Updated: May 31, 2021
Whilst there is no universal agreement, or definition of who a national hero is, and/or who should be a national hero, there are certain criteria which are required of, and often associated with national heroes. It must be noted that these criteria are not universal, nor are they stagnant, meaning these requirements only apply to a specific country, and that these guidelines often change for various reasons, to reflect the identification, the socio-political and cultural representation of the specified country.
However, a definition, or rather an explanation of a national hero is needed to effectively flesh out the arguments I wish to make, as an understanding of the terminology will allow for a greater understanding of the importance of having national heroes, particularly in the Global South.
For the sake of this paper, I will define national hero as a person who has made a great deal of contribution to the overall development and growth of a particular nation state – country. Again, there are no clear guidelines as to what these contributions are, but they vary from political to social, as well as cultural contributions which have changed the country, thus the society for the better.
In exploring national heroes, their lives, and their contributions, it is important to localise this exploration within its specific geographical sphere of importance, and relevance – failure to do so essentially generalises the conversation, moving it away from the focused centre, to the margins. In this case, it is crucial that my exploration of national heroes is embedded within the social framework of the Turks and Caicos Islands, to reflect the sociological imagination of the space, giving each Turks and Caicos Islander the opportunity to reflect on their own internal sense of heroism, and those who they see as national heroes.
Heroes are to be found in every corner of the Turks and Caicos Islands, but there is a spark, or a glow if you will, which differentiates the everyday hero from the illustrious position of national hero. This is not to say that the everyday hero has not contributed enough, as this is simply untrue, rather, it is to say that the national hero takes a step further by shouldering national responsibilities, and by speaking for the nation. At times, the national hero is thrust into leadership position due to the charismatic glow, the aura of stability they project, and eventually provide.
It must be noted that the emergence of national heroes in the Global South, and in the global north is vastly different, and this difference further contributes to the sociological importance of having these outstanding personalities in the Global South. National heroes, and other outstanding personalities from the global north like Cecil Rhodes have impressive resumes and would meet all the criteria of national hero status which I have listed. However, Rhodes was a ruthless imperialist, and coloniser, whilst Rhodes has gained a great deal of fame, his white supremacist ideas are not easily forgotten, as he used his earnings from his colonial enterprise to do all the “good” which has been accredited to his name.
On the other hand, it is interesting to see how the national heroes of the Global South, particularly in the West indies emerged as an antithesis of colonialism, and empire building. The main goal of national heroes of the West Indies has always been about nation building, building a nation that truly reflects the ideals of the people living within the confines of the nation – the Turks and Caicos is no different.
From the 1970s, the Turks and Caicos have embarked on a journey of self-exploration, a journey I feel that most nation of the Global South must make, to truly ask “who am I?”, and to decide what to do with the answer. The Turks and Caicos Islands are unique in several points, a British Overseas Territory in the heart of the Caribbean, which uses the currency of the United States of America, but write using the “queen’s English”, yet speak like the Gullah ancestors – thus, it can be said that the Turks and Caicos Islands are riddled with beautiful, and functional juxtapositions. These different idiosyncrasies have been sewn into the Turks and Caicos social fabric, creating a tapestry of foreign but localised people, ideas, cultures, and experiences which are authentically, and fundamentally Turks, and we have our very own national hero to thank for this blend of different sameness.
The Right Honourable James Alexander George Smith McCartney or JAGS as he is more commonly known was born on Grand Turk – the capital of the Turks and Caicos – on the 30th of June 1945. From a tender age, JAGS expressed a great deal of interest in the political future of the Turks and Caicos Islands, an interest which was further cultivated from his time spent in Jamaica. JAGS, like most brilliant leaders from the Caribbean region of the time, was influenced by Jamaican leaders such as the Honourable Norman Manley, and Sir Alexander Bustamante. JAGS brought this political experience, and fire to the Turks and Caicos, to challenge the mistreatment of Turks and Caicos Islanders at the hands of British administrative officers. This challenge showed the nation that they had a voice and could push back against oppression as much as needed. There has been countless retelling of JAGS’ life and exploits as the Turks and Caicos Islands’ sole national hero, and for this reason, I will not focus a great deal on these achievements.
Whilst I do not believe it necessary to place a microscope on the “physical” accomplishments of the Right Honourable JAGS, it is crucially important that JAGS’ soft contributions are highlighted. By soft contributions, I mean the influences which are not overly obvious, but are nonetheless important in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Whenever JAGS is brought up in conversation, there is a visible sense of pride that washes over the face of the parties involved, and an eagerness from those who knew him to share stories of his kind, and gentle nature. This soft power essentially operates at the glue which binds all Turks and Caicos Islanders together, by focusing on JAGS as crux of the movement. JAGS dedicated his life to the coming together of all Turks and Caicos Islanders under one identity, a struggle many of his contemporaries also faced. Identity building is one of the most important roles of a national hero, especially one who is operating in formerly colonised spaces, as these identities are often fragmented, and certain alliances become generational, but JAGS was entrusted to break these identities, and to recreate an identity based around the ethos of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
At the end of the day, JAGS represents an illustrious idea, the idea of what every Turks and Caicos Islander should be, or at least, try to be, to better the nation. However, with the passing of time, it is important that we review, and amend our views to reflect our present situation, and this is why I believe that it is time to add more national heroes to the roster. Doing this will not erase JAGS’s teaching, as they are the teachings of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and JAGS was extremely passionate about the promotion of Turks and Caicos Islanders’, to further uplift the nation. To date, we have no woman national heroes, but we have outstanding women in our communities who have contributed to tourism, the arts, and education, yet none of them has been put forward. Whilst these people have not challenged British rule the way JAGS did, they have contributed to the Turks and Caicos Islands in ways which would make JAGS proud, he often called to Turks and Caicos Islanders to be equipped and serve.
It is evident that anyone can be a national hero, however, it is crucial that places like the Turks and Caicos have these individuals in place, to help in navigating the seas of identities which are the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is important to revamp old ideas, to make room for new ones, and to learn from those around us for the betterment, and further progress of the Turks and Caicos Islands.