Tag Archives: ancestors

The Beginnings of Education for Black People in the British West Indies – Historical Notes (Antigua and Barbuda)

These are historical notes written and shared by Wadadli Pen team member and amateur historian/historical storyteller Barbara Arrindell via the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda’s and other social media with her encouragement that the knowledge be passed on. The was first shared in 2017 and resurfaced in May 2021 due to the interest around the observance of the first ever Vigo Blake Day. I am now getting around to posting it in 2022. Not through lack of priority but time; the good thing is this information is timeless. It is still of community interest for Antiguans and Barbudans but is also information worth knowing for Caribbean and other history buffs. Particularly those with interest in the evolution of education as a form of protest and society building in the Caribbean. Especially since the school in Bethesda is heralded by the keepers of its flame as the start of education for Black people in the British West Indies.


Image taken from a video by Petra Williams and The Spectator which also chronicles local culture and history.

In late 1812, Mr. & Mrs. Thwaites were visiting Lyon’s estate to worship there. After the service ended they heard children singing hymns. Following the sound they found an old man with a number of the estate children gathered around him. He was teaching them hymns and what he knew of the catechism.  This recognition that enslaved black adults could know enough of the teachings of the church  to pass it on to others led to a slight shift in the way the HART sisters expected education of the masses to unfold in Antigua.

[You can read a previous article by Barbara Arrindell on the Hart sister here]

The Thwaites spread the word. They wanted all enslaved black children and free black and white children in the vicinity who were being instructed by fellow slaves or free black men to gather with their teachers at Lyon’s on 13th February 1813. (204 years ago) More than 500 children turned up. Many of the teachers could not read but they taught whatever they knew.  They had memorised poetry and bible verses and even the alphabet. The Hart sisters wanted the children and adults to learn more.  Every other Sunday they gathered for reading and writing classes and the number of students grew. One Sunday afternoon as the Thwaites made their way from Lyon’s to their home in English Harbour they again noticed a peaceful rising with only grass and a few trees which seemed perfect for their dream school and possibly their home.

Vigo Blake, the head man (head slave) at Blake’s Estate, encouraged them to speak to those in charge and seek permission to use the land. He promised that if permission was granted he would get some of his fellow enslaved men to construct the schoolhouse for them in their spare time. Permission was sought and granted.  Vigo and his men started work and were instantly joined by men, women, and children from other estates who devoted their evening hours and early morning hours to building. In six weeks the 44ft. by 16ft. building with its roof made of the trash of sugar cane was ready.

On May 29th 1813, the first schoolroom built for the purpose of educating slaves [enslaved people] in the West Indies opened its doors. Many of the day students were enslaved people who were maimed or too old and fragile to contribute significantly to the wealth of the estate, Many were allowed to roam with little restriction. They were taught, so that they could teach others. In the evenings however,  two to three hundred people would make their way to the building called Bethesda. 

The earthen floor led to a challenge with chigoes for students and teachers. At the end of each night they painstakingly tried to remove all chigoes to prevent them from burying themselves into their skin and causing bigger problems. A few years later, at Hope Estate, not far away, another school room was constructed. A hurricane claimed that one but in 1821 a larger, stronger structure was built. This time it was financed by the Church Missionary Society. 


[This is a separate Barbara Arrindell posting which I have decided to share as an addendum to the article above. It too is part of the liberation education conversation]

Pictured are participants in my Jhohadli Writing Project/Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project on a field trip to the public statue commemorating the life of Prince Klass/King Court/Kwaku Takyi. The statue is the work of Sir Reginald Samuel.

October 20th should be a date known to all Antiguans and Barbudans for two reasons. On that day in 1736 a man was killed and on that day in 1818 a man was born. The first we believe was born a free man on the African continent ..the other was born when most Antiguan and Barbudan Black men were enslaved people. One, Kwaku Takyi, Prince Klass died trying to gain freedom for his people; The other, John Buckley, dedicated his life to emancipating his people from mental slavery. He at one time had more students enrolled in the school in Green Bay than the school presently accomodates. He and his wife also had 11 of their own to provide for at home. John Buckley was also the first Black Man, this man born during slavery on this island of Antigua, to be ordained as a Moravian Minister… the first in the world. It would be meaningful if our churches island wide (all denominations) could take a moment on Sunday 20th October to remember both of these freedom fighters. (Even just a moment of silence in their memory) It would be nice if all teachers would take a moment on Monday to tell their students about them. It would be even better if every citizen and resident would speak about these men on October 20th. Raise a toast to their memory at Sunday dinner. October 20th is a day for heroes. We will only know how great we can be if we remind each other of all that our ancestors have accomplished FOR US .. Will you fan the flame?

