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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: History or their story

Dr Frances Chandler, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: History or their story

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THEY SAY you must look backward before you go forward. True, especially if you’re driving a vehicle. But why do historians get stuck in the past and reduce every issue to history and race? Every ill we suffer from is apparently because of slavery and colonialism. Is this where we should be after 50 years of Independence?

But you could sympathise with them. Imagine spending your life among musty old books and in archives, then “interpreting” the material! No doubt, to relieve the boredom, they add a little of their own thinking to “spice things up”. Then the next generation does the same and so we end up with “their story” rather than history.

Some even venture into agronomy. We know that sugar cane is well suited to our shallow and erosion-prone soils. But one historian apparently differs. In his eyes, sugar cane ruined Barbados, since it doesn’t protect the soil as well as the original forest undergrowth. Could we have reached this stage of development without forest removal? Didn’t our relatively flat terrain and easy accessibility contribute to the fact that Barbados is one of the most developed countries in the Caribbean? Today, howver, we’re well on our way to reverting to the original forested state.

They also seem to put their own spin when recording current events, so there’s a danger of fiction being passed on as fact. Funnily enough, though, I haven’t yet found a historian who can show me the text of the famous “cane blade” speech by the late Excellent Errol Barrow. I would’ve thought this would be a favourite.

Agriculture has certainly suffered at the hands of historians who continually push its association with slavery, although nowadays you can carry many farming operations by remote control. According to a recent news item, we may soon be programming robots to produce crops in hydroponics.

It upsets me to see the waning interest in agriculture, the sector which provides food, but I’ve seen a few positive signs recently. The 4H movement had become somewhat passive over time, but with Minister Benn’s intervention a few years ago, the movement seems to be vibrant once again. While judging the vegetable and fruit exhibits at the BHS Annual Flower and Garden Show last month, I was really pleased that the 3 Stars 4-H club copped the majority of prizes.

The Ministry of Agriculture is also encouraging children towards agriculture as part of their GEL programme (Grow Well; Eat Well; Live Well). Apart from that, young entrepreneurs are implementing innovative projects to assist with food security. So if we can just conquer challenges like theft, monkeys, birds, stray animals, there could be major development in the sector.

On another subject, Barbadians are an enigma. On the one hand they’re usually overly fastidious about food preparation and other hygiene issues to the point where they may have reduced their natural disease resistance. On the other, they litter the environment with no thought of the consequences.

Which brings me to the “wrapper” debate which is still raging. This should’ve been settled within the school, but instead the media were involved and all kinds of extraneous matters introduced.

I’m proud to say my parents sacrificed to send me to Codrington High School, which was quite near to our home. Rules included sitting on the ground under trees at lunchtime and having to ask permission to move from the spot. If it happened to be raining, you ate in the hall and in addition to not walking around, you couldn’t speak. Breaking these rules would earn you an “order mark” and more serious offences a “conduct mark”. A conduct mark meant you had to remove your uniform sash and be silent for an allotted period. On the positive side, “excellents” were awarded for good work, and the houses competed for these.

One of our routine chores was to “pick up paper” from the grounds. We didn’t have face masks or gloves to carry out this simple chore. The only lasting effects this had on us were positive ones of caring for your surroundings and the discipline needed for later life.

If historians have time on their hands, instead of “fanning fires” perhaps they could assist those who already volunteer for the many organisations trying to make a positive difference in Barbados.

Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email:[email protected]