While I understand Jamaicans’ love for a good, emotional legacy from our National heroes, Bob Marley is just as good a representative of our people as our heroes, Sam Sharpe, Nanny, George William Gordon, Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley, Paul Bogle, and Marcus Garvey. He was not a politician and did not engineer the country’s quest for independence; neither was he a freedom fighter who gave his life for a cause. But he was a man of courage and will, ready for the challenge of change.
Since two former premiers, Manley, and Bustamante, were bestowed National Hero status, then Michael Manley, who was loved and regarded as the most strategic Prime Minister, should also be in the conversation about the country’s next National Hero. Michael Manley significantly changed the vision, status, mental landscape, and outlook of an entire nation and got the world as a whole to fall behind, but that is for another article.
Also, since this is yet to be a push for Michael Manley to be a National Hero, I will continue my quest to help bring awareness to why Bob Marley deserves this national honor. I know that I will hear from the pundits that comparing heroes to non-heroes is not a proper thing to do. It is important, however, because these decisions should not be political or emotional. Instead, it should be a logical and transparent committee decision. The facts should be examined critically so that the people can feel satisfied and proud that the efforts of our leadership and the bestowing of national honors are in congruence with their wishes.
I have spent an enormous amount of time reading about the lives of our national heroes. The narrative suggests enough evidence to convince our people that they are, in fact, Jamaica’s heroes. Understanding a bit more about life today, far from my days as a youth, I believe I can decide what I will and will not accept if I am going to be convinced. The same is true for the rest of the Jamaican population. It’s common knowledge that Paul Bogle put himself in harm’s way, was arrested, and died for freedom and the abolishment of slavery. The same happened to George William Gordon, who received an early release from enslavement from his father. He was arrested and killed because he supported Paul Bogle, wanted better treatment for Black people, and disagreed with the Governor on the matter, and as a result was hung.
Nanny fought against oppression and for the freedom of enslaved people. Over a 30-year period, she was credited with freeing more than 1000 people from enslavement. There was immense pressure in the 1970s from citizens who called for a female National hero. All five prior were men. Nanny was named our sixth hero in 1975, a move that was also aligned with encouraging equality in salaries for women at the time.
Same Sharpe, the boldest of all, died on the gallows exclaiming that he would rather die than live in slavery. Except for Nanny, three of these four heroes held high positions in the church: Bogle, a deacon; Sharpe, a pastor; and Gordon, the owner of a Baptist Church.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the first of our national heroes, was different. Marcus’s prominence was elevated even more after he left Jamaica and entered the United States in 1916. He started the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 and became a world-renowned figure in Black communities worldwide. His popularity made him a successful businessman within a few years, but he was tried and sentenced to prison for mail fraud. J Edgar Hoover, a prominent Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent at the time, was responsible for Garvey’s arrest. Garvey’s legacy as a significant figure among Black people worldwide was enough for our Jamaican government to make him a national hero.
This historical framework is essential as we establish that no one, national hero, president, or prime minister is without flaws. Like anyone else, Bob’s challenges are not barriers or reasons to give him his due.
Bustamante and Father Manley, convenors of the JLP and PNP, led the country early at different periods. The PNP was formed by Normal Manley in 1938, and JLP by Alexander Bustamante. Their foresight as leaders and trailblazers in Jamaica’s early political journey led them to their seats as National Heroes.
In setting the tone with this historical view, the question is: how does Jamaica determine a National Hero? All seven leaders achieved national honors by carving out their places in the Jamaican history books. Based on the statutes in Jamaica, to attain national hero status, the scroll reads: “The honor of the Order of National Hero may be conferred upon any person who was born in Jamaica or is, or at the time of their death was, a citizen of Jamaica and rendered to Jamaica service of a most distinguished nature. A member of the Order is entitled to be styled “The Rt Excellent,” and the motto of the Order is “He built a city which hath foundations.”
The definition is intentionally left vague to give a committee discretion and latitude in deciding who will be named. The last statement in the scroll, however, makes the difference. “He built a city which hath foundations.”
The next question is: does Bob Marley fit the definition of a national hero? Did He build a city which hath foundations?” (The word “foundations” is not singular.) Does Marley, in death, fit the role of another national hero? Has he served with distinction? His resume being different from the other seven heroes is an added asset. He is not a religious leader but a Rastaman. He didn’t die for a cause, but he is dead. He was not a political leader, but he set an example for them to unite and work as one for the people. The answer, therefore, should be evident.
In 1929, Marcus Garvey started a political party but could only win a seat in Kingston; the Party died. His work is comparable to that of Bob Marley. The difference is that Marley’s impact is 100 times more significant, especially after his death. Marley positively impacted the rich and poor from all countries, including his own Jamaica. He changed people’s lives from all continents and all races: black, pink, blue, white, yellow, and purple. Bob’s tentacles bring people from across the world to Jamaica, and the ones who cannot visit become their own versions of Bob, the Rasta. Like Marcus, Bob is an international change-maker who extended the Rasta culture that is now accepted all over the globe. Once seen negatively, Rastaman culture is a significant asset worldwide and now a respected part of Jamaican culture. The stigmas from the 60s-70s of the “horrible and dutty” dreadlocks are ancient history, and a vast population of rastas and those with dreadlocks work in entry-level and senior-level jobs all over the world. Marley is not just about music; he is a system, an economy, and a world culture. He is the epitome of “Jamaica to the wurl.”
Let us examine further the make-up of a national hero and compare it with the qualities of who and what Bob Marley is or represents. He is a person who was born in Jamaica, is a Jamaican, and, at the time of his death, was a citizen of Jamaica and has rendered to Jamaica service of a most distinguished nature. He also built not just a city but a world with many foundations: east, west, north, and south. No other single Jamaican has such a global cultural, economic, or musical change-making impact. It’s an honor to be a Jamaican on the international scene when you hear references to Bob Marley, even if you were born after his death. Bob has moved Jamaica’s needle in ways known and unknown.
So, what is the hold-up from honoring him with the deserved ultimate honor? His dreads? No! His beliefs? No! Oh! He smoked weed when it was illegal. No! He had children out of wedlock. No! The fact is dreadlocks are accepted worldwide. Marley’s belief has changed millions of lives: smoking weed is no longer illegal, and bastardity is no longer illegal in Jamaica. Again, what is the hold-up? Are our governments holding on to a colonial culture that cherry-picks individuals who fit a particular lifestyle?
Martin Luther King was arrested 29 times in America and is still recognized with a Holiday, a national mall, street names, a national memorial, and other iconic structures; we couldn’t even name the Boscobel International Airport in Bob’s name. We instead chose an English man’s name from the colonial past. It is understood that the work of our forefathers set the foundation for our country. That is excellent. Bob Marley, on the other hand, quickly broke down barriers and built cultures as he traveled and sang. Little Bob Marleys are popping up everywhere, insisting on their rights to be Rasta’s and wear their natural hair. Google’s Arts & Culture reported that Bob Marley’s revolutionary yet unifying style, challenging colonialism, and racism, “fighting against ism and schism, has become the foundation of inspiration that spread messages of hope, justice, and understanding worldwide.
Such a body of work with many accomplishments started with a very unsophisticated but charismatic genius of a man without the respect he deserves in his own country. Eben Diskin wrote on Bob for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines that Marley introduced to the world not only Jamaican music but also Rastafarianism, rooted in ideas of personal and spiritual freedom, peace, love, and cultural unity and that because of Marley, the spiritual underpinnings of Jamaica have made their way to the rest of the world. There is much to be learned from the messages of Bob Marley as leader. From the dirt of St Ann to the Concrete Jungle of South Kingston, Bob lived his life and taught the world much about the importance of love, mindfulness, and authenticity. He preached freedom and encouraged everyone to stand up for what they believe.
All our National Heroes were amazing individuals who stood for everything Jamaica. Even in death, however, 42 years later, Bob Marley is still breaking barriers, mending fences, and building immeasurable assets, not just musically but in people.
I hope Bob Market gets his just-due soon.
Bob For National Hero #BFNH