I mentioned it before and I have skimmed it previously, but I am finally taking some time to read through the Daily Observer Independence 2021 issue (I know, I know).
For any non-Antiguans-&-Barbudans here our 40th anniversary Independence commemoration was November 1st.
The first 15 or so pages of the anniversary issue are taken up with the obligatory messages (read if you like that sort of thing but really, skip). Beginning on page 16, though, take the time to scroll through ‘The History of Antigua and Barbuda’ which begins “before 9000 BC” and comes forward to the present. It includes this image I’ve never seen before (wish the article had included something of its provenance) of an auction of enslaved people at Redcliffe Quay (bit of trivia: the barracoon where enslaved people were held is still there just above Redcliffe Quay, one of St. John’s City’s two major tourist shopping centres, on lower Nevis Street – and I hope the powers that be do whatever needs to be done to preserve it).
An interesting (little known) detail in this history is that when Antigua was captured by the French in 1666, the English retreated to Ottos hill (or Ottos Mount as the article calls it – I’m not sure if they mean Mount St. John where the hospital is or Ottos hill, part of my childhood stomping grounds as a #gyalfromOttosAntigua) leaving the enslaved people behind as the invaders rampaged and burned; but (and this is the interesting part) the Kalinago (called Caribs in the article) assisted the enslaved in escaping and they fled to the Shekerly Hills where they lived for many years (I learned about the free community at Boggy Peak/Mount Obama well into adulthood – in school we learned that there weren’t maroon communities in Antigua because the terrain didn’t allow for it). So that was interesting to me. Oh, the French only held the island to 1667 – which is why Antigua remains pretty firmly in the English-speaking column.
The article also goes in to detail about the fate of the two main leaders of the 1736 rebellion (King Court and Tomboy – interesting to me because we don’t hear nearly enough about Tomboy, who received “35 strokes with a large iron bar” before his execution).
And for those of us who grew up not knowing, the article touches on some of the other rebellions – 1831, 1858, 1918.
There’s a Dotsie Isaac Gellizeau poem which has this line that I love, “I love Antigua like a lover” – but which is not so blinded by love that it does not challenge us to be better.
I liked some of the fresh (?) details about the national symbols – like the Antigua Black pineapple being originally introduced by the Arawakan speaking people (the fruit also gets a whole article elsewhere in the publication), and being used for making twine and cloth, and for healing purposes, or the whitewood tree’s alternate name being Black Gregory.
The Independence baby article – featuring Sasha Stuart Young – was a bit (too) long but a good catch-up (p. 25-30).
The Barbuda article had a few touches beyond the usual cliches – I especially found endearing the details about the elderly going to the lagoon at 5 a.m. to “sap their knees” and ease arthritic ache, or about how that same lagoon feeds the people with lobster, conch, and fish – and keeps them independent. And, like a dark anti-chorus: “Today, after Independence, the lagoon has become an environmental collateral damaged site.” A reminder of the tensions between Antigua and Barbuda, the exploitation of the latter by the former. The author, Darlene Beazer-Parker also includes a poem that has a roll call of Barbudan people, “Bo Ram Bo, Boxer, Tomack, and Dada”, and places, “Hog Hole, Five Springs, Darby Cave, Ann Pass”, and a glossary of Barbudan expressions, like “tikka yah dome”, that reminds that Barbuda is not just a playground for tourists, or even Antiguans, but home to those who “smell the mud after the rain.” (another phrase I liked).
The article on recently deceased national hero Sir Lester Bird was an interesting read – especially his early athletic exploits – if sanitized as such things inevitably are. Speaking of, I like that the Paul Quinn op-ed touched on the tensions in the build-up to Independence, which was not a foregone conclusion (nor initially, the piece suggests, a popular one). Shout out to the ad for Antiguan Homemade Fudge in this section because e bang good.
I like the issue’s engagement with young Antiguans and Barbudans doing awesome things in a substantive way; such as former junior calypsonian A’shante and her multiple enterprises including Amplify Caribbean with other young Antiguans and Barbudans, and mental health advocate Chaneil, recently featured in my CREATIVE SPACE series.
Nice to see the nurses styling in their national dress fabric.
Now we just need to support them by doing everything we can to keep our COVID-19 numbers down.
I’ll admit to skipping through the sections on COVID (though I’m glad it’s in there) – and am all vaxxed and boostered up, wear my mask etc. That said, I liked the approach in the article by Dr. Cleon Athill, looking at the socio-economic vulnerabilities exposed by the virus on the national and individual level, and ending with call for dialogue on several key areas including the importance of critical thinking, the balance between personal and community rights, and the roles of various stakeholders in the event of a national crisis.
