I applaud the theme of the BVI National Commission for UNESCO World Poetry Competition 2021: “Perspectives of Our Past: Unsung Heroes.”
So often our lips declare that “we stand on their shoulders” without intentionally knowing or researching on whose shoulders we really stand. Some of us stop at certain categories of vocation and fail to recognise others who have also contributed much to the building of these Virgin Islands.
Thirty-three years ago, a Virgin Islander, writing the lead article in a book celebrating the 11th Meeting of the Authority of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States held here, called for this territory to create essential social structures “at a time when the entire Caribbean is calling for new definitions of ‘development’ in terms of national needs and cultural aspirations.”
The article emphasised that the territory should recognise its responsibility to create 1) an environment that values integrity and truth, trust and civility, the graces and the arts; and 2) structures in which historians and writers, politicians and preachers, civil servants, healers and health folk, educators and artists, designers and builders, boat captains and merchants, fishermen and farmers are remembered and honoured. Every worthy activity in which citizens excelled was to be honoured. That was 33 years ago! Have we created those essential structures in which to honour our citizens who excel in various spheres?
Badge of Honour
Since then, we have had the BVI Badge of Honour, but we have not created a comprehensive national honouring structure whereby a wider scope of citizens could be honoured locally. Almost two decades ago, a Legacy Committee was formed with the objective of formulating criteria for honours such as the National Heroes Award.
However, incoming governments sometimes have problems with continuity, and, therefore, that idea was chopped and dropped.
One “unsung” category of public servants who have been overlooked over the years is that group defined as “government agents.” They served this territory long before politicians came on the scene. Each district had its appointed government agent, who served conscientiously and held the community together as effectively as any politician today. They transformed their dining and/or living rooms into “rent-free” government offices. Additionally, they provided office furnishings without assistance from the government. Yes, office-space was rent-free to government! Would that happen today? Thought for meditation!
The government agents’ duties involved representing the government in the district; collecting taxes and issuing receipts; paying-in monies to the treasury; keeping ledgers; operating postal services and sometimes registries; ensuring that the public road was maintained; ensuring the relief fund was administered; receiving and accommodating officials from Road Town and from overseas; and keeping the peace. Government agents were also appointed as local constables, doing similar duties as policemen. (Killings and murders were almost non-existent. In all my years up until the 1970s, I heard of only two).
Those “unsung heroes” accompanied officials on given missions to overhaul and assess situations concerning land, community improvements and new projects; to settle disputes; and to witness claims.
This writer has made several submissions reminding us all of those “unsung ones” who served VI above and beyond self and the call of duty, and that they should be honoured in some way.
So, yes, poets, do your research to find out who those and other “unsung heroes/sheroes” are.
But how are we to ensure that our honouring systems are fair and just? Firstly, a National Honouring Commission should be appointed to formulate criteria and standards. The honouring system should be published so that all may know what the established standards are.
Incidentally, the abovementioned article of 33 years ago speaks of integrity and truth, trust and civility, and embraces endeavours in all spheres of activity. Those are certainly worthy values to incorporate in any such structure.
Secondly, all suggestions for honourees should be submitted to the commission for overhaul, critique and sanction, and then reported to the responsible ministry for final agreement before they are announced as “done deals.”
May the theme for UNESCO World Poetry Competition 2021 — “Perspectives of Our Past: Unsung Heroes” — garner rich yields!