Bahamian national heroes
Published: Oct 07, 2013
“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan
Next week, we celebrate Discovery Day in The Bahamas. This day is also celebrated in several Caribbean countries as well as North, Central and South America. While that date was initially named Columbus Day, there are some who will challenge whether the person for whom this holiday was named was a real hero, since his “discovery” of the New World led to the extinction of the native Carib and Arawak Indians of the region. Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider This... is it time for us to bring into force a national honors system for Bahamian heroes?
Various definitions are used to describe a hero. Invariably they usually refer to a person who is admired for acts of bravery or for the achievement of legendary feats or for possessing noble qualities. The hero of classical mythology fame normally represents a legendary personality, often of divine descent and endowed with considerable strength and prowess. In the literary sense, the hero is usually the principal character or central figure of such work.
Developing a Bahamian national honors system
Historically, our national heroes are recognized through Great Britain, principally by the national honors bestowed by the monarch, notably in the Queen’s New Year’s or Birthday Honors. The British honors system is a means of rewarding individuals for their personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom, to former British Colonies that have attained political independence, and to the British Overseas Territories. The system includes three types of award: honors, decorations and medals. Honors generally recognize merit in terms of achievement and service; decorations are used to recognize specific deeds; and medals are used to recognize bravery, long and/or valuable service and/or exceptional conduct.
We have become very familiar with such honors, including knighthoods and other auspicious awards such as the designation of Member of the British Empire (MBE), or Order of the British Empire (OBE). All of these honors, decorations and medals are rooted in British conventions and culture. This is perhaps the most compelling reason for establishing a Bahamian national honor system where we are not dependent on the British to confer such honors upon us.
In our region, Jamaica is far ahead of most of the other English-speaking Caribbean countries, including The Bahamas. Jamaica developed a unique system of national honors with the passage of the National Honours and Awards Act by its Parliament in 1969.
The quintessential Jamaican honor, “The Order of National Hero”, is conferred upon Jamaican citizens who have rendered service of the most distinguished nature to Jamaica and entitles the recipient to the pre-nominal style of “The Right Excellent” and to the post-nominal title “National Hero of Jamaica”. At the other end of the honors system, the “Order of Jamaica” is fifth in the order of precedence, and is awarded to Jamaican citizens of outstanding distinction. Membership in this order is considered the equivalent of a British knighthood, and entitles its recipients to the pre-nominal style of “The Honorable” and to the post-nominal title “Order of Jamaica” or “O.J.”
Trinidad and Tobago also developed a similar national honors system of awards after its independence from Great Britain in 1962, the same year as Jamaica. These awards supplanted the British honors, were approved in 1967 and first awarded in 1969.
Accordingly, there is precedence in our region and elsewhere within the British Commonwealth for the development of an indigenous, national honors system. It really begs the question: Why don’t we have our own, indigenous national honors system in The Bahamas? Sadly, it is for the very reason why we are habitually late at advancing progressive movements and institutions in our society. It seems that Bahamians possess an innately, indescribable, illogical and inherent love for things foreign. And sadly, it bespeaks a lack of confidence in ourselves, characteristic of our slender sense of sound self-worth and a deep-rooted lack of creativity and ingenuity. The challenge for us is how do we overcome such deficiencies?
Bahamian national heroes, past and present
It is very difficult to present a persuasive argument that there is a shortage of Bahamian heroes. Within minutes of cursorily considering this matter, we arrived at the following list of a few national heroes. This list is by no means all-inclusive, but simply demonstrates that we have a very large population of persons who qualify as national heroes in the following descriptive disciplines:
• Freedom fighters: Pompey, Sir Milo Butler and Sir Clifford Darling.
• Politicians: Sir Lynden Pindling, Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Sir Kendal Isaacs, Sir Stafford Sands, Sir Randol Fawkes, Arthur D. Hanna, Sir Arthur Foulkes, Sir Orville Turnquest, Hubert Ingraham, Perry Christie, Loftus Roker, and George Smith.
• Religious leaders: Archbishop Drexel Gomez and Monsignor Preston Moss.
• Educators: N.G.M. Major, C.V. Bethel, Dr. Keva Bethel, Leviticus ‘Lou’ Adderley and Vincent Ferguson.
• Artists: Amos Ferguson, Brent Malone, Jackson and Stan Burnside, Max Taylor and Patrick Rahming.
• Entertainers: Joseph Spence, Paul Meeres, John Berkley ‘Peanuts’ Taylor and Ronnie Butler.
• Sports icons: Tommy Robinson, Sir Durward Knowles, and the Golden Girls who won gold medals in the Olympics in the 4x100 relay.
• Cultural icons: Eugene Dupuch, Winston Saunders, Sir Sidney Poitier, Bert Williams, Randolph Symonette, James Catalyn, Jeannie Thompson, Junkanoo greats Vincent ‘Gus’ Cooper, Percy ‘Vola’ Francis, again, Jackson Burnside and Paul Knowles.
• Suffragettes: Mary Ingraham, Georgiana Symonette, Mabel Walker, Eugenia Lockhart and Dame Doris Johnson.
A Hall of Heroes
The time has come to recognize our national heroes and to confer upon them locally developed honors to recognize their contributions to national development in various fields of endeavor. It is also urgent that we establish a “Hall of Heroes” which need not necessarily be situated in a single location or facility. Our national heroes, once appropriately named to the Hall of Heroes, can be recognized in designated locations which could include the Dundas Centre for Performing Arts, the National Art Gallery, The College of The Bahamas, the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre, (which should be renamed after a Bahamian sports icon), Lynden Pindling International Airport, Clifton Heritage Park and other locations, such as some of the roundabouts on our various islands.
The urgent need for the development of a Bahamian national honors system cannot be overstated. Some Bahamians have lobbied for this for many years, with substantially unimpressive progress from the political directorate in a nationally established, systematic and sustained manner.
The bill that was passed during the previous Christie administration that established a national heroes holiday and national honors was ignored by the Ingraham government, notwithstanding the unrelenting pressure from many sectors to recognize our heroes with Bahamian awards.
It is now time for this Christie administration to not only resurrect that act and bring it to life, giving honor to those among us who deserve it, but to do it in the grand and respectful manner that Bahamian honorees deserve, finally joining our Caribbean counterparts in celebrating our own, in our own way, and showing the world how much we value ourselves and the contributions of our countrymen to this 21st century nation.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.