“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
I recently had the honor of volunteering with the JN Foundation again. This time, we were at the venerable Institute of Jamaica, a colonial relic that still maintains its dignity and still functions as a bastion of history and culture, in downtown Kingston. Its halls have echoed with the footsteps of thousands of Jamaican schoolchildren over the years, and this day was no exception.
The occasion was the first gathering of all the Heritage Clubs of Jamaica, which operate under the aegis of the Ministry of Youth and Culture. The first Heritage Clubs were founded in 1996 in Jamaican high schools; their aim is “to provide support to Jamaican schools in heritage education and awareness for social, economic and environmental preservation” through community-based activities. In collaboration with the Jamaican National Heritage Trust (JNHT), the theme of the first Symposium was “Our Heritage…Our Responsibility.” The JN Foundation, along with the Government’s CHASE Fund, has been a major sponsor of the Clubs, whose Chairperson, Ms. Dotsie Gordon, welcomed a swelling audience of high school students and watched the proceedings with a happy smile. “This is a great achievement,” she said.
The school presentations followed the speeches – and a refreshment break during which the students demolished large quantities of sandwiches and patties. The lunch break was even more hectic. The students were well fed, indeed.
I loved Morant Bay High School’s documentary film, in which the students interviewed elderly residents of the small village of Stony Gut, birthplace of National Hero Paul Bogle, in the parish of St. Thomas. During an interview with a descendant of Paul Bogle himself, a bird introduced himself and proceeded to join the conversation, loudly and beautifully. Mr. Bogle had a lot to say, and so did the bird. It was delightful.
There was a dramatic change in tempo after that presentation, as the wildly energetic St. Catherine High School drummers took their places on the stage. I had met them earlier in the exhibition area, where you can see a very impressive schools arts and crafts exhibition. The drummers posed for their picture, in a state of some excitement, before their performance – which was an attacking volley of drumming, played with great humor and flamboyance. The audience screamed its applause at the end. I had a chat with the group’s teacher, Kemar Grant, who told me the students are perfectionists, who hate to get the smallest detail wrong. Like true artists.
The girls also had their say. Westwood High School, a boarding school in rural Trelawny, swept the board with an energetic performance history of their school, through dance, poetry and drumming. They won first prize in the competition, whereby schools won cash to continue their Heritage Club activities. Second was Holland High School for their documentary on historic buildings in Falmouth; and third came our drummers.
Congratulations to Ms. Gordon, Ms. Junie Bolton of the JNHT, the JN Foundation, volunteers, teachers and especially the noisy, energetic and enthusiastic students, who had much to say about their history.
I think Jamaica’s heritage is alive and well in their hands! I hope this interest in our history – however painful it may have been – will continue to flourish in our schools. Our children must understand the experiences and travails of their ancestors. With their feet rooted in the past, they can step confidently into the future.
Below are a few photographs from the marvelous art exhibition, which I do recommend that you go and see…
If you would like your high school to establish a Heritage Club, you may contact the Heritage Clubs of Jamaica on Facebook and they are also on Twitter @HeritageClubs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.