It was Marcus Garvey who said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
It is my honour and privilege to address the nation as Prime Minister on the eve of the annual History and Heritage Month of Activities founded by the longstanding President of the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park Society, the late Sir Probyn Inniss, MBE, who served as Governor of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla from 1975 to 1981.
Today, I address you, confident in the knowledge that our people shall continue to withstand the high winds of adversity – and not be felled like a storm-battered tree – because we stand upright and tall, deeply rooted in the finest of our traditions and incredibly proud of all the remarkable achievements which we have attained despite our struggles.
On the eve of History and Heritage Month, we carry like a badge of honour our ancestors’ triumphs, as well as their struggles. These bitter, hard-fought struggles – and the lessons they taught us about what we are made of – are documented in the annals of our National Archives, the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, the St. Christopher National Trust and other treasure troves of history and culture that one can find all across this great land. Our struggles and triumphs have also been painstakingly documented by our country’s great writers and historians, two of whom we lost just last year in Sir Probyn Inniss and George “Washie” Washington Archibald.
In his writings such as Whither Bound St. Kitts-Nevis? (1983) and Forty Years of Struggle, The Birth of the Labour Movement (2005), Sir Probyn Inniss, founder of the History and Heritage Month of Activities, told our rich tapestry of stories with mastery, recognizing that we as a people need to know the worth of what our ancestors fought, yearned and died for – so that we can work to safeguard our freedoms with as much zeal as they exhibited to attain them.
Less than one week ago, our nation commemorated the Buckley’s Uprising of January 28th and 29th, 1935.
Eighty-three years ago, a number of cane cutters at Buckley’s Estate protested over wage grievances because they were refused a pay increase.
They – with a group of women who packed and tied bundles of cane on the estate – marched, along with their children, from one estate to the next over the course of two days until most of the estate workers on St. Kitts had joined the movement. The Buckley’s Uprising gave rise to autonomous leadership springing up from among the ordinary estate workers.
Let us not lose sight of this – one of our greatest stories in this beautiful land of St. Kitts and Nevis is that ordinary men and women, boys and girls, who suffer the blows and indignities of hardship and poverty – the depths of which Dr. the Rt. Excellent and the Rt. Honourable Sir Kennedy Simmonds, our first Prime Minister and only living National Hero, so eloquently described last National Heroes Day – can elevate themselves and become a new generation of leaders and change-makers.
Indeed, our elders and ancestors have shown us that the sting of poverty has made us a resilient people ever reaching for greatness. Instead of being a life sentence, adversity – and the way we respond to it – can be a conduit to greater things.
For instance, the Buckley’s Uprising – like other labour protests in the British Caribbean territories in the 1930s – served as a conduit for the working class people to voice their frustrations over the deplorable conditions under which they lived. These demonstrations and marches in turn led to the appointment of the West Indian Royal Commission in 1938 chaired by Lord Moyne.
The Moyne Report would go on to shine a spotlight on the people’s struggles, ushering in a succession of change that resulted in a new era of opportunities for our forebears. We and our children are the beneficiaries of the socioeconomic transformation.
Winston Churchill, who became Britain’s Prime Minister two years after the Moyne Commission was appointed by the British government, said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
I put to you that the greatest gift that we can hand down to our children – and to their children – is the timeless gift of our heritage, which they will always treasure for its immense value.
It therefore gives me great pleasure to officially open History and Heritage Month 2018, which we are celebrating under the theme “History & Heritage: A Conduit for ‘Full’ Emancipation.”
The Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park Society puts on the History and Heritage Month of Activities in collaboration with the Departments of Culture and Education, the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, the St. Christopher National Trust and other partner agencies. The Month of Activities seeks to “promote greater knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the history, heritage and culture of our country among citizens, thereby fostering stronger national identity and pride.”
I encourage all of us to support the various activities such as the History and Heritage Lecture, which will be formally renamed “The Sir Probyn Inniss Memorial Lecture” at the Opening Ceremony for the Month of Activities taking place on Thursday, February 1st at Matheson House, Taylor’s Range from 6:00pm. I wish the History and Heritage Month every success.
To God be the glory, great things He has done, and great things He will continue to do as we trust in Him, confident in knowing our past and being hopeful that even better days are yet ahead for our strong and resilient people in this great Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.