The copyright for the Vigo Blake article belongs to its author Barbara Arrindell who wrote: Please feel free to share this information. We learn so that we can teach others. This was first published on this Facebook page in Feb 20172021. The copyright for the addendum on Kwaku Tayki and John Buckley also belongs to its author Barbara Arrindell who wrote: Feel free to share this.

Minor edits only for punctuation – any notes from me in italics or square brackets.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, The Jungle Outside, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jumbies all around

Went tonight to the Youth Enlightenment Academy here in Antigua to attend the launch of Mali Olatunji’s book and exhibition. The books are now available for sale and the exhibition remains open for a month.  I quote below from the launch booklet.


Painterly Photographer
The Artwork of Mali Olatunji
Antigua and Barbuda Youth Enlightenment Academy
July – September, 2015

A Note from Artist, Mali Adelaja Olatunji (excerpts)
“This body of photographs, ‘Woodist Jumbie Aesthetics’, is for me an assemblage of abstract speculative conjectures.
“…their strident nature allows for a re-examination of Spirit and the aesthetics of departed souls – Jumbies.
“Each photograph is of two or more images that are inter-layered by inter-penetrating optical images of people, places or object onto silver halide salt (film), in a camera. This process is exceedingly improbable to replicate. Thus each is unequivocally an original.
“(in ‘pure photography’) …exactitude in physical replication: lines, color, form, texture and so on, is your aim. Having mastered this for a long twenty-one years, I deserve the space to make ‘my Art’!
“I made the decision to concentrate less on making photographs that were primarily instantiation of factual accuracy…more on picturing ideas of unreliability as an imaginative activity.”

A Note from Author, Paget Henry, the Art of Mali Olatunji (excerpts)
“In addition to bringing fresh support for the fine arts possibilities of photography, Olatunji brings to this visual practice a new technique and an original vision. This new technique is that of using the lines and textures of wood, tree bark, and leaves to enhance the symbolic capabilities of photography. It is this enhanced symbolic capability that gives his photography its painterly qualities and its power to engage the spiritual, and social themes that run through this exhibition.
“The original vision derives from Olatunji’s attempts to imagine how our world would look if seen through ‘the eyes’ of a Jumbie or a departed soul that has taken up residence in a tree now that it has lost its body. It is on account of this new woodist technique that this original vision that Olatunji’s photography will surely generate a lot of interest and debate.
“His photography is sure to raise questions about the long and tense relationship between painting and photography, as the painterly possibilities of the latter are developed in his work to a heretofore unprecedented degree.”

A Note from the Exhibition Curator, Karen Allen Baxter (excerpts)
“This exhibition, The Painterly Photographer, the Artwork of Mali Olatunji, the first in the Sir Reginald Samuel Gallery, also marks the formal opening of this important arts space. The work of Mali Olatunji is meaningful, engaging, explorative, poignant, sometimes humorous and perfect for this inaugural exhibition!
“These photographs invite the viewer to look again, view with intent, examine closely to realize more or realize something else and to appreciate differently.”


So, this book has been many years in the making. I’ve had many discussions with both Mali and Paget about it over the years. I now look forward to reading it. I’m (insert indescribable emotion here) to be included among the images. Ha! me, a model! From all my discussions with the creators of this book over the years, I know it’s more than just pretty pictures, that there’s technical experimentation and exploration of ideas, and of a particular idea very much rooted in our (maybe more once upon a time than actual these days) African Antiguan belief system. I know books like this are important in grounding us in Self; as Mali said at the launch, there is too much of the Antiguan Self slipping away with this dressing up in other selves that we do, losing our Self in the process. As he said, this book is not just for us; it is Us. Thanks, Mali. Thanks, Paget, for pushing Mali (I know he didn’t go easy …but here it is for the record). Finally, congrats to Hansib for, in this weird time in publishing where even Big publishers aren’t taking risks, being outside the box not only in taking on an unconventional project like this but for quickly becoming an MVP when it comes to taking on book projects from this small place. Think about it, Hansib is responsible for the publication of several Antiguan and Barbudan books in recent years, from my own  The Boy from Willow Bend, to the Art of Mali Olatunji, and including Paget’s V. C. Bird book and Dorbrene O’Marde’s Bocas Short Listed Short Shirt book Nobody Go Run Me and Send Out You Hand. Which other publisher Caribbean or not would have taken a chance on those ideas, simply because they felt they were voices that needed hearing, stories that needed telling, and not rushing and skimping on the quality in the process. No relationship is perfect but jack his jacket on all that and look forward to more. Now go get Mali’s book. In fact, get all those books while you’re at it.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, and Oh Gad!).  All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

