon the work they have done to contribute to the quality of life for all Bahamians and their role in the fulfilment of our destiny as a nation.

The spirit of our true national heroes should transcend political divides and address the polarization of our country which has yielded no positive results.  The current state of the U.S., whose government has been shut down and is at risk of a default on its debts, is a chilling reminder of this fact; the reality that level heads should prevail and personal interest should not supersede the national interest lest the nation is destabilized.

As we continue to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our independence, we applaud the government for making this bold and historic move.  We applaud the National Heroes Committee and other proponents of this cause for their tireless efforts over the years to make this day a reality.  In the words of the Rev. Canon S. Sebastian Campbell, a nationalist and progressive who no doubt will have his place in our history, “We urge all our people on all our islands to celebrate our heroes and establish traditions for years to come.”

Happy National Heroes Day!

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October 15, 2013