Books are the carriers of civilization. “Scripta manet, verba volat” – what is written remains, what is spoken vanishes. To posterity, a people without a documented history might as well have never existed. And a 100 years hence those wishing to know about the Caribbean will be heavily indebted to Ian Randle Publishers. In the past few years they have virtually created a library of the region, including “The Story of the Caribbean People”, “The Story of The Jamaican People”, “Reggae Routes : The Story of Jamaican Music”, “Bacchanal : The Carnival Culture of Trinidad”, “A History of Caribbean Architecture” and “Contending With Destiny : The Caribbean in the Twenty First Century”.


Perhaps the most thought provoking will be the forthcoming “Makers of The Caribbean” which examines the lives of great regional figures. The ten categories include:


Freedom Fighters - Enriquillo, Toussaint Louverture, Antoneo Maceo, Nanny.  Visionaries – Marcus Garvey, Jose Marti, Theophilus Marryshow, CLR James. Political Leaders – Fidel Castro, Eric Williams, Luis Munoz Marin, Norman Manley. Independence Leaders – Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Juan Pablo Duarte, Alexander Bustamante, Errol Barrow.  

Historians and Intellectuals – Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon, Eugenio Maria de Hostos, W. Arthur Lewis.


Novelists – Jean Rhys, Alejo Carpentier, Claude McKay, V.S. Naipaul. Poets and Playwrights – Derek Walcott, Nicolas Guillen), Kamau Brathwaite, Aime Cesaire, Louise Bennett. Painters and Sculptors – Michael Jean Cazabon, Philome Obin, Edna Manley, Wilfredo Lam.

Musicians – Bob Marley, Mighty Sparrow, Celia Cruz, David Rudder.

Sportsmen – Gary Sobers, Herb Mckinley, Teofilio Stephenson, Roberta Clemente.


Not everyone’s favourites can be included. But the point of such lists is to make us think upon all those who have made a difference, and why.


All the above have made huge contributions in their respective fields. But for international impact five stand out - Marcus Garvey, Fidel Castro, V.S. Naipaul, Derek Walcott and Bob Marley. At the beginning of a new century the thought occurs – who will be most remembered in 100 years?


The written word outlasts all else, and bibliophiles will nominate Naipaul, arguably the finest living English language author, and Nobel Laureate Walcott as most likely to garner posterity’s praise. But few books outlive their authors. “No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library” said Samuel Johnson. This is even more apposite in the electronic era where writers’ importance has considerably declined. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were among the outstanding figures of the 1800s. No novelist of the 20th century could be accorded similar status. Still, Naipaul and Walcott will likely find readers a century hence, if only in schools.


Fidel Castro and Bob Marley, along with Che, are the great “revolutionary” figures of our time. In the triumphant heyday of materialistic globalism the term has a slightly embarrassing ring. But to many sickened by a diet of Walt Disney and McDonalds, Castro and Marley at least represent an alternative world view. (Alas, the posthumous Marley has been co-opted by the forces of consumerism - his rebel songs are now tourist staples and there is even a Marley display at Disney World.) Their iconic status is due in no small part to their arresting appearance - the bearded Castro and the dreadlocked Marley are among the most recognizable faces on the planet. Would they have become such mythical figures were they not so photogenic?


Bob Marley’s fame grows more universal each year, and his wonderful music has given pleasure to millions. But in no field is change so constant or lasting judgements so difficult to make as popular music, where icons come and go as the tastes of generations change. And in the wider scheme of things it is difficult to imagine any popular musician having as lasting an impact as a national leader like Castro or a thinker like Garvey.


Castro was an unquestionable improvement on his corrupt and racist predecessors, and carried out admirable educational and health reforms. But many exaggerate his regime’s comparative achievements. As Eric Williams points out in “From Columbus to Castro”, pre-Revolutionary Cuba was among the more developed Latin American countries, ranking third in life expectancy and fifth in per capita income. Since 1958 democratic Barbados, Costa Rica and Trinidad have all witnessed far greater improvements in the quality of life. Even with our problems, many more Cubans choose to live in Jamaica than vice versa. Castro’s policies were relatively successful while subsidized by Soviet Russia. But since the iron curtain fell, “revolutionary socialism” has been a miserable failure.


Cuba has never known a democratic leader, and Castro’s authoritarianism might have been partially justified 20 years ago. But it is inexcusable today. In an era of burgeoning democracy, Cubans remain unable to choose their leaders, have no right to due process and enjoy little freedom of speech. In 1999 four opposition activists were jailed merely for criticizing the Communist Party and calling for economic reforms. The ultimate guarantor of Castro’s power is not the people’s will but military force. No one who treasures the right to freedom of expression could consider Castro a truly great man. The history books of 2100 will likely rank him with men like Porfirio Diaz and Robert Mugabe who aroused new heights of national aspiration, but ultimately stayed too long and left a doubtful legacy.


The Caribbean figure who will probably be best remembered a century on is Marcus Garvey. His possible personal failings will be forgotten, but his force of thought and sense of black pride will remain. One need not agree with everything Garvey said to accept the undeniable truth of his assertion that all men are equal regardless of colour.


Here is a supremely logical argument from his 'Universal Negro Catechism'.

Q. What is the colour of God?

A. A spirit has neither colour, nor other natural parts, nor qualities.

Q. If then, you had to think or speak of the colour of God, how would you describe it?

A. As black; since we are created in his image and likeness.

Q. On what would you base your assumption that God is black?

A. On the same basis as that taken by white people when they assume that God is of their colour.'


Naipaul’s novels, Walcott’s poems, Marley’s songs and Castro’s speeches will likely fade long before the resonance of Garvey’s words.

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