Leave a comment

Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Literary Gallery

Posts Inspired by Emancipation

Bob Marley once sang “emancipate yourself from mental slavery…” a reminder that the march to freedom which began (in a legal sense) for Antiguans and Barbudans on Emancipation Day, August 1st 1834, remains a work in progress. Each year since 2007, Antigua and Barbuda detours a little from the Carnival celebrations (which pays, at best, a passing nod to the reason for the bacchanal). That detour usually takes us to Betty’s Hope for Watch Night. Betty’s Hope is an old sugar estate and we are watching and waiting as we imagine the ancestors (those who had some foreknowledge that freedom was coming) did. This year our first stop was Sea Breeze for (an all local) dinner,

Photo courtesy Akua Ma'at

Photo courtesy Akua Ma’at

sweet jazz music (courtesy Roland Prince), spoken word (a little history from Joy Lawrence – interviewed recently in a Wadadli Pen exclusive), and more spoken word (a powerful speech from featured speaker Mickel Brann). The latter is the first thing I want to share with you as it stimulated much introspection, discussion, and poetry. It begins:

“In a village in the small island of Antigua, big sister to Barbuda, an elder dons his dashiki and attends a town-hall meeting.

He’s there to listen to a lecture about reparations by Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

He joins the usual crowd, all of whom beat the drums literally and figuratively. They acknowledge the tragedy, the dehumanization that was 400 years of chattel slavery and the residual effects 200 years after its abolition. These effects range from matters temporal to spiritual, physical and psychological, political and economic.

Around that same time, not day but by period, on a radio station that boasts as one of its taglines listen and learn, a female guest host, a regular staple of the show on which she is featured, roundly dismisses Watch Night, what it symbolizes, its aim and objectives and those who fan that flame.

As far as the host is concerned, slavery is long gone and it is pointless to return to any place to honour the ancestors, reflect on their sacrifices and their struggle and how that has shaped or, perhaps, misshaped descendants and other people’s view of them.

In her words, “if I were a slave and I got my freedom, why would I want to return to any place to talk about slavery?” In other words, forget, because remembering is of no useful value.

And the near silence of the callers who are usually vocal on any and every matter is maddeningly deafening.” READ THE ENTIRE Watch Night Speech final

We couldn’t stop talking about the night, the group of us who went together, or, as it happens, writing about it; a reminder that inspiration is all around and within us, in the reality of our past and the uncertainty about our future, and everything in between. For me, as we drove in caravan into Betty’s Hope, I had an inkling of something that I couldn’t grasp; the ancestors’ presence is strong on this night but we’ve moved so far away from them sometimes it’s difficult to hear. Brenda Lee Browne heard them enough to access what they might have been making of the spectacle we made:

“Did you hear them as they stood in the shadows wondering who are the people who look like us, yet smell like Massa on a Sunday morning.

Did you hear them whispering to the Earth Mother to bring their lost souls home

Did you hear the laughter as they looked at our clothes, too new, too well made, undefined by family, lineage or village and so many bare heads and covered breasts

Did you hear the wailing as a spirit connected with an ancestor standing before the fire and yet, could not understand all that is being sung

Did you hear the low music as voices mingled with the rustling of the trees as the ancestors gave thanks that at least they are visited and drums, the drums told them that not all is not lost “

Akua MaatAkua Ma’at, best dressed in the night’s best African dress contest by the way, also wrote as the conversation continued. She wrote:

“You are here!…even now! You never left and you, here, overwhelm my tiny-fraction-of-you spirit. And I want to know …want to feel… just what you felt that night 179 years ago? Did you lie awake willing the dawn of freedom to come swiftly or did you pass your last hours suspended between this world and the one your ancestors comforted you from? What did you feel baba? Was it hope? Did you know, remember, how to hope? What did you do that night mama? Were you raped, again?…the arrogant’s reminder that freedom would mean little for you. Did the cat-o-nine caress you that day?…the flesh peeled from your back as the skin off a too-ripe finger rose, desperately clinging to its source but powerless to prevent separation. What did you think? What did you feel? Did you dare feel…anything… that night?”

I have one more share. It’s not from someone I was with that night as we reflected but from someone who was moved to share after I posted on Watch Night on facebook (and if that post only attracted half as many likes as my other much more trivial post that night, then perhaps this share is  reminder that it’s not the volume but the depth of feeling that matters in the end).

Waiting by Junie Webson

Stamped on this land of my birth
Is my reckoning with time.

Sitting at the water’s edge,
I made this day mine,
By wading through the rifts of time.

Trying to connect with my past
I coded my lineage.
Lost to me is my ancestral home.

Like the dancers under the stick
Bending lower,
My heritage sits in limbo. ( It maybe emancipation day but we are still waiting)

Do you sense a common thread in these pieces (Mickel’s speech to Junie’s poem)?…perhaps a call not to become remain complacent? an acknowledgment that freedom (in all the ways we can be free) still coming but we’ve got to work at it?

Happy Emancipation Day (belatedly).

Leave a comment

Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, Literary Gallery