Preserving Historic Memory
By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 10, 2016
By the time you read this article you will have heard everything about the life of the late Patrick Manning: the good, the bad and the ugly. Many of his admirers (and non-admirers alike) will have told us about his numerous accomplishments. Mrs. Hazel Manning has asked us to "know" Mr. Manning's legacy while Prime Minister Keith Rowley has assured us that "he will continue in our history" (Newsday, July 3).
But will he?
I can confidently predict that within the next ten or twenty years, unless we do things differently, we will have forgotten about Mr. Manning whether his remains are entombed or his ashes are placed in an urn. Hazel Manning and those close to him will remember him, but after they pass Patrick Manning's name will be little more than a memory.
Some may object to this prediction, but that is how we are as a society. We love to ramajay but have put nothing in place to preserve the memories of our leaders. Over the last sixty years we have had seven prime ministers and six presidents. What do we know about their lives and what systematic efforts have we made to ensure that their achievements will be available to those who come after them?
A simple example proves the point. There is not one serious biography of George Chambers, the second prime minister of our nation. Many citizens under the age of twenty or so know little about Chambers and what he contributed to our country. There are several good studies about Dr. Williams-no doubt, because of his international status-but with few exceptions all we have are hagiographies about our other leaders.
What do we know about those leaders who came before our contemporary crop of leaders?
One of the proud boasts of those who praised Mr. Manning is that he was our longest serving Member of Parliament.
But who was the second longest serving Member of Parliament?
His name is L. A. A. de Verteuil, a person to whom Fr. Antony de Verteuil, a member of that family, has devoted much of his time and intellectual rigor.
L. A. A. De Verteuil was one of our most important leaders during the nineteenth century. He was the leading voice of the French Creole population and was the author of Trinidad: Its Geography, Natural Resources, Administration, Present Condition, and Prospects (1858), one of the most important studies of nineteenth-century Trinidad.
Although we make many well-meaning statements when prominent members of our community pass away, there is no concrete program to assure that their memories and their contributions will remain after they are gone. Eric Williams's memory and contributions are alive today because of the herculean efforts of his daughter, Erica. Without Erica there would no Eric for future generations of T&T citizens.
How do we change this disgraceful state of affairs? I propose that we set up a National Endowment for the Arts and Sciences (perhaps at a cost of $25M a year) to fund worthy projects that do research into the arts and sciences instead of spending hundred s of millions of dollars on commissions and lawyers that yield little value to our society.
This program, if enacted, would fund projects of national importance that are likely to increase our knowledge of T&T. It will have a more lasting effect on the intellectual and cultural development of our society than the millions we have wasted on useless commissions.
I am biased-scholar as I am-about the importance of the written word and the preservation of historic memory. Nawal Ed Saadawi, internationally known writer, medical doctor, fighter for women's rights, and one of the most exemplary women of the twentieth century, intimated the centrality of the written word in the preservation of historic memory. She says: "Nothing can defeat death like writing. Were it not for the Old Testament, Moses and Judaism would not have lived on. Were it not for the New Testament, Jesus Christ and Christianity would have died off long ago. And were it not for the Qur'an, the prophet Muhammad and Islam would not have survived to this day" (Walking Through Fire).
Early Christian theologians believed that the word (Logos) was the link between God and man which led St. John to acknowledge: "In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." As a religious man, Mr. Manning would have appreciated the connection between the word (Logos) and God's presence on earth.
What better way to honor him than to create an institution in which words are mobilized to celebrate our people's contributions (in the academy and in the villages) to our society while they live on this earth.
Professor Cudjoe's email address is email@example.com. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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