True Heroes (Sons of the Soil)

I was moved to look up this song from my childhood after someone suggested that we only honour heroes of African descent in Antigua. But check out the facts. Our place names are still overwhelmingly British (just check any of Desmond Nicholson’s books), as is our language (or the language that is privileged – though Joy Lawrence’s The Way We Talk does point out the parts of our African language that have endured through the generations in spite of sustained efforts of erasure). Check the way we teach our history  (still with a focus on the colonial history from the perspective of the colonizer as though that is the beginning and end of us – in great part because they as the hunter to our lion were largely the chroniclers of that history and a different history that looks between the gaps for OUR story is still being written). From our constitution to our head of state, the British brand is still a part of us (35 years in to our Independence) and it may ever be so because as someone said, history is. But, it’s worth remembering that even the little spaces we have carved out for recognition of people reflective of the majority of the population (i.e. people of the African diaspora) was not always so. I can’t say there is a direct-cause effect but I remember when this song came out and how revolutionary (and occasionally outlandish – a prison named for the country’s most infamous rapist? nah) its suggestions seemed. This was in a time when there was no Vivian Richards and Andy Roberts Street, no Nellie Robinson Street, no Sir Vivian Richards Cricket stadium, no T N Kirnon School, no Mary E. Piggott school, no Irene B. Williams school, no King Court monument, and not only did we study Francis Drake and John Hawkins as heroes in our social studies books , and read exclusively about Granville Sharpe, Somerset, and Wilberforce as the activists and architects of our liberation (knowing nothing of 1736 much less the other rebellions we still barely know about or the presence of a community of runaways/maroons in the former Boggy Peak now Mount Obama) but we walked along Hawkins Drive and Drake and Nelson Street. We didn’t have national heroes yet…and yes, V. C. Bird airport was still called Coolidge airport). There was no To Shoot Hard Labour telling our history in our voice (giving insight to the rise of free villages post-emancipation). And even now, there is still so much we don’t know about ourselves. No one is saying that we blackwash our history but no one can credibly claim that we have reached that tipping point. The process of reclaiming can hardly be said to be even near complete  – or even – but then it takes a certain amount of privilege (a fear of that privilege being eroded or ignorance of the way things are and were be) to be able to even suggest that.

King Obstinate’s song (some of it admittedly tongue in cheek, some of the history a little shaky) is posted as a reminder that the past is not so far in the past (and if indeed there was cause-effect, that art can affect life). the lyrics are transcribed from the song. Errors and omissions are my own; feel free to help me correct or fill in the blanks. – JCH, blogger

Antigua’s True Heroes by King Obstinate

A people are known by their culture
A people are known by their past
The past determines the future
From the present we could forecast
And that is why in Antigua
We must rectify our history
And remove all dem false heroes
Retarding our destiny
So that is why we must now
Proclaim our own
And drop all those false names
That aliens imposed upon we
Let’s reclaim our own history
English names like St. George and St. John
Falmouth, Willikies, and Codrington
They don’t reflect our background
Call them Short Shirt Village or Swallow t’ung (town)

Sons of the Soil also brought fame
Proudly reclaim our true heroes name (x2)

The true heritage of a people
Are manifest in their language
Yes, it helps them to be able
To name their streets and village
Their forts and all their buildings
Their schools and institutes
Draws upon the strength of their siblings
And upon their native roots
So that is why
We must now delete Drake, Hawkins, and Nelson Street
Shirley Heights and Nelson’s Dockyard
Our progress these names retard
Instead of using King George pasture
Why not Andy Roberts, the fast bowler
All cricket fans should be found
On Vivi Richards recreation ground

Sons of the Soil also brought fame
Proudly reclaim our true heroes name (x2)

Our children should know that John Hawkins, Horatio Nelson, and Drake
They were thieves who committed sins, tiefing gold for England’s sake
And to remind us of their misrule, we have Princess Margaret School
England is headed for a downfall and we still have Elizabeth Hall
So that is why Coolidge airport should be named after Vere Bird who fought
Holberton Hospital, you see, should be named after Prince Ramsey
And it is time we name our streets Ernest Williams, Gwen Tonge and Dr. Heath
Her Majesty prison, that’s a waste, why not call that Bulgarney place
Sons of the Soil also brought fame
Proudly reclaim our true heroes name (x2)

That big tambran (tamarind) tree in Bethesda
Where slaves planned to kill and plunder
The oristocrat (aristocrat) and massa
Name that plot after Tim Hector
And in the field of education
I can recall Ms. Mary Piggott, Hubert Henry, Gordon, and Kirnon
We should make sure their names don’t rot
English Harbour should be named here on after George Weston, the historian
Our court houses should be named as well; Gerry Watts and Time Kendall
No more Scot Row when I go shopping
Why not O’Reilly or Morris Martin
…remove that white pirate and put the picture of King Obstinate

Sons of the Soil also brought fame
Proudly reclaim our true heroes name (x2)

Maurice Hope, put his picture in a frame
Proudly reclaim our true heroes name
Our carnival queens, I mean, we have some lovely dames
Proudly reclaim our true heroes name
Leo Gore, he is good at any game
Proudly reclaim our true heroes name
… Samuel, on his grave we should light a flame
Proudly reclaim our true heroes name

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, Literary Gallery

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