The observation and celebration of various dates, occasions, events and anniversaries have become a norm on our calendar of activities. Out of 365 days of the year it seems that every day has some special significance to someone, a community or a country. Similarly, out of the four weeks in a month, every week appears to be attributed to a commemoration. And same can be said for the 12 months of the year.
In several cases, these special days, months or periods of time are of a religious nature while in others, they are human beings’ attempt to capture peoples’ attention to some special cause or event. Some will also argue that several of these commemorations are of pagan origin and shouldn’t be observed. Many will agree that the capitalists have certainly cashed in on these special days and occasions.
The United Nations has a plethora of special international days, weeks, years and decades “designated… as occasions to mark particular events or topics in order to promote, through awareness and action, the objectives of the Organization. Usually, it is one or more Member States that propose these observances and the General Assembly establishes them with a resolution. On occasion, these celebrations are declared by the specialized agencies of the United Nations, such as UNESCO, UNICEF, FAO, etc., when they concern issues that fall within the scope of their competencies. Some of them may be later adopted by the General Assembly.”
Some of these are given prominence here in Barbados and are observed through various forms of activities. The whole idea, I imagine, is to create awareness and positive action. Unfortunately, in many cases, the awareness is created but the desired action takes longer to happen.
The Barbados TODAY highlighted this in its Editorial on February 13, with regard to the observation of Black History Month. The Editorial lamented the fact that despite years of observing Black History Month, African Studies on the curriculum at primary and secondary schools was still very much in its infancy stages.
I have noticed over the years a steady increase in awareness and activities relating to Black History Month by schools and other institutions. Several business places have also gotten involved by having their staff members wear African wear. Many schools now have events during the month of February to highlight our African heritage and Black history. The awareness is there and is repeated every year during February. But, as the Barbados TODAY’s editorial rightfully queried, what more can be done beyond the cosmetics of commemorating the month?
The paper did make suggestions to have the curriculum expanded to include more studies into African and black history and called on the intellectual brains in the Caribbean to draft such courses of studies.
I concur with these suggestions but wish to go a step further. I draw upon that same editorial which also mentioned the idea of a national heritage month. Barbados has a variety of persons of several backgrounds, ethnicities and cultural practices, each having their own identity and practices. Knowing about each other’s history, faith, culture and likes or dislikes will all go a long way in building a harmonious society with respect and tolerance for each other. I believe Barbados has that but can go further in developing more integrated communities.
I have a very mixed background and I am happy to share my experiences with others. It is important that we go beyond the cosmetics of awareness of each other and engage in more practical learning activities and sharing with each other.
As history teaches us, Barbados was first inhabited by the Amerindians, then Europeans, Africans and later Indians and other persons of Middle Eastern and Asian backgrounds. It is even argued that Africans were here before the Europeans. These heritages must be explored and presented to our generation and future generations so that an understanding of our history and the contributions and sacrifices made can be accounted for. A large part of that history was cruel and inhumane and that too should be told and explored. What made us who we are and the society we have evolved into should be shared.
In my research on the International Days observed by the UN I found so many different days for so many different causes. Almost every day was dedicated to a different cause. There is even an international day dedicated to happiness. Many persons argue as they do for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day and others that every day should be these days and not specific days. There is value in that argument and we definitely shouldn’t wait for any special day to honour our loved ones or be happy.
We have a tendency to adopt most of what some of the world, especially America and Europe, exports. We promote and latch onto their days of significance as well. But we can be creative and add a Bajan twist to such observations. We can also create our own. The Barbadian National Heritage day or week or month is perhaps one of those we can explore.
Whatever we choose to observe or celebrate we should do so with full awareness of what it means and what its value is to us as a nation. It should also be a means of increasing harmony, cohesion and a sense of national pride and identity. If we celebrate, commemorate or observe without fully appreciating its worth then we lose the value of the occasion.
In two days we commemorate the assassination of Al hajj Malik Shabazz more popularly known as Malcolm X. He was killed on February 21, 1965. His fight for racial equality as an Afro-American Muslim coming from an impoverished background and a life of crime is certainly worth commemorating and learning about. These occasions are also valuable in our understanding of the struggles and sacrifices that were necessary to bring about the world we have and the world that would be beneficial to all peoples, not just a select few.
Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org