In 1999 BBC website readers voted for the millennium’s greatest figures. They picked Gutenberg as inventor, Shakespeare as writer, Leonardo Da Vinci as artist, Paul McCartney as Composer, Mahatma Gandhi as world leader and Karl Marx as thinker. The ten greatest men were Mahatma Gandhi, Leonardo Da Vinci, Nelson Mandela, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx.


Such lists are never definitive. Greatness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Still, some names pop up no matter who is picking - few would leave Shakespeare off their short list for greatest writer. Yet what is greatness? What makes a someone a great person, as opposed to a great scientist, artist or composer. Influence on future generations? Intelligence? Talent? Charisma? Fame? Virtue? Courage?


Great men inspire great dreams, but that still begs the question. What made millions pick Ghandi and Leonardo as the two outstanding figures of the last thousand years? They certainly had little in common, one being a national leader cum moral philosopher, the other an artist and inventor.  Ghandi never created or invented anything, while Leonardo never dabbled in politics. Yet both are indisputably great men. Perhaps greatness can not be defined, only recognized.


In the 2000 spirit, here are some Jamaican millennium lists. They are naturally subjective, but hopefully will provide food for thought.


Best novel – White Witch of Rosehall. One of the few Jamaican books in print for over fifty years. Some dismiss it as a sensationalist potboiler (with  little basis in reality other than Rosehall Great House itself). But Annie Palmer is the most vivid figure Jamaican fiction has created. Is it art? Only time can judge. Honourable Mentions – Banana Bottom, Children of Sisyphus, The Lunatic, New Day, Brother Man.


Best non-fiction writer – Orlando Patterson.  Did us proud with his U.S. Pulitzer Prize for “Freedom”. HM – Phillip Sherlock


Best fiction writer - Anthony Winkler. HM – Claude McKay, Roger Mais, Vic Reid, Olive Senior, Erna Brodber


Best poet - Louise Bennett. HM - Claude McKay, Andrew Salkey, George Campbell, Lorna Goodison, Evan Jones


Best Poem – If We Die. HM – Banana Man, Bans O Killing


Best dramatist – Trevor Rhone. HM – David Heron, Barbara Gloudon, Dennis Scott


Best Play – Smile Orange. HM - Echo In The Bone, August Morning, Ecstasy


Best work of art – Painting : Banana Plantation by John Dunkley. Sculpture : Horse Of The Morning by Edna Manley. HM – Head Of Christ by Carl Abrahams, Friends in The Afternoon by Milton George, Second Generation triptych by David Boxer


Best artist - John Dunkley. HM – Edna Manley, Carl Abrahams, Albert Huey, Osmond Watson, Milton George, David Boxer


Best movie – The Harder They Come


Best song – Evening Time. Not a folk song – the words are by Louise Bennett and the music by Barbara Ferland - but it has the timeless feel of one. Ernie Smith’s rendition is particularly haunting. HM – Bam Bam, One Love, Mango Time, On The Beach, It’s Me Again Jah.


Best song writer – Bob Marley is the popular choice, though many consider Toots Hibbert, Bob Andy and Jimmy Cliff his equals.


Best singer – Toots Hibbert. The young Toots had the most soulful voice Jamaica has produced. HM – John Holt, Dennis Brown, Luciano


Best deejay – Daddy U-Roy, always a creator and never an imitator. HM – Yellowman, Beenie Man, Michigan and Smiley


Greatest sports figure – George Headley. “Atlas” showed that black batsmen were just as courageous, patient and skillful as white ones. HM – Merlene Ottey, Arthur Wint, Mike McCallum


Greatest Woman – Louise Bennett


Greatest leader – tie between Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley


Greatest thinker – Marcus Garvey


And who is the greatest Jamaican? My nominees are Bustamante, Norman Manley, Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Louise Bennett.


Busta and Norman were like ying and yang, and Jamaica was fortunate to have founding fathers who so complemented each other – Norman the brilliant scholar, Busta the charismatic man of the people. Norman was more talented, but Busta captivated. Intellectuals preferred Norman, but crowds sang of following Bustamante till they died. Would either have been such a towering figure without the other as a foil?


Marcus Garvey brilliantly and courageously articulated black rights in an era when to do such things was to risk death, yet many questions remain about his financial conduct. Much of it was likely white supremacist propaganda. But only hagiographers could ignore the matter completely.


Bob Marley is by far the most famous figure Jamaica has produced. Indeed he is one of the most recognizable names on the planet. But though Marley the musician is revered by all, Marley the man is a more controversial proposition. He was in frequent contact with violent elements, once being nearly assassinated. There is court documented testimony of his manager using force to get his records played and of Marley himself beating up another manager. Is personal morality not a component of greatness?


There are no reservations with Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett, the undisputed mother of Jamaican culture. A brilliant entertainer and poet, her dialect performances were the direct precursors of deejay music and dub poetry. No person was more responsible for the nation’s emancipation from colonial mental slavery. For it was her almost single handed insistence on the inherent worth of Jamaican expression that established in the populace a respect for their traditions.


“Some thought Jamaican-English was vulgar, out-of-order language. It came out of the African heritage and at that time anything African was bad: hair, colour, skin, language, music. But I thought it was fascinating creation of the people. I persisted in writing in dialect in spite of the opposition because nobody else was doing so. I wanted to put on paper some of the wonderful things that people say in dialect.”


Luciano spoke for all Jamaicans - ‘Miss Lou has worked forward into my consciousness that I can be proud of my culture and myself’.


Seldom can one person have so embodied an entire national culture. Yet for all her artistic glory, the most remarkable thing about Miss Lou is the unabashed pride and affection she engenders in Jamaicans of all colours, classes and creeds. Other countries have produced figures of similar national cultural importance. But how many persons of any nationality inspire such genuine and spontaneous feelings of love? Miss Lou is the greatest Jamaican of them all.

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