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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Fri May 26 06:44:31 2000
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2000 22:33:01 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: CULTURE-JAMAICA: Island Debates National Hero Status for Marley
Article: 94142
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserve.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Island Debates National Hero Status for Reggae Superstar

By Howard Campbell, IPS, 18 April 2000

KINGSTON, Apr 18 (IPS) - Around the world the dreadlocked image of and reggae music popularised by Bob Marley is synonymous with Jamaica, the island where he was born 55 years ago. But for many Jamaicans, Marley's international acclaim does not mean that he is any kind of role model for the country.

Calls for the reggae superstar to be declared a national hero are being studiously ignored by the government.

Marley died in 1981 from cancer. Since then, there have been calls for the reggae icon to receive Jamaica's highest honour, calls which have intensified since Time Magazine and the British Broadcasting Corporation named his "Exodus" and "One Love", Album and Song of the 20th Century respectively.

But if the government is silent on the demands for Marley to be elevated, the rest of Jamaica is furiously debating the issue. The reaction has been mixed, much like the response Marley's music got in his homeland even at the height of his international popularity.

The opposition is coming mainly from members of Jamaica's influential Christian church community, the media and the middle and upper classes, all of whom Marley took pot-shots at during his lifetime.

Writing in the Jamaica Observer daily newspaper, columnist Lloyd B. Smith noted that Marley was unlikely to be given the country's highest honour, considering Rastafari was still not fashionable among most Jamaicans.

The issue of his personal and religious beliefs has been a foremost argument against his inclusion in the select club of Jamaica's national heroes. But, says Eron Henry, a contributor to the Daily Gleaner newspaper, religion did not have a say in the selection of any of Jamaica's present batch of national heroes, which numbers seven.

"None of the present heroes, as far as I am aware, were judged according to their views on the church or Christianity, Smith wrote, adding: "A number of Marley's views that appear anti- Christian can be interpreted as a critique of the way Christianity has been used by oppressive forces."

Others, such as Rene Williamson, a Jamaican living in Connecticut in the United States, believes that Marley's rags-to-riches story is enough to earn him national hero status.

"Marley as a national hero would symbolise for our people the kind of hard work and determination that we as a people need to get out of this (economic) depression," Williamson wrote in a letter to the Observer's opinion column. "Do we need better role models than he?"

Jamaica's current list of national heroes includes its first Prime Minister, Sir Alexander Bustamante; Bustamante's cousin and the country's first Premier, Norman Manley; Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey; and Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, all major figures in the fight against slavery.

Nanny and Sam Sharpe were the last to be conferred with the honour of national hero. National heroes are chosen by a government- appointed committee.

Along with Marley's, charismatic former Prime Minister Michael Manley's name has been tossed about as a prime candidate for national hero status. Manley, who died in 1997 from prostate cancer, experimented with socialism in the 1970s and defied the United States with his open relationship with Cuban President, Fidel Castro.

Though his socialist stance is largely blamed for Jamaica's battered economy during that period, Manley remains one of the most respected figures in Jamaican history. He is lauded for instituting policies that gave the country's black majority opportunities for an improved life.

While he consistently criticised politicians for arming ghetto youth in war-torn Kingston in the civil war-type setting of the 1970s, Marley was reportedly a supporter of Manley with whom he had several meetings.

Interestingly, the new 1,000-dollar note to be released by the Central Bank shortly will bear a portrait of Manley, even though a recent poll showed that the majority of Jamaicans had a preference for Marley's likeness on the bill.

The current stand-off comes at a time when Marley is enjoying his biggest wave of popularity in his homeland, a country that once scorned his Rastafarian religion and its use of marijuana as a sacrament. While superstars such as Barbra Streisand and Eric Clapton were covering Marley's compositions in the 1970s, his songs did not find favour with Jamaica's radio stations which at the time were heavy on North American music.

But Marley's music not only struck a chord with youth in the inner- cities of Kingston, but with middle-class musicians, some of whom would later form bands like Third World and Inner Circle.

Many middle-class youth embraced Rastafari much to the dismay of their families who blamed the Marley movement and have never hidden their disapproval of the dreadlocked sect.

It is a disapproval many ordinary Jamaicans believe should be ignored in order to give Marley the recognition he deserves from his countrymen.



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