Almost from the first hour of his death on May 10, 1981, people have been calling for reggae superstar Bob Marley to be made a national hero in Jamaica.
The government at the time resisted the call. Successive governments over the 28 years that have elapsed since have also resisted the call.
The reason why depends on who you to talk to. To some in political circles Marley does not represent the kind of “wholesome” image (colonial) Jamaica want to promote.
The idea of a “dutty head, ganja-smoking, Rastaman” as one of the island’s national heroes, is an anathema to the very belief system of those who still hanker after the days when the British ruled Jamaica under colonial rule.
Others question what has Marley done for Jamaica and, most importantly, for the poor of Jamaica. Some even knit-pick about his apparent immorality and adultery whereby he fathered numerous children with several different women, some while he was still married to wife Rita.
But, these counter-arguments pale into insignificance when considering Marley’s impact on the world, as a Jamaican.
In terms of promoting Jamaica as a piece of land 150 miles long by 50 miles wide, Marley’s name is very often the only one that people from international shores associate with Jamaica. That and an indigenous herb called ganja and an influencing sound called reggae!
More tourists are lured to Jamaica because of the mystical attraction Marley still generate through his music and mythology than anything else this side of reggae music. Here is a ghetto man who made it big onto the international stage to the point where he was able to romance a Miss World while his music was “bubbling on the top 100, just like a mighty dread…” in the mainstream markets.
Clearly this was something special, that ordinary people could relate to, even as Jamaica enjoyed a period of prosperity behind a socialist regime that rode record levels of popularity.
But, Marley’s influence cut across the class, race, colour and political divide globally was unquestionable. Musicians like Stevie Wonder, groups like the Lionel Ritchie-led Commodores, Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones and many others from rock and pop, all queued up to hail the Rastaman!
Meanwhile, Marley still struggled for acceptance on home soil, particularly from Jamaica