Bahamas Independence Celebrations and Commisserations
By Alicia Wallace
Aug 5, 2015 - 3:16:13 PM
The Bahamas recently celebrated its 42nd anniversary of Independence with a series of events which included the annual Clifford Park celebration. This year’s celebration sparked lively discussion in offices, barbershops, and dining rooms about independence, the state of our nation, and the reasons Bahamians choose (not) to participate in planned events. Most of these conversations barely scratched the surface, focusing more on the outcome - our current experience - than the systems and attitudes that lead us, year after year, to this place.
Bahamian Independence is like folklore. You will get as many versions of the story as the number of people you ask. It is not addressed in history classes where our Bahamian students learn the ABCs - Arawaks, buccaneers, cotton - of a pre-independent Bahamas. The existing school system produces graduates with no knowledge of the women’s suffrage movement, the road to majority rule, or independence from Britain. Could it be by design? Are those in positions of power afraid of the common good that complete knowledge of our history could do? Are they against the empowerment that would be birthed from recognition of our collective strength by virtue of the blood running through our veins? The development of our nation heavily depends on our ability and willingness to drive the process, engage in critical dialogue, and point to the intentions of those who paved the way for us. Perhaps a developed, educated, empowered nation is not the dream of every orator upon whom we bestow the title of leader.
How can the Bahamian people, purposefully kept underfoot, be expected to celebrate a day with significance we do not understand? It appears that we traded one form of colonization for another. The colonization of our minds is just as dangerous as - perhaps even more than - the colonization of our land. We need to cultivate the limitless resource that is the human brain. The educational system does not encourage it, but in the same ways that we defy so many other conventions, we must take it upon ourselves to challenge old ideas and dare to think and engage more critically. We must demand the education, leadership, and quality of life we deserve and, where it is not forthcoming, set about creating it for ourselves.
As an independent nation, we now have our own flag. How much more powerful would it be if we had reverence for it, and followed protocol? We could celebrate Independence with more respect and gratitude if we valued the flag and everything it represents. Is it illuminated wherever it is flown at night? Does it appear every time the flag of another nation is flown in this country? Is it free of defacement, or do companies see fit to print logos, names, and other graphics on it?
As an independent nation, we now have our own national anthem. How many of us know the correct lyrics? Do we stand at attention when it is played or sung? Why has it become a performance? We, the people, are often silenced by a singer who belts it out with riffs and embellishments that are impossible to follow. Our national anthem is inspiring and uplifting, and could drive us to act in ways we have never considered if we would sing it, correctly, together while internalizing the words coming from our mouths. What if we actually pledged to excel through love and unity? What if we marched, together, to a common loftier goal? Are those reasonable expectations when we find it difficult to stand together, singing the same song?
Independence may be worth a celebration, but our people are worthy of education. We deserve to know the story of independence. It should be taught, in its entirety, in schools across the nation. There should be reenactments and storytelling leading up to the fireworks on the Clifford Park every year. No one should attend the all-night celebration and leave without a clear understanding of what independence is, how we got it, and what it means to us as a people. If there is room in the program for a dozen prayers, there is room to share the story of independence in an engaging format.
Many Bahamians have found it easy to condemn other Bahamians for failing to be present on July 9, 2015 at Clifford Park, but have put little effort into understanding the reasons for the low turnout. Our people deserve to know what is being celebrated. Give it value, and the people will come. Make transportation accessible and affordable, and people will come. How are people without cars expected to get to and from Clifford Park when buses are not running? If it is truly the most important event of the year, a system should be in place to ensure that we can all be present.
Before we can complain about the failure of fellow Bahamians to celebrate Independence, we need to take a moment to be introspective and reflective. What have we done to make it an inclusive event of substance and importance? Let us put more effort into educating our people, sharing our knowledge, and changing the systems that led us to - and keep us in - this place. Independence is more than a flag, national anthem, and pledge. It is a story, a legacy, a challenge, and a duty. Let us do our part to make The Bahamas an actively independent nation that evokes pride and the spirit of celebration among its people, united in love and service.
Wallace is a Bahamian writer, blogger, and social and political commentator. She
holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from St. Mary's University,
Halifax, NS. She is a women's rights activist, passionate about public
education, community engagement, and the empowerment of women and girls.
Alicia is the Director of Hollaback! Bahamas- part of a global movement to end street harassment - and Co-founder of the Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination. She serves
as the Youth Ambassador for The Bahamas to End Sexual Violence, and is one of 60 recipients of the Queen's Young Leaders Award in 2015. Alicia lives in Nassau, Bahamas. Connect with her on Facebook.
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