Where does Bahamian pride stand today?
The question is prompted by the rocky path endured by the inaugural national honours.
First, there was the row over Sir Roland Symonette. Out came PLP chairman Fred Mitchell, growling that Symonette was not a “fitting, proper person” for the award, and decrying Sir Roland for his record.
Torches were lit on social media and people set off to find a castle to storm on the matter – though precious few provided details of exactly why Sir Roland should not be included on the list of those awarded the Order of National Hero – alongside Sir Milo Butler, Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield and Sir Lynden Pindling.
It should be noted too that instead of a castle, they could have had a palace to storm – for if they really thought Sir Roland unworthy of an honour, they could petition the queen to strip him of the knighthood that gave him that “Sir”.
Even when Bishop Simeon Hall said Sir Roland would always be his national hero after hearing him preach one summer and paying a year’s tuition for him as he struggled to get back into college, the debate raged on.
Until, of course, the PLP signalled it was all just noise and fury by saying if they were elected, they would not reverse the honour.
“We want to protect the integrity of the awards,” piped up the same Fred Mitchell, ignoring the fact that if, as he earlier said, Sir Roland really wasn’t a fitting, proper person then the awards would lack integrity in the first place.
That was the first hurdle. Then, last week, came the news that two more awards had hit a bump in the road.
Former Prime Ministers Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie were to be awarded the Order of the Nation award, a gong bestowed upon all those who have served as governor general or prime minister. The award would allow them to be called “most honourable”.
The problem? They didn’t want it. Perhaps they discussed it over one of their regular dinner meetings – but why did they decline?
Mr Ingraham was playing his cards close to his chest – but the word was that Mr Christie had been looking forward to accepting the honour, not least because he was the prime minister when the National Honours Act was established in 2016.
But it seems he didn’t want to receive the award from this prime minister’s administration. He wanted the award – just not from Prime Minister Minnis. He is also said to be concerned about the criminal prosecution of several members of his party since they were ousted in the 2017 general election, and a decline in civility in politics. That last point can be particularly hard to fathom considering some of the regular outbursts from Leslie Miller – including some ripe telephone recordings – in his era.
So here we are – with an awards system where people snipe at some of the recipients, and others don’t want the award at all. It’s all very much a contrast with the front page picture last week of three smiling recipients of Queen’s Honours.
Elma Garraway and Dr Jonathan Rodgers received the honour of Member of the British Empire – while Kendal Culmer was presented with a British Empire Medal, each for their service to their respective fields.
The secretary to the governor general said each had lived up to the nation’s pledge, motto and preamble to the Constitution.
Which raises another question – do we really want the Bahamian honours, if the Queen’s Honours reflect the self-same national aspirations?
Perhaps a little of the answer can come from another recent social media kerfuffle – when designer India Hicks modified the Bahamian Coat of Arms and the Bahamian internet rose up to give her a stern telling-off (and prompted the Ministry of National Security to pipe up to say it was investigating, though it seems that would be a short investigation of which we’ve not heard another word).
Bahamian pride was fully on show there – as people responded as one to a perceived slight. But the answer to the division on show over the national awards? Well, that comes from the Coat of Arms itself – and the motto plainly on display in the Rev Dr Hervis Bain Jr’s design.
There are four words in that motto – the first three are Forward, Upward, Onward, and we all aspire to those. It’s the last one we sometimes need to work on. Together. Let’s try a little more of that.