The Need to Understand our Past

I read a wonderful piece today, “A Triad of Identity Issues” by Justice Patrick Robinson in which he dealt with three topical issues, Reparation, the Monarchy, and the Caribbean Court of Justice.  This article brought a quite refreshing viewpoint as it put squarely on the table three issues from the perspective of one of such international standing, and who is Jamaican.  I saw the article in my Facebook news update and after sharing this article I promptly went back to Facebook to continue with my usual browsing on a slow Sunday early afternoon.  

Portia Simpson Miller and David

Lo and behold I saw a posting from one of my classmates dealing with the subject matter of slavery and reparation.  After reading his post which states inter alia “Keep it real! It is similar to tourists coming to Jamaica and they know more about Jamaica than the Jamaicans living in Jamaica. It is great that you reflect on what happened in the past but let your ancestors rest in peace, they are tired, they endured a lot. Pay attention to what is in front of you because I would bet that NONE OF YOU WOULD WANT TO GO BACK IN TIME TO LIVE THE LIVES OF YOUR ENSLAVED ANCESTORS! NONE OF YOU WOULD USE ANY MONEY YOU GET FROM REPARATION, TO DO ANYTHING BUT PAY BILLS AND BUY FANCY STUFF. I can empathise with past and present slaves but unless it is literally staring me in the face, I’m gonna pay attention to my current life”.


I shook my head in disbelief, because one of the points raised in Justice Robinson’s piece was the lack of knowledge in the society of our history, and now this is confirmed by one, who I know very well and was the beneficiary of a good Jesuit education.  Whereas one cannot drive a car looking in the rear view mirror, the rear view mirror is very important in the operation of a motor vehicle for the simple reason one can see what is coming from behind. The past does affect the future.  Hence, I thoroughly agree with the points articulated by Justice Robinson.  Maybe, just maybe if we had changed our Constitution from a Monarchial to a Republican one within the first five years of being granted independence, the point raised by my classmate would have been far more intelligent and enlightening.  Maybe, if the P. J. Patterson’s Administration interpretation of the Constitution was upheld by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which would have abolished appeal to the very same body who stood in judgement of the appeal, then maybe the Jamaica people would be speaking highly of this Court as for the first time they can access justice at the highest level.

We as a people cannot achieve the goals and objectives we set if we do not have control of our own destiny.  One may very well argue that we do have that control and look at what we have done with it, high crime levels, high unemployment and little or no growth in the Jamaican economy for the last fifty plus years.  However, I am arguing otherwise, because of the simple reason we have not properly learn or hence understand the struggles of our ancestors, who paid the ultimate price for their and our freedom. Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, and the numerous other unknown peasants who were brutally murdered by the British Army during the Colonial period; as a result this period in our history is not properly closed and David Cameron’s address last week in the Jamaican Parliament when he refused to apologise for the institution of slavery. The institution which made Britain the World Power it is today.  

Therefore then, our past keep hitting us in the rear end because we failed to look in the rear view mirror in order to understand our past. As pointed out in Justice Robinson’s piece, we know not or understand why our ancestors died, hence we cannot see the logics of delinking from the Privy Council, or the Monarchial System. Paul Bogle only wanted justice and reasonable wages for the peasant farmers in Stony Guts.  The striking labour workers in the 1938 riots, where 15 people were known to be killed was simple about better pay.  So if we had properly understood the issues and the reasons for the actions of our ancestors, the problems of a people being lost and adrift, with low productivity would not occur.


So, as we come upon another Heroes Week, and the impending debate on the three CCJ Bills in the Senate, let us make this the start of the process of truly making ourselves independent, or else our ancestors will continue to turn in their graves.


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