Assess the Role of Jamaicans in the Caribbean Experience of the Past 50 years By Magnus Brensyl Esdaille

Magnus Esdaille after collecting cell from Digicel

Basseterre, St Kitts; 11 October 2012: The presentation below is the reproduction of the essay submitted by Magnus Brensyl Esdaille which won him the first prize in the Jamaica 50 St. Kitts Nevis Essay Competition in the Young Adults (aged 16 to 25) Category which was held in August 2012 as part of the celebration of Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Political Independence in the Federation.

It is, in my estimation, beyond dispute that no account of the Caribbean’s historical experience, be it of the near or distant past, or of current times, is even contemplatable far less complete without reference to Jamaica and its unique and singular contribution to what is collectively the Caribbean experience.

This input by/from Jamaica in actuality spans the gamut of the Caribbean’s history from ‘discovery’, settlement and colonialism, to post-emancipation, decolonization, pre-independence, and post-independence, but specifically to the past fifty (50) years since Jamaica’s attainment of political independence, Jamaica and its people have had a significant say in crafting and shaping the Caribbean is a fait accompli, and warrants no defense.

In August 1962 (subsequent to the collapse of the West Indies Federation), Jamaica preceded Trinidad & Tobago in severing the colonial bonds that subjected (or is it subjugated?) it to the ‘Mother Country’, Great Britain, by becoming a free and independent member country of the world community, assuming leadership of its own internal and external affairs, and being master of its own destiny and captain of its own fate. Its first Prime Minister was the Right Excellent William Alexander Bustamante.

In so doing, Jamaica led the way for the English-speaking countries to follow in exercising the rights, privileges and responsibilities of full sovereignty. Jamaica blazed the trail in this respect, for indeed, among all the islands of the Caribbean, only the two countries that occupy Hispaniola (Haiti in 1804 and the Dominican Republic in 1844) had achieved that feat before it. And, of course, since then, all members of CARICOM, save Montserrat, beginning with Trinidad & Tobago, have followed that route.

Over the past 50 years, Jamaica has led the region in several other areas, in very conspicuous ways, in the process of solidifying that country’s role in the Caribbean experience. For example, Jamaica was at the table of the 1st Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM not long after its establishment in 1973-1974, along with Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago. Its leader then, the Most Honourable Michael Norman Manley, became a well-known vociferous champion of the Third World and Caribbean agenda, ensuring that the Region was represented at important world fora such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

Jamaica was also a part of the group of four Caribbean nations which defied threats and western policy by affording diplomatic recognition of Cuba in the mid 1970’s.

Jamaica also spoke for much of the Caribbean in its unrelenting opposition to the inhuman system of Apartheid practised in South Africa for several decades, right up to 1990.

The University College of the West Indies, precursor to the University of the West Indies, was set up in 1968, with Jamaica (at Mona) naturally being the site of the largest of the three Campuses. (The others being in Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago).

Jamaica, with its immediately-recognisable black, green and gold flag, has seen an impressive number of its nationals, both at home and in the Diaspora, boast a litany of achievements by individuals and collections of individuals which, taken together, speak clearly of a colossal contribution to things Caribbean.

These inputs easily override and supercede whatever non-constructive developments certain characters would have occasioned. For example, the negative ‘vibes’ emitted by the likes of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, Vybz Cartel, and Ben Johnson are readily overwhelmed and transcended by the enviable feats of the likes of Usain Bolt, the Most Honourable Percival James Patterson, the Honourable Jimmy Cliff, the Most Honourable Portia Simpson, the Honourable Louise Bennet, Roderick Rainford, Kenneth Hall and the Honourable Rex Nettleford, among many others.

These latter named individuals are but a sample of the repertoire of talent and expertise that Jamaicans have shared in the Caribbean experience over the past half-century. Some of the most excellent performances and productions in the fields of sports, politics, entertainment, music, literature, academia, dance, cuisine, culture and economics have been contributed by Jamaicans.

Where would the Caribbean – and the world – be without reggae, ska, track and field sprinters, and ackee? These all originate from Jamaica!

It is no surprise that Jamaica was the first Caribbean island to field a team at World Cup (soccer) Finals. In fact, in the field of sports, Jamaica’s contribution to the Caribbean collective is superlatively significant. The ‘Reggae Boyz’ and the ‘Reggae Girlz’ have done extremely well, as good as many and better than most (Caribbean islands) in the areas of netball, boxing, football (soccer), volleyball and basketball. In the field of track, Jamaica has been described as a veritable ‘Sprint Factory’, churning out speedsters the likes of Bolt, Powell, Blake, and others. And no West Indies (Caribbean) cricket team has ever been assembled without the inclusion of batsmen, bowlers or fielders from Jamaica.

It is also quite understandable that the late and lamented Emperor of Ethiopia, His Excellency Ras Tafari Makonnen Haile Selassie I opted to plant his feet on the soil of Jamaica in the said year, 1962, when he first visited the Caribbean. After all, not only was Jamaica the largest and most powerful of the Region’s territories politically, economically and culturally, but, and no doubt more importantly, it was the land where the Rastafarian movement had its Caribbean genesis, and from whence the faith’s influence and roots spread to every single other island and country in the region over the years. (Of course, the followers of Rastafarianism regard Selassie as their Supreme Divine Being.)

Jamaica also played a critical role in the invasion and occupation of Grenada in late 1983, in collusion with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) territories and the United States, in the aftermath of the self-destruction of the Grenadian Revolution, culminating in the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Maurice Rupert Bishop. Jamaica was then, as it is still arguably now, the lead military power of the Region.

Further, the distinct, unique accent and vocabulary of the Jamaican tongue is not only instantly recognisable but also actually a welcome ingredient in the Caribbean melting-pot.

Many contend that the Caribbean is not the Caribbean, certainly not complete, without Jamaica. Many persons in far-away – and not so far away! – lands know only of Jamaica as an island country of the Region. Many citizens/nationals of other Caribbean territories are obliged to cite Jamaica as a point of reference in describing their geographic location. Accordingly, it can be seen that Jamaica’s contribution to the Caribbean experience is powerful, singular, and lasting. It is beyond dispute that Jamaica represents a hard act to follow with respect to its influence and input in the development of the Caribbean over the past 50 years.

Congratulations to Jamaica and its people on the attainment of their Jubilee of Independence.

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