The painting Road Menders, by Jamaican Intuitive Gaston Tabois (1924 – 2012), was created in 1956, six years before Jamaica achieved political Independence in 1962. It depicts a group of labourers in the process of building a road. Taking place within an idyllic tropical scene, women and men work together to ‘dig up’ the ground, lay aggregate and pour water. As they work, a steam roller operator paves the areas they had previously completed. In the background, left-hand side of the composition, another woman sits on the ground with a fire going under a vessel, perhaps cooking in preparation for when the workers take their break.
Despite the fact that Road Menders preceded 1962, its depictions symbolize major themes of Jamaican Independence, which have been used to enrich our contemporary understanding of what becoming a nation may have meant for Jamaicans, such as the ones Tabois portrayed. These include but are not limited to, the importance of our communities as a part of social, infrastructural and economic development, and also critically, of self-determination. It is the fight for this right that helped Jamaica to achieve self-governance in 1944, a celebration of which Tabois may have considered for this painted scene. It was also the continued advocacy for that right by Jamaicans that helped to establish the new nation of Jamaica on August 6, 1962.
As we reflect on the circumstances surrounding Jamaica’s first national achievement and the progressions we have made since, let us remember that the journey of nationhood will always be ongoing, transitioning from one generation of citizens to the next. As the current generation of Jamaican people, let us remember that challenges overcome will yield the fruits of resilience, unity and insight for a greater and prosperous future.
Happy Independence Day, Jamaica!