Ash Wednesday is a national holiday in Jamaica. While that is somewhat foreign to me it does seem appropriate, particularly in a country as purportedly Christian as Jamaica. Because the originating concept of Ash Wednesday is as a day to atone for sins, ask forgiveness, and begin the 40 days of Lent with reverence and contemplation, Ash Wednesday is a solemn sort of holiday. Solemn holidays are nice – especially when they land mid-week and you really just need some quiet.

I was very lucky today to have my personal Jamaican ‘tour guide’ take me on a Kingston photo safari.  Our first stop was National Heroes’ Park, which is one of Kingston’s oldest and largest parks. While there are other notable Jamaicans memorialized and interred in the park, the focus is on the heroes.

The highest award any Jamaican can receive is the designation of national hero, and since the creation of the award in 1969 only seven (six men and one woman) such people have been recognized. Each of the current heroes gave of themselves in an ongoing way for the betterment of their countrymen and their country. Viewing their tribute monuments, reading the reasons for their designation, and wandering the park in good company, bright sun, and relative calm was an ideal way to spend a reflective holiday afternoon.

I was particularly moved by the early heroes – Nanny of the Maroons (1730s), Paul Bogle and George Gordon (1865), and Samuel Sharpe (1831). In a time when these individuals had little power, few resources and at great personal risk they challenged authority and fought for the oppressed. Nanny and Sharpe were both slaves, Nanny having been born in West Africa.

Detail of Samuel Sharpe monument

In the case of Samuel Sharpe, the educated slave and lay Baptist minister’s attempted act of passive resistance to protest the poor treatment of slaves devolved into an armed rebellion for which he was hanged. Shortly before his death Sharpe said “I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery.”

The legacy of his belief, his actions, his willingness to stand by his principles was to contribute to the eventual abolition of slavery in Britain and her colonies. Can you imagine being able to claim a legacy like that?

Detail from Nanny of the Maroons memorial – an ‘abeng’ that called warriors to action

The other hero who fascinates me is Nanny of the Maroons, the lone female to receive the designation to date. As I’ve mentioned before, the Maroons were former slaves of the original Spanish colonizers who were freed or who escaped when the British invaded Jamaica and forced the Spanish out.

The Maroons, to some degree, continue to live a life apart from the rest of Jamaica. Long after the Spanish had left, the Maroons continued to fight the British, lead by Nanny, a reported master of guerilla warfare, on the east coast. What little is known for sure about Nanny is fascinating reading.

I’m not generally one for hero worship. But having spent the afternoon in the company of such inspiring, committed leaders I’m left wondering – what is it that I am willing and able to be remembered for. What would it take to not only live a life I’m proud of, but to live a life that continues to make a difference for others long after I’m gone?

Marcus Garvey Memorial
Norman Manley memorial
Alexander Bustamante memorial & tomb
Detail from George Gordon & Paul Bogle tribute