Space was made for the work of the diaspora – shout out to the Friends of Antigua Public Library in New York.
…and of the first Antiguan and Barbudan to be called up to the West Indies Cricket Team (Andy Roberts). “Being the first Antiguan to play and the first to make the headlines, I realized that I cannot fail because this is opportunity for people to know there is a small island named Antigua.” He remarked how even in Jamaica they didn’t know Antigua and while Jamaicans knew the name Antigua by the time I studied there (thanks to cricketers like Viv and Andy) and there were already a lot of Jamaicans living in Antigua, I did get some questions that exposed the huge gaps in information and massive misconceptions about the “small islands” like mine. So I can relate.
It was nice to see the sports section make space for one of the greats off the field (Gravy), who for 12 years made entertainment of spectacle during cricket matches – and going deep in to his formative years, like the time he was clowning in front of the class and in retaliation the principal “beat everybody else all to me.” A reminder that growing up Caribbean could be brutal. But could also be charming, like the story about how he got his nickname the time he asked his mom to take back the meat and give him more gravy. Make no mistake, what Gravy did was performance art (his grand finale in a wedding dress for instance, as a bride walking down the aisle) and like any artist his chief regrets are related to the artistic expressions he either didn’t achieve or didn’t complete. “Up to now I am at home, I think about things I should have done on the Double Decker, from one end to the other end. There is a steel beam that runs across Double Decker from one end to the other end and I always see myself going up there and walking across the Double Decker stand in mid-air.” His wish, to the powers that be, take care of the disabled and less fortunate, and, to the public, “remember me”.
In the CREATIVE SPACE entry in the Independence issue, I remember some of my favourite Antiguan and Barbudan protest songs (my spin being that protest songs are some of the most patriotic). You can still listen to the playlist. You should also check out DJ/broadcaster Dave Lester Payne’s Independence top 10 in the Daily Observer Independence issue.
There is also…
An article on cryptocurrency chastising those of us lagging behind to catch up or, “delusional”, be left feeling like we’re in “a galaxy far, far away” – there is an explanation of the explosion of cryptocurrency but no crypto for dummies which some of us need.
An article on cha-cha dumpling, ostensibly, but really on the cut and contrive nature of the Caribbean culinary experience – and a hint of the enterprise necessitated by the pandemic (subject Caesar is a taxi driver but…the pandemic).
An article on popular Antiguan sayings (only fair as we had some Barbudan ones earlier). I will admit though that I’ve never heard “you lip shine lakka dog seed” (gross).
An article on children’s games, primarily from a boy’s point of view so lots of street cricket and marble lore, but not a deep dive on hand games, ring games (with the exceptions of Ring-a-rosie and Brown Girl in the Ring), and especially jump rope games (this was one of the popular past times when I was a girl. I don’t remember us doing double dutch though; that was more of an African American skipping style). I liked the article but I’m now thinking I need to do that deep dive on Caribbean jump rope games – maybe for a future CREATIVE SPACE.
A flour feature. Like flour day which I recently found out about, this feels like an odd thing to boost given certain lifestyle diseases that have likely ‘helped’ the ballooning health bills (referenced elsewhere in the publication) but flour is not without cultural context (it is one of the foods that has sustained us – droppers to ducana). Interesting choice to include cornmeal here, which I don’t think of as flour but, I guess. It is referred to as corn flour which on technicality allows for the inclusion of cornmeal pap and national dish (or half of) fungee.
An article on superstitions which was a resonant retelling of the folklore I grew up on or heard about growing up – jackolantern, soucouyant, jabless/diablesse, jumbie (the article also says duppy but that was terminology I only read about in stories set in Jamaica) with mention of obeah (not a connection I instinctively make but…okay).
What’s left? Fashion of course and I guess we can officially call Amya’s the queen of Independence, with the label’s independence accessories getting a whole feature. Nice.
This issue is triggering memories as I’ve interviewed a lot of the people featured over my journalism career – Goldsmitty which has a jewellery feature based on the bread and cheese bush (again, interesting) and Amya whom I first interviewed many years ago and most recently included in a piece in CREATIVE SPACE among them; been cussed out by a couple of them too (not Hans or Louise though) in the course of my reporting.
Among the standard fair (articles on governance, patriotic songs, nostalgia pictures) in the closing pages, a highlight for me was the picture of my primary school alma mater at the youth rally – seeing us (well not me, I didn’t march, but us) was dope (especially since people, including Catholics, hardly seem to remember we existed).
Verdict: definitely worth a read.
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.