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OFF CENTRE – Yuh getting old, Barbados

Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE – Yuh getting old, Barbados

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You is 63 or 18? Is it you I hear sing-songing, “Yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh /They cahn tell me nothing/I got my own keys now/I got my own car too /See it bright and shiny . . .”?
Sound like funny (and fuzzy) questions, right? By and by . . . .
In our Novembers I have seen roundabouts and ’round de place accoutred with beaded lights of forward yellow and demure blue and buildings sporting their Independence wear.
Seen Barbados marching at the Garrison too. And the awarding of some with silver and gold (Crowns of Merit) and such – seen that. Seen and heard the “cultural presentations” (our sometimes presumptuous name for mere entertainment) and the frenzied rush to Barbadiana.
Except for the honourings, which are treated like a cameo in our Independence celebrations, our yearly observance seems like an attempt to fix a moment in time or grab onto the more superficial aspects of our nationhood journey.
Why does it seem that, year in and year out, way down the road of sovereignty, we celebrate Independence like an 18-year-old who has just declared independence from his parents and is fixated on the idea of freedom (mostly to be different)?
Reality check: there was not such a clash of wills and won’ts that there was no way we and Mother England could continue to live in the same house; neither did we wrest our Independence with resolute might, forever marking the divide with reassuring monuments to eternalize our watershed/bloodshed moment.
So, not to put too fine a point on it (I even used a peculiarly British expression), the event, the attainment, though significant, does not require any fixation.
It en ’bout dat.
But what it is about has a lot of Barbadians tie up. When the apparently obligatory question (“What does Independence mean to you?”) is asked, Barbadians are in a pickle.
“It means freedom” (Duh!); “It means we can make our own decisions” (Duh! Duh!); or the increasingly popular: “It don’ mean nutten to me” (well, well, well). 
What have we done so wrong that our people do not put their heads in a paper bag when they are giving those answers? Why do our people talk about Independence as if they are always reliving December 1, 1966?
This is my guess: we never put the focus on the right things. We have not foregrounded nationhood. As simple as it may seem, there is a vast connotative difference between that and Independence. This latter always seems to be pushing us back to 1966 and the past and notions of separateness. 
The concept of nationhood invites us past those things. Any country can become a nation in name. But there is a certain nobility that, to me, inheres in the idea of nation. It speaks to an expected transformation of the people and the place – to profound kindredness and superior self-governance.
Shouldn’t our observance of the anniversary of Independence be a yearly celebration of those critical things? On the one hand, a “broadcasting” of the best of our self-charting. That is the business end of what it means to be a nation.
On the other, odes to our togetherness, our shared values, of our true melding. That is the mystical raison d’etre of the enterprise of nationhood. 
Nationhood is vibrant, present, living. So why do we think that hearing Bajan proverbs, spouge, and looking at a jooking board or mortar-pestle (depersonalized and unstoried) will develop that deep mystical sense of affinity with other countrymen that is one of the essences of nationhood? 
Mere entertainment can’t do that. Conkies and colours can’t do that. We must inspire and celebrate connectedness. We must work at enshrining shared values more than we work at establishing shared rhythms. What it means to be Barbadian must refer more to certain pervasively-cherished values than to cherished “cultural” expressions.
Our celebration should be a highlighting of our superior experiences and people and our land in real nation songs (dripping with inspiration and emotionally-nourishing usness – if you have heard any of them, let me know) and poignant stories.
So, you is 63 or 18? Do the maths: step out at 18, it is 45 years since we stepped out. That makes us, in this way of reckoning, 63.
Yuh getting old, Barbados. Celebrate maturely. The anniversary of Independence is not a “coming out” party.
Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]