What significance do you attach to Independence after 48 years? Your answers, no doubt, will reflect generational differences. For someone who witnessed Barbados take the bold, historic step to become “proud craftsmen of our fate” on November 30, 1966, Independence will always have special significance, compared with someone who was born, let’s say, in 2000.
This deeply personal meaning stems from a strong emotional connection as a result of living the moment and sharing in the national outpouring of joy that greeted the raising of the Broken Trident to replace the Union Jack, the promulgation of a new Constitution, and the unveiling of other symbols of sovereignty and nationhood.
For Barbadians of this era, especially the majority black population, Independence represented the culmination of a long struggle for freedom and self-determination. It conferred on us a true sense of ownership of Barbados for the first time and presented a genuine opportunity for a fresh start after the painful experiences of colonialism and slavery.
Someone born in 2000 would not have the same emotional connection because Independence was not part of his or her personal experience. For this generation, Independence is essentially an important historical event that we commemorate every year with a military parade, other official events, and a welcome holiday for recreation.
I was just six years old at Independence, but I have vivid recollections of how it unfolded. I remember having to learn the words of our new National Anthem with the rest of Infants B at St Martin’s Boys’ School in St Philip, and being told by our teacher that Barbados was becoming Independent. I also remember receiving a miniature flag and seeing adults proudly wearing items of clothing in the new National Colours of ultramarine and gold.
It seemed Independence was on everyone’s lips: the women chatting whilst waiting at the bus stop to go to town; the men debating issues of the day over a bottle of rum in the village shop. Independence had captured the public imagination. Pleased with the country’s direction under Prime Minister Errol Barrow, Barbadians were full of hope and confident about the future.
The use of the word “Independence”, by itself, can be misleading. It suggests full independence. What Barbados attained on November 30, 1966, was political independence. To make independence more meaningful, we also needed to achieve some measure of economic and cultural independence. Independence, therefore, was not so much an event, but more a broader process.
It was clear from Barrow’s repeated references to the need for a country to control the “commanding heights” of its economy that tackling our economic dependence was on his political agenda. Regional integration was a crucial part of the plan. When a country’s economy is dependent, decisions are influenced by external considerations and production is geared more towards satisfying foreign than local needs as was the case with sugar.
Using the development model of import substitution, Barrow set about modernizing the economy to reduce the long-standing dominance of sugar. Through a policy of diversification, light manufacturing and tourism took off, providing better jobs than in agriculture. As plantations also grew non-sugar crops and most families were involved in backyard farming, Barbados was largely self-sufficient in food. Only essential items were imported.
Growing Barbadian confidence was reflected in vibrant cultural expression which nurtured a fledgling national consciousness. With the emergence of spouge as the national beat, a music industry started to emerge. There were numerous bands, and local music dominated the airwaves. Foreign acts had to be really good to get on local charts like the Top 15 on Radio Barbados every Sunday afternoon. In my opinion, the late 1960s and 1970s stand out as a Golden Age for Barbadian music.
Dance, drama, and creative writing were equally as vibrant. The Barbados Dance Theatre’s Season Of Dance was an annual event not to be missed. Theatre lovers could count on at least four drama productions a year from groups like the Green Room Players and Stage One. Authors like Frank Collymore, Timothy Callender, Jeannette Layne-Clark and others from the Writers Workshop were producing prolifically. Alfred Pragnell’s colourful short story readings on Rediffusion brought their works to life.
I cannot pinpoint what it is, but something dramatic happened from the mid-1980s onwards that resulted in a Barbadian cultural retreat and steady foreign encroachment into our national space. Was it Barbados’ initial encounter with contemporary globalization which is as much a cultural force as it is economic? With increased exposure to foreign culture through cable TV, for example, Barbados began to experience what the Dutch communications scholar Cees Hamelink calls “cultural synchronization”.
This phenomenon occurs when a weaker culture is overwhelmed by the powerful communication of a stronger culture. A clearly defined national cultural policy, providing for the teaching of media literacy in our schools among other things, would have effectively countered such foreign encroachment. Somehow, our policymakers seem to miss the crucial link between culture and development. Development is seen largely in economic terms and the important role of culture is overlooked.
The 48th anniversary of Independence finds Barbados with not only its culture but also its politics and economy in bad shape. Culturally, we sometimes seem confused as to who we are. Economically, we are in deep crisis, standing at a crossroads but unsure which way to turn. Our economy today is more dependent and vulnerable than in 1966. We are
too heavily dependent on food imports because we no longer produce enough to feed ourselves.
Our politics lacks the maturity of a 48-year-old. Political debate is more about tearing down personalities than finding effective solutions to problems. We have not reformed our political institutions to cope effectively with a changing environment. Our political system is basically the same as in 1966. Morally, we are having challenges distinguishing right from wrong. In the absence of a moral compass, almost anything goes.
In the words of Red Plastic Bag, “the country sick, the country ain’t well”. If Errol Barrow were to return today, he naturally would be disappointed. He would be particularly harsh on the present leadership.
“I left you a thriving paradise to improve, but look how you have destroyed it,” he probably would say, referring to John Milton’s famous work.
Regaining paradise is the urgent task before Barbados in this 48th year of Independence. The country must be effectively mobilized. Otherwise, the remaining gains of Independence which are at risk will soon go the way of free university education.
(Reudon Eversley is a Canadian-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist. Email email@example.com)