As Jamaica marks 184 years since Emancipation and the 56th anniversary of Independence, Executive Director of the Institute of Jamaica (IoJ), Vivian Crawford, is highlighting the need for greater focus on the country’s rich heritage.
He points out that there are important lessons to learn from how the ancestors lived and conducted themselves, including the social norms and values, which, he notes, have relevance for society today.
“We should know where we are coming from. It is important to visit the heritage sites and learn about those who were before us and who handed the baton to us,” he tells JIS NEWS.
He notes, for example, that there is a lot to learn from the setting up of the free villages shortly after emancipation in 1834.
The first of these societies was established in Sligoville, St. Catherine, with others developed in Sturge Town, St. Ann; Bethel Town, Westmoreland; Mount Carey, St. James and Islington, St. Mary.
“The free village concept was established by the former slaves through support from missionaries for what (noted Jamaican writer) Olive Senior calls ‘social reconstruction’,” Mr. Crawford points out.
“This is important. Because of the pride of these people they did not want to be squatters. They wanted a structure in which they could raise their families. Emancipation was forced on the planters; they were compensated, but the 311,000 former enslaved had nothing. They were driven off the plantation and the planters hoped that they would be forced to return but their pride said ‘no’,” he notes.
Mr. Crawford says the free villages made a significant impact on Jamaican culture as it was through these societies that people learnt how to live and grow in a community.
“There was community pride and people knew their history and where they were coming from,” he says.
“There was the concept that we are proud, we are free and we must behave in a certain way. It highlighted the role of the church, the role of the school, the role of the entire community, which took care of you and that was passed down from generation to generation,” he adds.
Mr. Crawford tells JIS NEWS that one feature of Jamaica during the period after Emancipation was the lack of crime and violence in the society.
In fact, he says, when the new Governor Sir Charles Metcalfe arrived in 1839, he noted that “the generally tranquil state of the country, without any police, is strong proof of the present peaceful disposition of the inhabitants.”
Mr. Crawford laments that “we who have benefited from education, we who have benefitted from many opportunities, cannot say the same.”
“We need to embrace the history and tell these stories to our people, particularly our young people, who would want to misbehave that no; the people before us didn’t operate like that,” he says.
“There was a level of social control… when you talk about values and attitudes those things were there in the home, in the church and in the wider society.
“This is a signal for us to return to the values that maintained the free villages…people are to know that after Emancipation we didn’t have any police until 1866,” he says.
Mr. Crawford is urging greater pride in self and the country’s rich culture, which is recognised worldwide.