Author: Jeevan A. Robinson - MNI Media | Date: 04 February 2018
What are the full names of those souls who died in their search of freedom on that fateful St Patrick's Day rebellion of 1768?
This year will be 250 years since that day, but does not knowing all of their names make their sacrifice any less significant?
The Island of Montserrat is agonising over development and nationalism, yet I see in many aspects the soiling of the memory of the St Patrick’s Day sacrifice, by those who even dare to ask why does it matter today?
Sometimes it is beyond frightful that we seem to be losing the soul of this island as issues of migration, cultural dissonance and various modes of professional disrespect take root ever more increasingly in this era of Montserrat's evolution.
It matters today the sacrifice of the St Patrick’s Freedom Fighters of March 17th, 1768. Not in the context of seeking the celebration of a failed slave rebellion, as it should not be so.
The agitators for St Patrick's true heritage and Montserrat's cultural and historical preservation are saying that the efforts of those valiant ones that dared to demand their freedom, and made plans to take it, is and by itself a great memory and crusading moment within the island's history that shows its people by example, that the Ancestors did not simply lay back and accept their fate. They were willing to get up and take what was their’s. In the Montserrat of today, with Premier Romeo going hands outstretched begging to DFID continuously, the island's people can take some lessons and get up and reclaim this country.
Seeking for St Patrick's to be appropriately positioned is not seeking a celebration of a failed slave rebellion. It is rather seeking a celebration, plus due respect and accord for national sacrifice and the spilling of blood on these hallowed lands of Montserrat so that the basic human right of freedom could have been attained.
If we do not see this as something worth giving national respect and recognition to, then I fear that all the arguments that are floating around about nationalism and patriotic pride and duties so encompassed, may very well be aerated noises that sound good as rhetoric and posturing.
Theo Semper, a few weeks ago wrote a piece on the history of the uprising, which you can access and read here.
Some are within their rights to question the idea of Heritage, when it is very clear the direct economic benefit of St Patrick's to the island for that week of activities so staged.
Truly, it is a wonderful thing to see citizens of Montserrat and businesses making much needed revenue in a stagnant economic environment. That can never be denied.
Last year, one of the organisers of the St Patrick's week of activities put forward this notion that some were against people making money. The very thought of that notion publicly expressed by that individual was laughable, and did not warrant any response due to its audacity of misguided inference.
What is key is that for citizens of Montserrat to make money from St Patrick's as they very well should and must in a long term sustainable manner, this could still take place without St Patrick's losing the heritage, historical and cultural elements of what it should mean for this island of Montserrat.
Is St Patrick's now a carnival? Was this the plan all along to destroy the year-end celebration and expose its failings in favour of St Patrick's?
Should St Patrick's be allowed to hasten the death of the year-end festival while the island's leadership stands by and does very little to place each of Montserrat's Festivals in proper context with a sound development plan of monetizing each one for the benefit of vendors, promoters and other revenue seekers, but more so importantly for the cultural and historical relevance it holds for Montserrat?
The efforts we see being afforded in St Patrick’s, why not ensure this effort is also facilitated for the year-end festival?
Montserrat does not have an end date on its timeline. So when planners destroy the year-end festival, what does that leave for future generations and the preservation of a storied 55-year history of festival on Montserrat? Both St Patrick's and year-end festival can co-exist, but it takes a visionary leadership approach to address and fix the issue.
Noises are being made about non-payment of local entertainers and contributors to the 2017 St Patrick's Festival. But yet very little noises are being made about the audit report that Premier Romeo asked for regarding last year's St Patrick's Festival. Should we allow Romeo to speak up on these things firstly?
In any event, a grand party is being planned and Montserrat will be alight with activity. That is a positive thing.
But in this year's celebration, even more so, my thoughts are on commemoration for those that died in 1768 - 250 years ago.
What can be done?
I would ask of the Honourable Premier and Members of the St Patrick's committee, to kindly allocate some of the St Patrick's funding towards commissioning and receiving a commemorative symbol to be placed either in the hallways of the Montserrat Cultural Center, or even next to the new War Memorial down in Little Bay. A symbol where all citizens and visitors to Montserrat can see and pay homage to the sacrifice for freedom made 250 years ago by our Ancestors who desired nothing less than their freedom upon these lands.
This commemorative symbol so commissioned should reflect both Montserrat's African Heritage and our uniquely developed Montserrat identity as a people who have risen out of bondage and servitude.
Such a symbol would show respect. It would also spark a sense of pride, I feel, into our community to show that we have not forgotten from whence we came from, and the sacrifice of our Ancestors.
What about the year-end Festival?
For people to come back to the year-end festival, it will require lively activities that are marketed from early to entice people to come. The Festival village for instance should not be closed off as soon as events are finished. Festival needs an injection of capital to reboot it, or else it would die a silent death and St Patrick’s would end up also losing the real reason why it is even of significance on Montserrat.
The Future of Culture and the Importance of History
Ask many of the young persons around the significance of St Patrick’s and they will tell you it’s for Carnival. Many have no clue of the quest for freedom and what that means in the context and history of the Montserrat of today that the island’s people are seeking to rebuild.
Note: Jeevan A. Robinson is Editor-in-Chief and Head of Business Development at Marketing, News & Information Media - MNI Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org