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Friday, October 30, 2020
Home Letters Let’s stop vilifying Samuel Haynes

Let’s stop vilifying Samuel Haynes

Dear Editor,
It is a fact of history that Colonel Samuel Alfred Haynes penned what was to become our national anthem, “LAND OF THE GODS,” in 1928. Prior to our independence on September 21, 1981, the wording of the anthem was amended, and “LAND OF THE GODS” was changed to “LAND OF THE FREE”.

Today, our anthem is the source of contention and controversy in certain quarters of Belizean society.

I write in the hopes that my “two cents” contribution may in some way assist in minimizing the divisiveness in our society vis-à-vis our national anthem. UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL.

In 1928, Samuel Haynes hit the nail right on the head when he chose the title “LAND OF THE GODS” for our national anthem, because Belize was indeed the land of the (Maya) gods. Belize is part of an area that was in October 1989 designated by the National Geographic as LA RUTA MAYA, to which it dedicated its entire edition.

In an area of approximately 324,000 square kilometers, distributed in five different countries (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize), the Maya acted out one of the world’s greatest histories. The Maya left a cultural and intellectual legacy that has captured the hearts and minds of peoples all over the world.

Today, the Maya world is better known as MUNDO MAYA. Today, the legacy of the Maya generates foreign exchange earnings for the five aforementioned countries and provides thousands of jobs for Maya and non-Maya descendants.

I will try to get into Samuel Haynes’ interior monologue just before he wrote “LAND OF THE GODS,” and while he was writing it. In 1928, Haynes was conscious that then British Honduras was the LAND OF THE GODS. Unlike Catholicism, which is monotheistic in that it believes in a relationship with only one god, Maya society was polytheistic. They believed in many gods.

The Maya had a god for almost everything: Kinich Ahau was the sun god; Chac was the god of rain, thunder and lightning; Ixchel was the goddess of medicine, childbirth and fertility; Ek Chuah was the god of the merchants; Ah Dzib was the god of the writers, and the list goes on.

The supreme Maya god was Itzamna, who was incorporeal, which means that he had no body, shape or form. He had never been seen, so the Maya had no representations, drawings, effigies or statues of Itzamna. Kudos to Samuel Haynes for the title of our national anthem!

In 1928, Haynes may not have travelled throughout the length and breadth of British Honduras, which was practically incommunicado from Belize City. Remember that travel in the West was on pit-pans on the Belize Old River. There was no Northern Highway.

Transportation in Northern British Honduras was done by water on boats. The Africola took two days from Orange Walk on the New River and then on the Caribbean Sea to Belize City. Travel by water was time-consuming, tiresome and expensive.

The construction of the Northern Highway started in 1931, three years after Haynes had written “LAND OF THE GODS”. He had no idea that just two miles away from somewhere on the western side of the highway, buried in a Maya royal tomb under the oppressive control of the roots of trees, lay the greatest Maya jade artifact known to the world of the Maya sun god Kinich Ahau, which was discovered under the directorship of archaeologist Dr. David Pendergast in March 1968.

Today, that area is known as the world-famous archaeological site of Altun Ha.

Since 1839 when American John Lloyd Stephens and British artist Frederick Catherwood started the first Maya excavations at Copan, in northwestern Honduras, tons of jade artifacts have been found all over the land of the Maya. Nothing has been found anywhere that supersedes the jade head of Kinich Ahau, one of our national treasures.

We can see that Samuel Haynes did honor the Maya descendants of Belize with the theme of his anthem. What gives our anthem a Creoleish, Creole-centric connotation is only one word: “Baymen”, with which Clinton Canul Luna seems to have a serious issue, because he is a descendant of the Maya/Mestizo ethnic group, like myself.

I mentioned earlier that Haynes may not have travelled the length and breadth of British Honduras, so he may not have known of the existence of the Maya and/or Mestizo communities in northern (Yucatec Maya), western (Mopan Maya) and southern (Que’chi Maya) British Honduras. He may have been more confined to the environs of Belize City, where the population was definitely more Creole, hence his writing about “the Baymen’s Clan”.

Our anthem was amended from “LAND OF THE GODS” to “LAND OF THE FREE” in 1981. Unfortunately, our National Symbols Commission at the time did not do the right amendments. I propose that we make the following amendments to our national anthem:

(1) that we replace the word “manhood” with HUMANITY to make it gender neutral. It will make us more humane; our anthem would thus read, “O land of the free by the Carib sea, our HUMANITY we pledge to thy liberty …”

(2) that we remove the word “Baymen” and replace it with “BELIZEAN,” so that it would read “Arise ye sons of the BELIZEAN clan…”

(3) that we remove the “clear” (the land)” and replace it with “PROTECT (the land)” so that our anthem would read “… put on your armor, PROTECT the land”. Warriors put on armor to protect themselves, not to clear themselves.

At a time when our world is highly contaminated, when there’s the depletion of the ozone layer, which protects us from the ultraviolet radiation of the sun, when we have the greenhouse effect and rapid climate change with rising sea levels, the last thing we need to do is to “clear the land”.

We need to “green” our lands for carbon sequestration to assist in arresting climate change. Belize stands to gain with carbon sequestration in the future. Let’s get it right.

I hope that what I’ve written here is a positive contribution to our national debate on our national anthem.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, BELIZE!

Wilfredo Novelo

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