Charles X for Amandala
On his Belize Exposure show on KREM Radio last night, Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington concurred with co-host Bert Tucker, that he, Minister Elrington had taken the matter to Cabinet, and got its approval, to change the name of the 9th March holiday from “ Baron Bliss Day ” to “Benefactors Day.”

Both Bert and Sedi argued that we need, as a nation, to give more respect and honor to our many other benefactors who were born Belizeans, even though some may not have contributed in cash to the development of Belize. Their exemplary service is equally important and should be acknowledged. They proceeded to list the names of some departed heroes and patriots who should qualify to have their names sounded on Benefactors Day – Philip Goldson, Samuel Haynes, Isaiah Morter, Henry Fairweather, Eudora Pitts, and others.

They did not elaborate in detail, but they hinted at the fact that we, a nation of many ethnicities with a history of slavery and British colonialism, were continuing to give homage to one generous Englishman, a white man, while so many of our own great benefactors were going un-recognized. They proposed that it was important to do something about that situation as a part of “emancipating ourselves from mental slavery” as a people.

On the surface, their argument has a lot of merit. We certainly need to do a whole lot to lift up the names of our departed heroes and benefactors, and a Benefactors Day sounds like a really good idea to start with. We already have a special day, during the Independence celebrations, dedicated to Belizean Patriots. But maybe we need to do more to specifically single out our benefactors, however we arrive at the selected list.

But there is a small problem with doing away with Baron Bliss Day. It sounds a bit like “cutting off our nose, to spite our face”. I don’t think we are about to practice “reverse racism” in Belize, in this new Obama age of interracial mingling and tolerance. And in the age of colonialism, for a white man to do what the good Baron did, for a colony comprised of mostly poor people of color, specifically stipulating in the details of his will that the benefits of his legacy would reach all the people, not just the wealthy few, says something about the man, beyond the color of his skin. If there is any white man on the planet deserving of Belizeans’ special gratitude and respect, it is Baron Bliss.

Also, in a country that seems “hell bent” on building its future on the tourism dollar, why would anyone want to destroy a legacy that carries with it such a romantic and inspiring story as that of the Baron’s visit to this then little “backwater” called “British Honduras”? The least that we can do is reciprocate the love the Baron showed for Belize, with keeping his memory alive on the day he asked to be remembered. Changing Columbus Day to Pan American Day is one thing; we all concur that Columbus came to “bust us”. But, can anyone say such about the Baron?

In terms of the size of his bequeathed estate and the noble intent of his purpose, Sir Isaiah Morter, a black Belizean, who doesn’t have a day, and never asked for one, named after him, is probably a greater man than Baron Bliss. They say the prophet is without honor in his own country. Sir Isaiah was not as familiar with the legal intricacies of the British system as the Baron was, and thus the Morter legacy, intended to help black people everywhere, ended up being seized and used up by “the slavemaster and his agents”. Belize thus hardly benefited from the bequeathed wealth of the “Coconut King”. A lot more needs to be done to research and re-tell the story of this great Belizean benefactor, who unselfishly gave his legacy for the betterment of black people through Marcus Garvey’s UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), of which there were active branches in Belize.

Thankfully for us, Baron Bliss did not make the mistake that Sir Isaiah did. Even in his state of ill-health, the Baron carefully laid out for the long term how his legacy for Belize should be secured. So that, even though his English countrymen tried to seize it, they were restricted from legally taking a hold of the Bliss legacy and removing it from Belize. They took all they could through some taxation trickery, but the rest they couldn’t touch, because the Baron knew the British system, and had put in safeguards to protect the Bliss Trust. And so we still have it up to today. Perhaps he also figured that keeping his name ringing every year would be one way to ensure that the trust remained in the public eye, to discourage the secret machinations of “scoundrels”.

Why would we now want to obliterate the memory of the Baron, when generations of Belizeans have grown to identify this day as a part of our culture? We even have a popular folk song, “Coming down from Fort.” Baron Bliss Day has become a unifying theme and concept to generations of Belizeans, like the old Belize City Market used to do, and the Battlefield or Central Park, until both were desecrated and “improved” by misguided leaders.

Perhaps, in the future, there should be a process established that would include public consultation whenever there is any move afoot to tamper with any institution or physical structure that could be construed as an important aspect of our national/historical/cultural legacy. Ask Belizeans in the diaspora how they feel about demolishing Baron Bliss Day. Do you also want to remove his tomb and the lighthouse? Only by first consulting with our people, will our leaders get to really know and appreciate the ties that bind us together as a people. I think that Baron Bliss Day is one such institution that merits consultation and consideration before a final decision is made to erase it from the pages of our collective minds.

If it is the Minister’s hope to help free some shackled minds from “mental slavery,” he might be surprised to find that more harm than good is accomplished by this paternalistic, dictatorial, slavemaster approach. Educate and enlighten the people, and when they are “ready”, they themselves will demand the changes. “Force riping” the situation may only serve to further erode our national/cultural identity and unity as a people. Indeed, some might see this move as another distraction, at a time when we should all be focused on the education campaign and the big decision we all need to make on whether or not to take our case to the ICJ.

* Biography: Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss