Antiguans and Barbudans are not by a long stretch particularly nationalistic. Forget November 1, every year, when the buntin and the flag are very much evident and all three verses of the National Anthem are sung with gusto, then we can almost not remember from whence we came.
So it is that we are somewhat surprised that in the weekly Pulse Poll conducted by this organisation, 94 per cent of the respondents gave a resounding “yes” to whether they believe Oungku’s version of the National Anthem was unpatriotic.
Of course, so many answering in the affirmative has to do with the timing of the question. A few weeks ago consciousness was raised, when this media house drew to the attention of the public that the national flag had another version being flown in many parts of the country with two guns crisscrossing the sun.
This derivation of the national symbol raised the ire of enough people of influence that its author was forced to remove it from the landscape.
Not many days later, a musical icon presented his own rendition of the National Anthem. The response came fast and furious. He, too, was forced to abandon it despite his explanation, which, on the face of it might appear laudable – the need for young people to learn the words.
The problem lies much deeper than these two scenarios illustrate. The national symbols, to include the anthem are for one purpose only – to engender pride in us. Pride in who we are; pride in our accomplishments; and pride in a future yet to unfold.
There is something intrinsically wrong when the National Flag is not flown from every government institution in the land. The daily hoisting of the flag should be a ritual practised in every school across Antigua & Barbuda. The singing of the National Anthem should be part of the daily routine. The anthem should be played at every public function.
Why, to engender pride in country and respect for its symbols. In a few months time the Olympic Games will take place in London. We can imagine how our hearts will swell with pride when the march past is shown on television and our flag will be in the line-up. We can already savour the sweet taste of the National Anthem if any of our athletes even come close to medalling. Such is the power of the flag and the anthem.
We have often felt compelled to admire the Jamaicans who live amongst us for their overwhelming sense of self and their overarching love of things from ”back ah yard” This is not co-incidental. Love of country is instilled at birth and wherever they happen to find themselves, Jamaicans remain just that, and will fly to the defense of their native land at the drop of a hat.
We, on the other hand, are so busy being cosmopolitan that there is no room or place to be Antiguan.
Another musician of the same family is noted for another song, Ah Yah Me Born which gets much airplay around Independence time. The point is we have to take it beyond mere words. We have to truly live the words by showing allegiance to this land and the symbols which represent it.
Some get offended when others do not appear to show respect for our land and the things we regard as important, but oftentimes we are guilty of doing the same thing. What signal are we sending when we are prepared to dry hump at Lions to our National Anthem. What message is there in men and women grinding in the streets of St John’s to the Motto?
Oungku’s motive of getting young people to learn the words might have been laudable, but he certainly was not going about it in the right way.
We have all heard the Star Spangled Banner being rendered in all sorts of octaves. Whitney Houston was noted for her version unheard of since, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be said she or anyone else sung it in a disrespectful manner.
The essence of the matter is in a land where respect has become a scarce commodity this is just another illustration of how far we have slid as a people. Respect for national symbols is a “sometimes thing.” It is almost ironic that flags, which are almost never flown at full staff, are flown at half-staff when someone of national stature dies.
Thus, we can only hang our heads when the National Anthem like the National Flag is like the proverbial “good china,” only on show when guests come to dinner.
Perhaps, were we to make them a part of the fabric of this society then we would have no issues of lack of respect.