I was in the National Stadium 50 years ago as we lowered Union Jack and raised our flag.

It was a momentous occasion even for a young boy not sure exactly what it all meant.  Jamaica would never be the same.  Pioneer recording artist Derrick Morgan put it best

Forward march!

Gather together, be brothers and sisters
we’re independent (we’re independent).
Join hands to hands, children started to dance
we’re independent (we’re independent).

Don’t be sad and blue.                                                                                                                                                                                     The Lord is still with you.
Because the time has come                                                                                                                                                                        when you can have your fun
so make a run (we’re independent).

History has credited two of our national heroes with achieving the break from Britain.  As such, you can expect a plethora of pompous, patriotic, pious remembrances of these two icons over the next few weeks.  But these visionaries also had quirks, wit and charm giving rise to some funny yet true stories which often made it easier to understand the reasons for their successes.

Sir Alexander Bustamante (“Busta” or “Chief”) was a most idiosyncratic character.  His minimalist exposure to formal education is legendary and everyone knows the story, probably apocryphal, about his point counterpoint exchange from the political platform intended to highlight benefits for voters. “Who give you jobs?” Busta asked the excited pro-JLP crowd. “You Chief!” came the ready reply.

“Who give you bread?” he continued.  “You Chief!” was the Pavlovian response.  Emboldened, he emphasized “B-R-E-D, bread?” “You Chief” by this time, the crowd was whipped into frenzied caricatures of the popular political anthem:

We will follow Bustamante;                                                                                                                                                                            we will follow Bustamante;                                                                                                                                                                           we will follow Bustamante.                                                                                                                                                                               We will follow Bustamante ‘til we die!

At this point in the proceedings, Donald Sangster is alleged to have whispered in Busta’s ear “yu leave out the ‘a’ Chief.”  Without pause, Busta is reported to have corrected himself “B-R-E-D-A bread?” to which the crowd roared “You Chief!”

That story’s credibility is questionable although it never ceases to amuse.  The following, however, are true and highlights Busta’s visionary leadership which a formal education might well have reduced to below zero.

As Prime Minister, Busta decided to appoint Cleve Lewis Minister of Communications and Works.  Cleve wasn’t a popular choice.  A whole-scale cabinet mutiny ensued with many insisting, in private discussions, that they wouldn’t sit in the same cabinet with Cleve Lewis.  Not in my cabinet!

They were summoned to Busta’s home.  Before they arrived, Busta instructed Miss Longbridge to prepare two rooms.  One was to be a meeting room with notepads and pens for each person while the other had only a bottle of champagne on the ice at the centre of the table.  The cabinet members gathered amid much grumbling and a generally expressed intention to defy Busta.  Only one cabinet member dissented and that was Edward Seaga who reminded his colleagues that cabinet appointment was the Prime Minister’s sole prerogative.  He was ignored.

Eventually, a casually dressed Busta swept into the crowd of ministers and ushered them to the first meeting room where he greeted them with words like these: “Gentlemen, I intend to appoint Cleve Lewis as my Minister of Communications and Works.  I understand some of you do not approve.  Any who don’t want to be in a cabinet with Mr Lewis, paper and pen is provided for you to write your resignations.  Those willing to accept Mr Lewis can join me in the other room for a celebratory drink of Champagne.” Not a man moved towards the paper.

Brothers and sisters give joy and praises
while it’s under (yeah, yeah).
Brothers and sisters give joy and praise
to His commandments (yeah, yeah).

The second story surrounds the “purchase” of Up Park Camp from England.  Under colonial law, Up Park Camp was English territory (similar to Embassy properties).  We were obliged to buy it.  Lengthy negotiations ensued through the Foreign Ministry but, as always, The Chief had the last word.  So when the British terminated negotiations, our Foreign Minister went to Busta with Her Majesty’s final offer.  Busta considered this for a brief moment then delivered himself of the following gem:

“Tell har from me dat we can’t afford dat kinda money.  So, when She is leaving, she mus’ tek it wid har!”  Up Park Camp was transferred to Jamaica as a grant from the English Government.  Are we considering relocating the army?  Seriously?

Brothers and sisters give joy and praise                                                                                                                                              to Sir Alexander (yeah, yeah).                                                                                                                                                         Brothers and sisters give joy and praise                                                                                                                                                 to Mr Manley (yeah, yeah).

Norman Manley was more “cultured” than Busta but no less a visionary.  His serious side and brilliant representation of his Jamaican people are well documented.  Trinidadian Lord Creator, who adopted Jamaica as his own, had his own take on Norman Manley as the Father of Independent Jamaica.

