COLUMN-Guardians of our heritage

london callingThe history of Barbados has been an illustrious one; one of consistently proving, as the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan observed in 2002 while on a visit, that “Barbados punches above its own weight”. And let me put that in context.

Barbados was the oldest English settlement in the West Indies, surpassed only by Saint Kitts. The first English settlement close to Holetown was established 74 years before the Acts Of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britain.

In 1660, Barbados generated more trade than all the other English colonies combined. This was due largely to the successes of Sir James Drax of Drax Hall, St George, a pioneer in the development of the sugar cane industry and the first planter anywhere to successfully cultivate sugar cane on a large scale.

In 1751, when young George Washington visited here, Bridgetown was the largest English-speaking city outside of Great Britain.

For those who would claim that much of this happened during the dark period of slavery, I want to share this reflection. In 1964, Nelson Mandela was confined to Robben Island where he would spend 18 of his 27 prison years. Confined to a small cell, the floor his bed, and a bucket for a toilet, he was forced to do hard labour in a quarry.

He was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes. He could write and receive one letter every six months. But Robben Island became the crucible that transformed him.

Through his intelligence, charm and dignified defiance, Mandela eventually bent even the most brutal prison officials to his will, assumed leadership over his jailed comrades and became the master of his own prison. He emerged from it the mature leader who would fight and win the great political battles that would create a new democratic South Africa.

Barbados passed through the crucible and emerged a strong nation, strong enough to send the telegram to the British government at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 stating: “Carry on, England. Barbados is behind you.”

And then, when Britain again declared war with Germany in 1939, the first telegram to arrive in Whitehall came from Barbados stating simply: “Barbados is with you.”

Those words were backed up by the many men and women who risked their lives for “king and country”, including a then 20-year-old airman by the name of E.W. Barrow.

One certainty in life is that the future holds unpredictable changes. We start every day not knowing exactly what to expect. Life brings lessons and opportunities which we don’t always welcome. It forces us to take risks, become vulnerable, and open ourselves to the unknown.

Barbados took risks, including the decision taken just over 48 years ago by the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow to set us on the path for Independence. Barbados rose above the doubts and fears to become the special nation that so many emulate today.

Errol Walton Barrow
Errol Walton Barrow

David Lloyd George, the British prime minister during World War I stated: “All the world owes much to the little five feet high nations. The greatest art of the world was the work of little nations. The most enduring literature of the world came from little nations. The heroic deeds that thrill humanity through generations were the deeds of little nations fighting for their freedom. And oh, yes, the salvation of mankind came through a little nation.”

We may be small in size, but we as a people and a nation are big in stature and overflowing with potential, and I am convinced that our future will be no less glorious.

Let me put our significance in context. At the September 11, 1968 official banquet in Washington to celebrate the visit by then Prime Minister Errol Walton Barrow, the then United States’ President Lyndon B. Johnson stated: “There are reasons for gratitude and friendship between our two countries. There is the Barbados that our fathers turned to when they were framing our Declaration Of Independence and the constitution of our country. Barbados had its own Declaration Of Rights as early as the year 1651 and we Americans were very grateful and very proud then to have drawn upon it in our own documents.”

In the Barbados TODAY article The Idea Of Barbados, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines earlier this year explained why he believes Barbados is a model for other countries to emulate. He asserted that “Barbados has arrived at a place where its uniqueness represents a model of governance, political economy, way of life, and social order, which invites emulation elsewhere in the Caribbean and further afield, albeit with appropriate amendments. Barbados’ high quality governance and level of human development have been a marvel to objective observers, including reputable international agencies”.

Although we are going through a period of stabilization and adjustment, I believe that if we look to our history and into our “mirror image”, in each and every loyal son and daughter we should see builders of Barbados, guardians of our heritage and firm craftpersons of our fate, In us, we can find the solutions to many of the challenges we face as a nation. And
I am starting with the man in the mirror . . . .

May God bless us all and continue to look with favour on our fair land Barbados.

(The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or any other entity of the Government of Barbados.)

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