By G. Michael Reid
So the UDP portion of the celebrations is over and done with and now we can move on the day when all Belizeans can join in the celebration. The Tenth of September has come and gone but from most accounts, it did not amount to much. I watched the parade (if you can call it that) on the only media house that actually covered the event in real time. No surprise, that station was Wave radio and television, the UDP party organs. All that I saw was a bunch of red shirts and a few UDP flags being waved. It was a sad requiem to an occasion that was once festive, inclusive and expressive of loyalty to country. The parade, like the holiday, seems to have now been reduced to simply a display of loyalty to a political party.
On the eve of the parade was another traditional parade, this one The Fire Engine Parade. So named because it is where all the fire engines in town would join with any other vehicle that used a siren to circle the town and add to the excitement of the occasion. It is something that used to be looked forward to, in particular by young children. A part of the tradition, and this traditionally an equally exciting part, was the large number of bicycles that would follow the parade.
In my day, bicycles were not only for participating in this parade; they were the popular mode of transportation. For most people, they were the only mode of transport since vehicles were not nearly as common as they are now. The popular brands of bicycles were Rudge, Raleigh and Hercules; all imported from the UK. On Saturdays, most bike owners would be found cleaning and polishing their prized possession. Bikes were adorned and embellished with shiny clips, reflectors, colorful tapes and beads that would be strung on the spokes and which would jangle as we rode along. There were also colorful frills that were attached to the end of handles bars; queuing behind as we rode. I remember being in high school when the son of a white Englishman created quite a stir by bringing to school, a bike on which he had replaced the handle bar with an old steering wheel. There was also much excitement when a neighborhood kid returned from the states with a bicycle that could be folded up and carried in a suitcase.
The fire engine parade gave bike owners an opportunity to put on display their many hours of hard work and creativity. There were all types of bikes; men’s bikes, ladies bikes, balloon tires, carrier bikes, bikes with step nuts for carrying passengers and also bicycle carts. Bicycle carts were not fast enough for the fire engine parade but many were decorated and shone brightly in the Tenth Parade. Somewhere along the line, some bright politician decided that bicycles could no longer participate in the fire engine parade. It was a thoughtless and very dumb decision. This year, the three fire engines (two seemly in need of the one ambulance that tagged along), and one Police vehicle did little to stir any interest or excitement. It was to say the least, as huge a disappointment as the parade of the following day.
In 1975, five women, recorded simply as- Ms. Crystal, Ms. June, Ms. Alice, Ms. Maude and Ms. Myrtle had the foresight to realize that this day was coming. In a back yard on Sixth Street, they sat down determined to find a way to save the September Celebrations. After Saturday’s showing, one would have to conclude that they certainly might have succeeded. What began as a few kids masquerading down a few back streets has grown exponentially to represent arguably the biggest attraction of the September Celebrations. Those five ladies, whose memory will forever be immortalized in the acronym C-JAM might have never, in their wildest dreams, imagined that their brainstorm would have produced such a festive storm.
Sometime before 3 am on the morning of Saturday September 14th, I was awakened by a loud racket in the street. I peeped out warily and saw droves of people headed somewhere. Then it hit me; this was j’ouvert morning! About five years ago, copying from a tradition in Trinidad, J’ouvert became a part of Carnival. On Saturday last, a crowd estimated as many as ten thousand participated in what has grown almost out of control. Despite a few drawbacks and a few incidents of violence, it is obvious that September now means much more than a parade and commemoration of some battle. September now means J’ouvert and Carnival!
Another favorite of the September Celebrations and another that totally overshadows the actual Tenth celebration is the Chamber of Commerce’s Expo Show. What started out as a single row of booths advertising a few products has evolved to a massive market place showcasing hundreds of business people looking for exposure. Some patrons view it as just an opportunity to meet, mingle and consume a few cheap beers while enjoying the few free samples on display. For many, it’s a chance for a deal on a new phone or an opportunity to “top up”. Whatever the reason, thousands flock to this event making it another highlight of the September season. Seems the new kids have taken over the block.
For many years, I have advocated for the continued observance the Tenth, a significant milepost in our history. I believe that in a fashion similar to Joshua and the walls of Jericho, divine intervention could have made that victory possible. I’ve always considered it a tale of courage that could lend a lift to our normally low self-esteem. There are times however, when one must face reality. Unless we combine Carnival with the Tenth of September, we can read the obituary and sing the recessional hymn. The Tenth is dead, long live the Tenth!The Belize Times