Manley went up to England,
to seek for independence.
And although Busta was late,
still he attended the conference.
Although from two different parties,
it was very good to see,
how these two politicians
was shaking hands,
when they gained victory
.

Norman Manley’s reputation as a legal Counsel par excellence was an austere one.  Any solicitor who sent him a brief including a single error could expect to receive the full brunt of the Manley ire.  His love of fast horses and fast cars was well known at the time (not so much now) and my mother, who he taught to drive, frequently gave me the benefit of the lessons she learned from him.  For example, from N.W., through my mother, I learned to select my gear BEFORE entering a flooded section of the road and not to change it until I emerged on the other side.

Norman Manley’s best quality was his fixity of purpose.  When he was focussed on an objective, nothing could distract him hence his outstanding winning record in murder cases.  My mother said Norman Manley was a superb driver but he drove like a lunatic.  His beloved grand-daughter Rachel (whose pet name for her grandfather was “Pardi”) tells a story of a brush with death on the way to court one morning that perfectly combines these two features.  In her words: “Pardi was coming down from the hills near Gordon Town when he gave a policeman a drive. The car was speeding at an alarming rate and spilling round corners, as he was late for court.  He had his case notes in his briefcase and, emboldened by his confidence in winning and his anxiety to be punctual, he took a corner badly (I think he swerved to avoid an oncoming car); shot over the cliff landing upside down on the bank, not quite in the water.

“The policeman was terrified as he struggled out of the car warning Pardi the car might catch fire.  He later reported that Pardi was infuriated that the bag had flown open and was systematically sorting his papers with no apparent concern for himself, the policeman, the car or the accident that had just taken place.”  My mother told the same story and added that N.W. let fly a few choice expletives regarding the allegedly defective briefcase locks.

Then there was the time N.W. and Edna went to a Kings House dinner for Her Royal Highness. N.W. was seated beside Queen Elizabeth. It was a cool evening and HRH had just asked her equerry for her ermine wrap (Prince Philip remarked “A bit excessive, don’t you think?”) when N.W. suddenly felt something run up his trouser leg. A lizard! He grabbed his thigh and squeezed the reptile in his fist until it stopped struggling and had to sit there having polite conversation with HRH and eating his supper  with a dead lizard inside his trousers perched on his inner thigh till the meal was over and he could surreptitiously shake it out.

Only God knows what HRH thought N.W. was up to if she saw him squeezing his trouser leg so urgently.

These true yet little known stories remind us that our great leaders were also real people who ensured that our brief history has been filled with colour, character and creativity.  So, let’s not spend large fortunes squabbling over whose computer-generated, plastic, anthem is better than whose; or manufacturing some orchestrated, false, imposed celebratory pageantry to which none can relate.  Better to put the funds on Trust to educate as many of our children born in 2012 as possible.

We definitely don’t need any computer-age producer/artist forcing any new song down our throats for us to study in time to identify with Jamaica 50.  My Jamaica 50 song was written and recorded long ago by men of vision like the two heroes celebrated in this column.

It begins with a name check of some founding fathers of Independence: “A golden festival to all these loving, beautiful, pretty fantastic people.  Sir Alexander Bustamante; Mr. Norman Manley QC; The Honourable Mr “Eddie” Edward Seaga…….”  before the signature drum roll introduces one of the best festival song entries ever:

Golden, golden, golden, a Golden Festival dis                                                                                                                           (‘val dis; ‘val dis).                                                                                                                                                                                                  Come and dance it childrens,                                                                                                                                                                 come dance and dance it lively                                                                                                                                                         (lively; lively).                                                                                                                                                                                                          Sick and blinds and babies and all who dances let now                                                                                                                 (let now; let now).                                                                                                                                                                                                    In your tens of thousands come dance the Golden Festi                                                                                                          (val now; ‘val now).

This seminal song was written for the 1968 festival song contest by the appropriately named Cecil Bustamante Campbell who you might know best as Prince Buster.  It was recorded by the “High Priest of Soul” Roy Shirley.  The story goes that Shirley was on his way to the Festival office to deliver the tape when he was held up and the tape stolen.  As a result, probably the best festival song ever written never made it to the Top Ten.

That year, controversy plagued the contest as, in Roy Shirley’s absence, Desmond Dekker and the Aces’ “Intensified Festival” somehow defeated the more popular “Bim Today” by Toots and the Maytals leading Toots to record the bitter requiem “Desmond Dekker came first”.  Now must be the time to set the record straight; exhume “Golden Festival”; and honour its creators by making it the “Official” Jamaica 50 song?

Guess what?  It’s free!

Peace and Love

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