As National Heroes Day approaches in Jamaica, the theme for this year’s celebrations “A Great Heritage…A Great Legacy” got me thinking. Not many of us Jamaicans really know why we celebrate our National Heroes each year. Not many Jamaicans can relate to the struggle of the times the heroes lived in and can appreciate the feat they accomplished in their own ways.
Earlier this year I had the privilege of hiking to the Blue Mountain peak in Jamaica. This was my second time hiking to the top but my first time hiking it in daylight. Climbing 7,402 ft to the peak is no easy feat but this time I had been exercising leading up to the that hike date so that the task would not be insurmountable.
It took several hours to get to the peak and on more occasions than one I felt like the peak could not be reached and I would never stop hiking. In those moments I thought of my National Heroes, two in particular and what it must have been like for them to have done something similar to this. Nanny of the Maroons and Paul Bogle hiked and walked for miles and days but that is not something often spoken about.
Nanny of the Maroons is known as the Warrior Queen who outsmarted British soldiers and fought to maintain her people’s freedom. Paul Bogle is known as the peasant farmer who after not getting an audience with the then Governor, Edward Eyre, started a rebellion that led to more favourable conditions for Jamaicans of that time.
Yes, they both did what we said they did but on this particular day in May of 2017 I put myself in both their shoes. Paul Bogle saw the injustices being met out to his fellow brothers and sisters and wanted to do something to help especially since (albeit marginally) he was in a position to help. Imagine the food shortage and drought that was being faced. I imagined walking in the hot sun (and oh, how the sun can be hot) 45 miles (a little over 72 km) from Stony Gut to Spanish Town. I imagined being thirsty and hungry and not having enough food to fully satisfy me. I imagined sweating and starting to smell a bit. I imagined how the stone would be jabbing and hurting the soles of my feet with each step I took. I only imagined that last part thinking Paul’s shoe was his ‘Sunday best’ and that he wouldn’t walk the soles out on such a long journey. He definitely did not have hiking boots or sneakers like I did. I want you to feel that and then imagine how it would feel to arrive in Spanish Town after all that walking, only to be told that the Governor has no time for you, you peasant. Listen to me. How Bogle kept his cool to not start a rebellion right there and then is worthy of commendation.
I imagined hiking through the dangerous terrain of the Blue Mountains, no trail to follow, with babies, children, elderly people and those who were sick or injured. I imagined being the one that everyone looked to for guidance and assurance that “it’s not too far now” when it would take weeks to get to our destination. I imagine having to carry a child in my arms as I climbed. I imagined having to lift a person up who couldn’t manoeuvre the terrain well. I imagined hearing the constant complaints of tiredness, thirst and hunger. I imagined hearing the cries of the babies who were just frustrated with the constant movement. I imagined having to stop or slow the pace to facilitate someone who had fallen and badly injured themselves on the path I led them. I imagined it raining and my only shelter being the leaves of trees. How did she not give up? How did Nanny not throw in the towel and say it was all too much for her to deal with? I can only guess that after all that she endured with the Maroons as they moved cross-country gave her even more determination for it to not all be for naught.
At the top, the feeling of it all being worth it; the feeling of it now coming to an end, welled up in my chest. I took a moment and looked around and saluted Nanny and Paul Bogle for digging past the voice that says we can’t do it or that it is too much for us to handle. I saluted them because:
- I can now relate to what it was like to have done one thing they did in their lives and appreciate it was not easy and no small feat.
- They embodied spirits living in us today, justifying our strength as a people – as a Black race.
- It doesn’t have to be National Heroes Day for me to pay respects to my heroes.
What our Heroes did was to ACT. They acted get the change they wanted to see instead of just talking about it. That is why they are our Heroes.
If you are Jamaican having trouble relating to our National Heroes or understanding why they are recognised as heroes, try walking in their shoes. Take some time to do something they did and strip away the luxuries we enjoy today.
Which Hero do you most relate to and why? tell me in the comments below.