National Heroes Day

Vexed has a post up in the wake of Mr Teddy Tucker’s passing so close to National Heroes Day (celebrated this coming Monday), arguing that to him/her this is the personality they’ll be celebrating this year.

National Heroes Day itself has been subject to some recent criticism, with the Government deciding not to identify anyone as the subject for this years celebration.

In truth, the holiday has been the subject of criticism/controversy since it was initiated – initially by those who think it’s an insult to the monarchy (officially replacing the Queen’s Birthday Holiday, the parade of which continues on the same day anyway), or that it was a conspiracy of reverse racism by the PLP, or that it failed to set out a clear way to select a hero each year (the first national hero, Louis Browne-Evans, was the subject of the day from 2008 until 2011 when three additional heroes shared the day – Pauulu Kamarakafego, Dr EF Gordon and Henry Tucker; and Mary Prince was the subject for 2012, and, by default, 2013).


I support the idea of National Heroes Day, and recognise that it’s not novel to Bermuda, but exists in various countries (especially the Caribbean and Africa, but also Asia and Europe – including the UK), and being a republican I’m quite happy to see it formally replace the Queen’s Birthday (which isn’t even an official holiday in the UK).

In most cases, the day is held on a key anniversary, usually a key hero or event in that country’s history, and was originally held in October, but this was moved for the sake of expediency in terms of sharing out the public holidays more evenly across the year.

I understood that selection would be through nominations to a board/committee – related to the Department of Community & Cultural Affairs – which would then provide a short-list of candidates for the Minister to select from, and that this would be annual.

That has not been the case, and it remains unclear how the hero is to be selectedor, more frequently, not selected.

Which is disappointing.

The idea of National Heroes Day should be to (a) commemorate living national heroes (surely it’s better to celebrate them while still alive…); and/or (b) commemorate past national heroes who may otherwise be forgotten, and so help build an appreciation of our heritage.

Admittedly, due to the racial power imbalances prevalent in our history, ‘Black’ history has been largely erased from the historical record – indeed, ‘actively suppressed’ may be a better phrase than simply ‘erased’.

And this largely means that key national heroes are simply unknown – they weren’t recorded and so aren’t recognised.  Our history has, rather literally, been White-washed – as well as filtered in a sexist way to boot.

Despite this, there are plenty of heroes, historical and present, who can, and should have, been the focus of National Heroes Day, complete with a coordinated public education campaign, across races and sex.

And for those unrecorded heroes of the past we could have had a generic ‘themed’ day where focus would have been on past injustices and the resistance against them.

Alternatively, National Heroes Day could be a generic one (which it appears to be this year) where everyone’s left to determine their own national hero.

Which has its merits, but I feel it misses out on a pedagogical opportunity to highlight our collective heritage (living or other) and help inspire people to become future national heroes.


9 thoughts on “National Heroes Day

  1. Which begs the question of how to fix it…

    Perhaps a group of us should just get together and nominate a hero for ourselves. A blog nominated hero selection even?

    I humbly suggest for initial consideration:

    Dr Barbara Ball
    David Wingate
    Clyde Best
    Clarence Hill
    Teddy Tucker
    Gladys Misick Morrell
    Ira Phillip

    There’s plenty more, of course. I just figured I’d get the ball rolling…

  2. All excellent suggestions.

    I’ve brought up the fact that Bermuda could have done better numerous times with regards to the National Heroes Day concept, including ways that would be more efficient, less problematic and take the decision-making out of the hands of politicians.

    For example:

    Meredith Ebbin long ago started Bermuda Biographies that could serve as an immediate template to finding out more about great contributors to Bermuda.

    If the powers that be were really serious, their so-called Naming Committee would happen asap, they recruit well-regarded researchers to that group (like the above-mentioned Mrs. Ebbin), there’s no political oversight or veto power at play, and the group can (after research, polling, interviews, etc), reveal *well-before* the holiday, a list (none of this one-a-year stuff that just leads to more meetings) containing one to three people from each of the fields of education, arts and literature, sport, science and environment, exploration and innovation, and societal improvement.

    After that, you can have a full decade at least, of proper remembrance of the existing named Heroes with the appropriate honours given, without distractions of “who’s next year, get the Committee together, whoops, people are on vacation, let’s re-meet next year and try again”. Down the line, revisit if more persons are found worthy of the rare distinction.

  3. A minor comment perhaps.

    I sometimes wonder whether it is the word Hero that is wrong here. The word creates a mental image of someone who has fundamentally changed the direction of the country through whatever they have done. Someone who has “saved us” from a potential disaster etc, etc..

    There is nothing wrong with Jonathan’s list which could no doubt be added to by those who have a sound knowledge of our history. I would have no problem “recognising” them in some way or other; but I question whether they are Hero’s and whether they fit the mental image.

    There is no doubt that Louis Browne-Evans achieved a great deal in her life time, and clearly against the odds. There’s no question that her achievements should be recognised.

    But does that make her a hero?

  4. I think it does come down to one’s definition of hero, so I agree with you Mike, it can be difficult to process at times.

    I think that by reading through the bios of the current crop (and those mentioned by Jonathan above), you may be able to find things that are deemed either inspirational, courageous, self-sacrificing, enduring… things that in varying parts (and subject to personal opinion) could be deemed attributes of heroism.

    In the case of Lois Browne-Evans, you can argue her achievements as breaking the gender ceiling (for lack of a better term) for example; and there are probably several lawyers, politicians, teachers who find that journey inspiring enough to recognize her as a hero.

    I for example, would absolutely consider Dr. Wingate a National Hero for spearheading and being at the forefront of protecting the cahow from extinction on the island. Other folks may see the conservation of the endemic bird as not as important, or not of the level that merits the title of hero.

    Because I’m just a regular fella, and several of us commenting are probably also just regular folks, our mileage will certainly vary on how important each person’s contributions are, and if they’re worthy of getting a ‘hero’ status. Which is why I’d certainly defer to the experts who would have a deeper and more profound knowledge of each person’s role in Bermuda.

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