Now that the ceremonies and the celebrations are over, Antiguans and Barbudans must renew their efforts to “Embrace our national pride.” It is not only the need of the hour, but it is imperative for the future. Our destiny demands it! Here’s hoping that in some way, this past week, we were inspired to embrace that pride of which we speak, by “girding our loins and joining the battle ‘gainst fear, hate and poverty.” [National Anthem]
We here at NEWSCO were quite pleased with the patriotic and enthusiastic way in which Antiguans and Barbudans threw themselves into all the Independence activities. It was certainly a thing of great beauty. OBSERVER did its part by featuring nationalist and Independence songs and covering and highlighting some of the great Antiguans and Barbudans who played a role in that first Independence Day on November 1, 1981. We’re talking about folks like Dame Bridget Harris who conducted church and community town halls in a bid to get the thoughts of ordinary Antiguans and Barbudans on our new Independence constitution. We’re talking about Sir Robert Hall, Sir Vere Bird Sr., Sir Lester Bird, Arthur Nibbs, Cosmos Phillip, QC, Sir McChesney George, Mackenzie Frank, MP Eric Burton, and a number of others who were part of the Constitutional conference at Lancaster House, England, from December 4 to 16, 1980. [Vernon Hall, son of Sir Robert Hall]
It was at that conference that Barbuda expressed its unwillingness to go into independence with Antigua, because the Barbudans felt that they would not get a fair shake from Antigua. (Sigh!) Recent events, post-Hurricane Irma, and events post-1981, have confirmed the worst fears of Barbudans. All of this, despite the airy wave of Papa Bird’s hand, and his declaration that he did not wish to prolong the wrangling over Barbuda, and he would, “Leave the Barbuda people alone!” He assured the British, who were exceedingly eager to get rid of us after centuries of rape, that even though the conference ended without a definitive settlement of the Barbuda question, he would not upset the Barbuda expectation that they would be “Masters of their own island” (Prince Klaas), and left to continue their centuries-old tradition of communal land ownership. This Papa Bird pledge was made much to the chagrin of folks like Mr. Cosmos Phillips, QC and Sir Lester Bird, who reportedly barged into a private session between Papa Bird and the British representatives to dissuade his father with the words, “Daddy, daddy, ah-wha you-ah do? You cyarnt do that!” He was reportedly thrown out of the inner sanctum. [Vernon Hall and Mackenzie Frank]
Anyway, notwithstanding these teething pains, we became a new nation (Drum roll!) and we have made enormous strides since that momentous day when we became an independent nation within the commonwealth of nations. Unfortunately, we are still “British” in many of our traditions. We still retain the British monarch as our head of state, the dour visage of the Queen is still adorning our currency, and we still seem psychologically shackled to the pernicious notion that foreign extraction of our wealth, and foreign ownership of our means of production and enterprise, are still the way to go. In fact, even the notion of the ‘commonwealth of nations,’ is a British construct designed to keep us in Britain’s orbit.
Then there are the seemingly small matters like the retention of British names of our places and so-called British heroes, that are so mentally debilitating. We’re talking about Queen Victoria Park (The Botanical Gardens), King George V Grounds, Nelson’s Dockyard (He hated our beloved Antigua and called it, “An insufferable little hole”), Queen Elizabeth Highway, Her Majesty’s Prison (its present conditions is a fitting metaphor for the state in which Britain left us), and so on and so forth. In fact, our psychological problems (low self-esteem, self-loathing), health problems (diabetes and high blood pressure), persistent poverty (See George Beckford), crippling indebtedness, mistreatment and debasement of our women, and a resort to violence, can be traced back to our dastardly colonial past. Reparations are not only due, they are long overdue!
Interestingly, whilst on the question of psychological debilitation. It was Sir Lester Bird, among others, who, in the years between the first talk of Independence by the then-ruling Progressive Labour Movement (See, VOTE GEORGE WALTER FOR ANTIGUA’S FIRST PRIME MINISTER) and the return of the Antigua Labour Party to power in 1976, threw cold water on our “yearning to breathe free,” by saying that we were not mentally ready for freedom/independence. Good grief! In his words, “It was not the right psychological moment!” You ever! It was the same injurious thinking that informed the reasoning of planters in the Caribbean on the eve of Emancipation – that blacks are savages, only one-third human, and likely to run amok with a cutlass, exacting revenge. Of course, they were also concerned about retaining their source of cheap labour, hence the idea of “apprenticeship” after August 1, 1834. Hmmm!
From Papa Willie to Prince Klaas to Mama Africa (they all plotted to kill plantation owners and set us free), to Sir Papa Bird, Sir Vivian Richards, Sir George Walter, Dame Nellie Robinson and Sir Lester Bird (never mind his Lancaster House faux pas, and his we-are not-ready-mentally rhetoric), to Team Antigua Island Girls, Team Antigua Atlantic Rowers and Team Wadadli (retraced the damned journey of our ancestors across the Atlantic), to Luther George, Sir Robert Hall and Sir Keithlyn Smith, to Sir Andy Roberts, Sir Curtley Ambrose, Sir Richie Richardson, and a host of great Antiguans and Barbudans who have laid the firm foundations for this blessed nation of ours, we embrace with great pride, their epic achievements and draw inspiration from same.
Similarly, with the unveiling of this year’s Independence Day honorees, we are clearly on the right path when it comes to celebrating and lifting up our own. We’re talking about Edris Leatrice Mercier-Bird, Dame Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the Nation – DCN, “for distinguished service in the field of education and community service;” Dwayne Thwaites, Esq., Officer of the Most Illustrious Order of Merit – OM, “for distinguished contribution in the field of medicine and community service;” Junior Adolphus Martin, Esq., Member of the Most Precious Order of Princely Heritage – MH, “for distinguished contribution in the field of music;” Glasford Leroy Anthony Francis, Esq., Officer of the Most Illustrious Order of Merit – OM, “for distinguished contribution in the field of business and community service;”Glendina C. Jacobs, Member of the Most Illustrious Order of Merit – MM, “for distinguished contribution in the field of education and community service;” Rupert Pelle, Esq., Member of the Most Precious Order of Princely Heritage – MH, “for distinguished contribution in the field of music and community service;” Ronald Leslie Randall, Esq., Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the Nation – CN, “for distinguished contribution in the field of tourism and community service;” and Wilbur Darwin Marconi Purcell Esq., Officer of the Most Illustrious Order of the Merit – OM, “for distinguished contribution in the field of business and community service.”
May God ever bless the honorees, and may we build on their lives and legacies. May Independence 2019 be another stepping stone in our quest for a greater and brighter Antigua and Barbuda.