I am writing this note from far off Guyana a few weeks after I visited Grand Cayman to appear in Rundown, and also following the tragic passing of two Caymanian stalwarts, Kirkland Nixon and Bo Miller. I knew both of those individuals well, particularly Mr. Nixon with his involvement in the Tourism Attraction Board (TAB) responsible for Pirates Week.
My purpose here is to make the point that in so many of the Caribbean societies with which I am familiar there is a reluctance, perhaps even an embarrassment, within us to openly acknowledge the value of persons such as Kirkie and Bobo and Ormond Panton to us (humility may also be in play) until time or circumstance make it impossible.
In a time when cultures in so many countries are under threat (some self-generated, some imposed) it is in the example of individuals like those that we have a nucleus to sustain and retain, and when we do not exalt those persons in their lifetime we are harming our own cause.
There should have been significant and specific attention paid to such persons in their time, for their own satisfaction, of course, and that of their families, but more for the impact on the rest of the population now and on the ones yet unborn.
I recall an occasion during my time in Cayman, when I was with Newstar magazine, being in a somewhat heated conversation with a major American investor in the country’s diving sector – it had widely to do with “Caymanian content” – and the gentleman said to me at one point, “What is this Caymanian way that you’re always talking about?” I ignored the somewhat sarcastic tone of his question and said, “It is a somewhat complex creature, particularly for someone like you coming from a different world, but one approach to understanding it would be to ignore me and spend some time with people like Norman Bodden, Beatman Ebanks, Ormond Panton, Ezzard Miller, Kirkland Nixon, Joey Wood, Lewie Ceato Hydes, Ena Watler – and others like them, and from that an awareness will emerge. Its roots are humility and integrity and resolve. Marine traditions and rustic farming ones, are part of it. Look at the country’s coat-of-arms; the thatch rope pictured there is way more than a decoration; it refers to a way of life.”
I doubt that the American took my advice – indeed, he’s long gone from Cayman – but there is a singular remissremissness in the region that we continue [to be] reluctant to elevate our own. My song, “Where Are Your Heroes, Caribbea??” is on that topic, and as I return to it today, more than 20 years later, the problem is still with us.
The project here is way more than this letter to the editor, but I must mention Mr. Nixon and Mr. Ormond in this space; they are principal heroes to me. Over and over again, in my 25 years in Cayman, I have seen Kirkland Nixon display strength of character and integrity seemingly without even thinking about it. I cannot talk about his relations with the country’s Governor, but I saw him stand up to Ministers in the Government on three separate occasions, soft-spoken but unshakable. I talked about this from the stage in Cayman recently, but I saw Kirkland Nixon toe-to-toe with captains of industry and high-priced attorneys on fundamental principles, and on each occasion principle to him was like bedrock, and I heard from others about other examples of this resolve where I was not present. Mr. Ormond had a similar backbone, to the point where he engaged in more than one fist fight with the British Administrator/Governor of Cayman over some point of difference; such was the tenor of his stance; such was his commitment to “doing the right thing.”
We must find ways across the Caribbean to raise a shout for such courage and firmness. We must have public memorials or printed recollections of substantial people in our past. We are now at the stage where the American divemaster could legitimately pose the question he put to me. We have to get about fixing that. It is a project screaming for attention.