National Honours Act amended to recognise group contributions

Reigning Panorama champions Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra will become the first steelband in Antigua and Barbuda to receive a national honour, after the government decided to confer the accolade on the 75-year-old band during the 2020 Independence celebration.
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By Elesha George

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The Most Precious Order of Princely Heritage has been amended to recognise the contributions of institutions to arts and culture in Antigua and Barbuda.

Cheers rang out in Parliament on Thursday when the Speaker of the House announced the passing of changes to the National Honours Act of 1998 that widens the scope of who can receive the prestigious award.

Parliamentarians voted to unanimously include institutions, organisations, companies, and social clubs to the list of entities that qualify to be awarded national honours under the Most Precious Order of Princely Heritage, which was once limited to individuals.

“We believe that we now need to broaden the Honours Act to also acknowledge the contributions of institutions or organisations,” declared Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

The chosen groups would have had to make an invaluable contribution to the promotion of the arts and culture of Antigua and Barbuda in order to be recognised as contenders for either a gold, silver or bronze plaque engraved with the country’s Coat of Arms. 

The first group to receive that honour will be the oldest steelband in Antigua and Barbuda – Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra — for their contribution to cultural development over the past 75 years.

Browne said the band will be given the highest award, which is the gold plaque.

“The sun rises in the east but it settles in the west,” the prime minister, who is also the parliamentary representative for City West, the home of Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra, touted, as he gave high commendations to the group.

According to the prime minister, “it is a most deserving decision based on the success and longevity of the Hell’s Gate institution which would have literally existed for three generations and continuing”.

Minister of Sports, Culture, National Festivals & the Arts, Daryll Matthew said he believes it was an oversight when the initial act was passed and did not provide any mechanism to honour organisations.

In celebrating the steel pan group, Matthew highlighted their historical achievements, including being the first steelband to play at Government House in 1947, their 21 of 49 Panorama victories, and now being the first ever institution to receive a national honour.

In expressing his support of the amendment, Matthew said, “I feel very passionately that as a country and perhaps as a region we do not give enough recognition to our cultural enterprises.

“We do not recognise the inherent value that is in our culture, we do not appreciate the fact that things like pan and calypso and other cultural art forms – those are the things that make us who we are. Those are the things that define us as Antiguans and Barbudans and we must encourage them.”

To further cement the push towards recognising cultural contributions, Prime Minister Browne has promised to make music scholarships available for persons desirous of pursuing a career in the arts.

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