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No Mass Tribute for a Hero
By Howard Campbell, IPS, 25 August 1999
KINGSTON, Aug 25 (IPS) - Marcus Garvey once likened a people without knowledge of their history to a tree without roots. Some say the Pan Africanists famous statement sums up his relationship with the land of his birth.
For instance, token commemorations once again marked Garveys Aug 12 birth date throughout Jamaica, with the Rastafarian community's observance of his 112th birthday being the most pronounced.
The Visit, a play that pays homage to Garveys teachings, played in his birthplace in the rural parish of St. Ann as well as in Kingston, but there was no mass tribute to the Pan African movements most acclaimed son who died in London in 1940.
Much has been made about the lack of regard for Garveys work in Jamaica. Recently, one newspaper columnist stated that it was a conspiracy by the countrys middle-class to keep Garveys work out of the schools.
Because Garvey is usually associated with the Harlem Renaissance in New York during the 1920s, several people including scholars, have mistakenly listed him as an American.
In fact, many Jamaicans, while aware that Garvey was born here, are ignorant of his contributions even though he is the countrys first national hero.
On the other hand, the names of Alexander Bustamante a former Prime Minister and Norman Manley - the countrys first Premier - are embedded in Jamaican culture as the pillars on which modern Jamaica was built.
While he agrees that it is essential that Garveys teachings be placed in Jamaicas educational curriculum, Professor Rupert Lewis, lecturer in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, does not believe anything sinister is responsible for the dearth of material on him in schools.
Theres a lot of opposition from people who feel he doesnt deserve prominence because they think it is going to be a Rasta thing and stir up racial antagonism, said Lewis, author of the book Marcus Garvey: Anti-Colonial Champion.
Despite the widespread criticism, Phyllis Reynolds of the Ministry of Education, believes students get more than their share of Garvey.
I dont know of a subject on Garvey but he has always been taught in the schools, Reynolds countered. He gets equal treatment just like the other heroes.
According to Reynolds, students are first introduced to Garvey at the primary level (ages 6-12), then, at the secondary level (ages 12-18) government devotes an entire unit to the teaching of his work.
At that (secondary) level it intensifies because students are beginning to appreciate his work as a labour leader and nation builder, Reynolds stated.
But Lewis notes that though Garveys philosophy is available through modern medium such as the Internet it is not likely teenagers will bypass more enjoyable pursuits to read matters dealing with racial pride.
Throughout the 1970s when black consciousness swept the country, it was the Rastafarian musicians who kept the teachings of Garvey alive in Jamaica.
Performers like Burning Spear, Marley, The Mighty Diamonds and Culture all endorsed Garvey as a visionary and a beacon for black pride.
As the militancy of the 70s simmered in the 1980s, the championing of Garvey became less rigid despite the efforts of people like Lewis.
The current mood typifies the indifferent relationship Marcus Garvey had with his countrymen.
Born to a stonemason father and homemaker mother in 1887, Garvey moved to Kingston in the early 1900s, got involved in the union movement and became a printer.
Like many Jamaicans in the 1900s, Garvey migrated, first to Central America before ending up in Harlem in 1916.
There, with poets like Langston Hughes and the writer Zora Neale Hurston, Garvey led the first instance of black intelligentsia in the United States.
Through his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Garvey preached the importance of black unity and ultimate repatriation to the Motherland, Africa.
But in 1924, he was imprisoned (many believe wrongly) after the State Department ruled that he conspired to defraud the government through the mail service.
Garvey was deported to Jamaica in 1927. Though he spent eight years in the country, it was far from happy times.
He was not shunned by the masses, but by the propertied and educated classes, said Lewis. Garvey moved on to England where illness brought on by hypertension claimed his life shortly after the start of World War 11. It was not until 1964 that his body was brought back to Jamaica.
In recent years, filmmaker Perry Henzell (of The Harder They Come fame) has toyed with the idea of producing a film on the life of Marcus Garvey, in the vein of Spike Lees 1994 epic Malcolm X .. The Americans film sparked a mass revival in interest in the slain Muslim leader. Observers say it will probably take a similar project for Marcus Garvey to finally gain acceptance in Jamaica.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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