My father is 85 years old today, March 24. He celebrates his birthday today…and on April 13. That’s odd, but not so very much in Jamaica. In my family, several of my older relatives also have two birthday. Why? Several reasons, if you listen to parents and grandparents. For many years, those persons who went to register children could not read or write, or were not really concerned about actual dates. Alternatively, they were registering several children, not necessarily their own, and sometimes got details confused. In some cases, dates of birth were not noted but date of registration (at post offices) were what came into play. My father’s problem was the second reason. For decades, I only knew his birthday as April 13, so was shocked when one March 24th, not so long ago, he said, “Wish me happy birthday!” I was flummoxed, at first, then he explained the very long story, which also involved some other ‘dark’ elements of family history.

Those basic problems may be less today, but I suspect some parts still exist. So, it’s quite possible that we have more generations of people with a real and a false birthday.

Winston Churchill visits Spanish Town in the 1940s

Winston Churchill visits Spanish Town in the 1940s

It matters more now because our biographical details are not just needed for national purposes, but also for international purposes, and some of those are very important, such as for passports. Wrong biographical details can be more than mere inconveniences. We can almost literally cease to exist, especially as electronic databases get linked and corresponding personal details do not match. I’ve been living some of that since I came back to Jamaica last summer. Some of us are in danger of being labelled ‘terrorist’ or ‘undesirable’ because some relative in the distant past did not think it mattered that we were named ‘Lovern’, when the name was really ‘Laverne’ or that the date of birth was several months later than when the child was actually born.

We cannot take the somewhat elevated stance of the Queen of England, who has an official (‘a day in June’) and actual (April 21) birthdays.

Queen Elizabeth II, celebrating her official birthday

Queen Elizabeth II, celebrating her official birthday

These things are part of the morass that we have found ourselves in administratively, in part because we were just poor, uneducated people; in part, because we were in a colonial world where we lived with systems and barely understood what they meant then and certainly had no idea of what they would mean now.

 

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