BARBADOS 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE REFLECTIONS
Pushed up from bowels of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Barbados exists as an unlikely place where transformational history occurred. On this “rock” which contemporary Barbadians call home, thousands traveled to the island to celebrate its 50th year of independence on November 30, 2016. The verve in the air was palpable. Not even Mother Nature succeeded in dampening the spirits of Bajans who showed up to exhibit their pride, tout their industry and celebrate Barbados.
I was one of the thousands who went “home” for the celebration activities. I also had another motive, which lingers with me and is triggered by historical moments that usher me into a reflective mode. And so, with a compulsive tendency to understand Barbados from the vantage point of its history – a history that invites scholars to research, analyze and opine – I venture into my virtual world to assess the impact of Barbados’s history on ancestors and contemporaries. Celebration requires reflection, and I invite you, my virtual friends, to hitch a ride with me and let our imaginations soar as high and as effortlessly as the huge mechanical birds that alighted on the island with homecoming Bajans and visitors for the 50th Anniversary celebrations.
I stand on the white sands that frame the seacoast and peer toward the horizon while the morning sun blazes down upon the aquamarine waters that caress the sandy beaches. My imagination drifts to the past when vessels brought British colonists and indentured servants to these shores. Then a decade or so later enslaved Africans were added to the people mix. This island – Barbados became the hub of British expansion in the Americas.
Momentarily untethered from reality, I enter the realm of these newcomers. Here their lives were forever changed – some for the better and some for the worse. History records some of the stories, and subsequent generations grapple with history’s ongoing, unfolding impact and toll on the present. From this vantage point I see – I listen – I feel the tug of a history and legacy that’s now owned and shared by descendants of those past generations.
The stewardship and the enhancement of what has been bequeathed are the hallmarks of the 50th Anniversary of Barbados’ Independence. The path to this present juncture has been fraught — with the acquisition of wealth and control by some, oppression and subjugation of others, immigration, uprisings and racial unrest, disparities and expectations amongst its people, and now the rise and the governance of its majority population who are of African ancestry. Barbados’ social development was seen by many as aspirational and a “model” for others to follow. It’s significant to note that Barbados was deemed a “model” before in its history, during the 1600s around the time of the Carolina settlement. Today’s Barbados “model” is under great scrutiny.
Back to the present, with my feet firmly planted on the ground. I see blue, yellow and black everywhere. Bajans adorn themselves with the colors and the flag. It’s hard to mask the pride and the sense of ownership reflected on the faces of those who formed the human link around the island. There were people of every hue, and school children who will long remember this 50th anniversary. Phrases such as: “Barbados ah cum from”, and “this is we island” were uttered unabashedly. Also present were discussions which exposed a sense of ambivalence as Bajans from opposing social levels wrestle with Barbados’ history today and in the future.
There was a menu of activities that Bajans could choose from to celebrate this milestone in their island’s history in a way that appealed to them. The gamut included services with the pious and the church leaders to concerts and events which featured Bajan artists and talent. For many the presence and the participation of Rihanna and Prince Harry made this celebration most memorable.
Mother Nature visited the island with an unexpected tropical wave which dumped a downpour on the island. To avoid the flooding and the traffic quagmire that followed, a journey off the beaten path along narrower roads and gaps, through old communities where street names and alleyways harken back to a period when plantations and sugar ruled — when merchants and island governance were in other hands. The colonial influence on the island remains unmistakable and undeniable, but aged structures – gnarled buildings with broken windows and dilapidated sashes remind me of the ongoing imperative that each generation has an obligation toward responsible stewardship of both its tangible and intangible assets.
Every Barbadian, whether at home or abroad, is a recipient of this legacy which was bequeathed us. We, together, make Barbados proud when we understand and appreciate what we share in common. The present is our time to come together and to build and maintain the good of the island for each other and for the next generations. It’s also our time to chart new courses in the island’s history when the old ones have proven to be obsolete and irrelevant today.
Happy 50th Anniversary of Independence Barbados! The next 50 years are ahead. I pray and hope we’re up to the task that’s before us because Barbados is still an unlikely and unexpected “model” on the world stage.
Rhoda A. Green