JG - Is our Coat of Arms relevant?
Is our Coat of Arms relevant?
published: Tuesday February 14, 2006
ONE MORNING LAST WEEK, I overheard 'Bagga' Brown introduce 'Weh Yuh Sey' on TVJ's morning programme. The topic explored the question as to whether our Coat of Arms was still relevant and if it should be changed to reflect more current times. I was more than surprised when so many people opined that it should be changed to depict a more up-to-date state of affairs. Some believed that it would be more appropriate if the crocodile were removed. Others adjudged the Taino Indians to be outmoded and suggested that they be replaced by two National Heroes. Some even suggested that Nanny of the Maroons should be one of them.
But, a Coat of Arms is an armorial ensign (heraldry). It's an arrangement of bearings, usually depicted on and around a shield that indicates ancestry and distinctions. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry by Thomas Woodcock and John Martin states that the oldest documented example of one was in 1127 A.D. and that Coats of Arms eventually became military status symbols.
Coats of Arms possess several components: A motto on a banner (ours now reads, 'Out of Many, One People'), the crest (the crocodile appearing above the helmet), the helmet and mantlings (ours is a royal helmet), a shield with its elements (ours displays a red cross adorned with five pineapples) and the supporters (we have a pair of Taino Indians).
During the seventeenth century, Jamaica enjoyed a special honour in the British Empire. This is evidenced by the Royal Helmet and mantlings on our Coat of Arms. The Tainos represented an important link to our indigenous past, as did the crocodile and the pineapples which were part of the earliest Jamaican landscape.
The original Coat of Arms was designed in or about 1661 under Royal Warrant by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sandcroft. According to the National Library of Jamaica, the Coat of Arms was partially modified several times but only three (1692, 1957 and 1962) were recorded. When we achieved independence in 1962, the Government and the Opposition scrutinised the Coat of Arms and agreed that it was appropriate. However, this was not the last time that it was placed under scrutiny; in the mid-1980s, the ruling administration considered changing it.
If (as was suggested repeatedly on 'Weh Yuh Sey'), we were to replace the pair of Tainos with two National Heroes, which two would we use? Such a debate would lead down an interminable path of indecision because it seems to me that no two heroes would stand out enough from the rest to ascend onto our crest. So, the Tainos would retain their place as supporters.
If you think about it, you'll realise that no one could truly want a contemporaneous Coat of Arms. With our deep-seated socio-economic problems, pervasive corruption, crime and often volatile citizenry, what would a depictive Coat of Arms look like? Instead of the shield with five pineapples, would we have a bullet-proof vest adorned with five Molotov cocktails? Would we replace the crocodile atop the royal helmet with a sly mongoose perched on a ballistic helmet? Would the Tainos be substituted by a dancehall queen and a gunman wielding an M-16 assault rifle? And finally, would our new banner sport the words, 'Out of Many, Few Survivors'?
It is better that we leave the Coat of Arms as is because it represents a Jamaica before all this senseless violence, before politics, before corruption, before the British invasion, before the Spanish invasion and before this once pristine island was desecrated. We need something pure and clean to remind us of our island's roots.