While reading a commentary published in the Oct. 18 edition of The BVI Beacon, it was gratifying to hear another voice calling for a Virgin Islands National Heroes Day and a National Heroes Square. The suggestion has joined similar calls made in various forums over the years for documenting our history and honouring our people in some appropriate, tangible way.
The remit of the VI Studies Institute includes fostering “individual, national and cultural identity” and promoting “social consciousness,” and an advisory committee was established in 2007 “to give general guidance on the range and type of research and community outreach to be conducted.” Such efforts would encourage and facilitate documenting our history and memorial-making activities.
Similarly, the History Research Programme of the Archives Unit in the Deputy Governor’s Office was established in 2007 to promote, encourage and recognise local history research in the VI. The programme was vigorous. It provided stimulus, encouragement and opportunity for individual empowerment and for collective nation building. It produced 15 significant research documents for reference and study, authored by Virgin Islanders. Sadly, however, with the passing of the government baton, that initiative was not continued.
More than 15 years ago, a Heritage and Legacy Committee was established under the government of the day. The terms of reference included creating a mechanism whereby our heroes and heroines could be identified and honoured. Criteria to be considered as a national hero or heroine were even formulated, but, alas, a few meetings into the programme and the change of government threw it completely out of whack — and like every other good programme the incoming government finds on the books, the idea died the natural death of indifference, bigotry and downright selfishness.
No national plan
But that happens when a territory does not have a national plan. Without a national plan there is no continuity, as every party in government comes with its own agenda. Even within the party there are sometimes fractured and split agendas, to the detriment of prior existing well-intentioned projects. Instead of continuing and completing worthwhile projects for the public good, there is often prodigious wastage of taxpayers’ money and effort.
So, yes, the call for erecting memorials is a legitimate one. Memorials are necessary because people in every age often either inertly forget or intentionally choose not to remember on whose shoulders they stand. For that reason, Biblical leaders were sometimes given specific instructions by God Himself to build memorials as a reminder. For instance, after the people of Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan River, God instructed Joshua on how and of what to build a memorial.
It was to serve not only as an opportunity to tell children about what happened on the day of the crossing, but also as a reminder of the event’s significance. The value was twofold: Firstly, it demonstrated the power of their God to all the nations; secondly, it was a sign to the Israelites so that they “might fear the Lord God forever.”
Similarly for us, memorials would have contemporary and eternal value.
Like the riverbed stones, memorials would remind us that the successes and deliverance of our forbears and stalwart citizens were the result of God’s gracious care, protection, provision and vision.
So as we sit meditating and reflecting in the National Heroes Square, our thoughts should also be directed from them towards the real giver and only wise God. There in contemplation, we will experience a measure of humility. Who needs the National Heroes Square?
In the poem, “The Turtles Pride,” the poet asks, “Which star will guide / Which ship ashore / To crush the turtle’s pride / Or save the rowboat’s oar?”