Tag Archives: history

Storytelling in Fashion (a 2022 MET Gala Post)

The MET gala (American fashion’s biggest night and a themed fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume institute) has little to do with us here in Antigua and Barbuda. However, there were notes I found of interest in the 2022 Gilded Age theme. Meaning the opulent, bustled, jewel-toned, ruched, ruffled, beaded, embroidered, fringed, ribboned, buttoned, hooked, laced, bird feathered, layered, s-curved, corseted aesthetic popular among society women of the 1870s to early 1900s. Notes of broader cultural importance, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Primarily some of the pieces worn by Black people. Which was interesting because, as as we know with Black people in the Americas (speaking hemispherically), as you go back in to history, if we’re referenced at all, it gets…tricky.

Gabrielle Union in Versace…Versace, Versace, Versace.

“When you think about the Gilded Age and Black and brown people in this country, this country is built off of our backs, our blood, sweat, and tears. So we added these red crystals to represent the blood spilled during the accumulation of gross wealth by a few during the Gilded Age, off of the backs of Black people and people of color in this country,” she said during the Vogue livestream. A second influence, “Diahann Carroll, a symbol of opulence and, if you will, a gilded glamour.”

I like that Union’s look references the exploitative source of the wealth …while still being one of the more striking looks of the night.

Danai Gurira in Head of State…the fashion house.

“I couldn’t find references [in the Gilded Age] of people that look like us,” says (designer Taofeek) Abijako. “We also know the historical context as to why. The most exciting part was being able to reimagine what these people looked like.”

I was fascinated by the intersectionality that designer and muse sought between the Gilded Age (bright blue, a certain silhouette) and contemporary Nigerian art (the designer is Nigerian and Danai was raised in Zimbabwe and both wanted their African identities reflected).

Quannah Chasinghorse in Atelier Prabal Gurung. With jewelery by Antelope Women Designs. and borrowed eagle feathers.

“Quannah’s look encapsulated the Indigenous perspective on Gilded Glamor by showcasing Indigenous artistry, ingenuity, resiliency, beauty, and excellence,” says Jody Potts-Joseph, Chasinghorse’s mother. “It is important to understand that for Native Americans, the Gilded Age represents a period of  United States policies of removal, genocide, and assimilation all creating generations of trauma for Native Americans. Yet, we are still here—and Quannah gracefully reminds the world of our strength, beauty, talent and resilience in every space.”

The tipi-shaped tulle dress, the mix of First Nations inspired accessories is a nice nod to her culture as much as it is a reminder that the mainstream culture at the time (as now) was not everybody’s story.

Cynthia Erivo in Louis Vuitton.

Cynthia Erivo highlighted the history behind her Met Gala 2022 fashion on the red carpet with an E Online representative, where she disclosed that the gown she wore was from the Louis Vuitton archives in an effort to promote sustainability. She also disclosed that her headwrap was inspired by women of Louisiana from the 1800s, who had to cover their hair for necessity. (Source)

This is one of my favourite stories of the 2022 Met Gala. Though the dress, with its drop waist, is more roaring 20s than Gilded Age, the standout headpiece is a history accurate conversation piece. So, let’s talk. We have a a headwrap or headkerchief (Tête en l’air or tèt anlè in the French Creole Caribbean islands) as part of our traditional dress (Wob Dwyiet in French Creole). These were part of the evolving fashion of the colonial Caribbean among freed Blacks and they take different shapes; some more functional, some more decorative, some more ceremonial. Yes, they could be more than just for show; for example, the number of peaks made when tying the headwrap could communicate different things such as a woman’s availability or non-availability to anyone wishing to court her. We may have lost the language but, to this day, headwraps are a feature of African-Caribbean and diaspora head fashion.

A dark part of the history of headwrapping among Black women in the West Indies/Americas, however, is that there were at times laws regulating such headwrapping. The tignon law in America, for instance, was a 1786 law, inspired by white woman envy, forcing Black women to wear a headscarf in order, seemingly to make free Black women less appealing to white men or less free in their bearing by tying them to the enslaved class of Blacks. The law was reportedly imported from the Code Noir of the French colonies, dating back to 1685 in the Caribbean, and later coming to Louisiana, at the time a French colony in America. The Spanish colonizers followed. The law basically decreed that women of colour had to wear a scarf or handkerchief and could no longer wear feathers or jewellery in our hair. As we do, though, they made it fashionable, adding flair to it and soon even Napoleon’s paramour Joséphine of France had adopted the wearing of the headpiece “and it became considered haute couture in the early 19th century before decreasing in popularity in the 1830s” – according to Wikepedia, referencing ‘Fashioning Frenchness: Gens de Couleur Libres and the Cultural Struggle for Power in Antebellum New Orleans’ by Whitney Nell Stewart in volume 51, number 3 Journal of Social History by Oxford University Press (2018) and Light, Bright, and Damned Near White: Biracial and Triracial Culture in America (Praeger, 2009) by Stephanie Rose Bird.

The head scarf is also, though, part of the African tradition that survives in the west – especially post-the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s and it was delightful to see it, with its rich history, disrupt the mostly white red carpet.

Ashton Sanders in Casablanca.

“The Moonlight actor was one of a few who eschewed the white tie-coattail look, opting for a Canadian tuxedo reminiscent of the Buffalo Soldier uniforms, a Blacks-only regiment of the US army formed in 1866. The gold accents enhance the waist, giving the impression of a corset. The gold gloves, brooch and binoculars tie the look together.” (Source)

The Buffalo soldiers weren’t just characters in a Bob Marley song. They were real all-Black regiments, nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers, in the American west beginning in 1866. They fought in the Indian wars and the Spanish-American war, and fought wildfires and poachers in America’s national parks. Like Marley sang, “if you would know your history, you would know where you’re coming from.” This history.com article states that the song ‘highlighted the irony of formerly enslaved people and their descendants “stolen from Africa” taking land from Native Americans for white settlers’ while still facing racism themselves.

Riz Ahmed in 4S Designs.

“This [outfit] is a shout-out to the immigrant workers that kept the Gilded Age golden,” Ahmed told Vogue. “It’s what makes the city run.” (Source)

It’s important to remember that as wealth exploded among the new rich and tensions increased between old and new money during the Gilded Age, the working poor, moving from farms to factories, were exceedingly vulnerable (pre-unions etc) and the immigrant worker (as in every time) especially so.

Questlove in ZEGNA/Gee’s Bend Quilting Collective and Erykah Badu in Marni.

“I’m here representing Greg Lauren and Gee’s Bend quilters, who are these women from Alabama,” Questlove, 51, told Vogue. “For African Americans in this country, the Gilded period is a little bit different for our story, so I wanted to highlight Black women who’ve sacrificed for the country.” (Source) The Gee’s Bend residents in Alabama, specifically the women, have been quilting using scraps of old clothing, feedsacks (probably our crocus bags), and other fabric remnants since the 1800s, according to the Smithsonian. Questlove’s oversized coat was also a tribute to recently departed fashion pioneer Andre Leon Talley. While Questlove’s quilting is hidden in the lining, Badu wore her patchwork (as we called quilting when I was growing up) out loud. Fashion vlogger HauteLeMode said of Badu’s outfit, “if we look at textiles from the Gilded Age…there was a resurgence of quilting during the Gilded Age because of the Centennial. There are quilts that literally look like they’re made up of fabric scraps that are just sort of thrown together in the same way that Erykah Badu is doing.” This idea of repurposing pieces in to patchwork is also part of our traditional culture if not so much in practice anymore.

Sarah Jessica Parker in Christopher John Rogers. Headpiece by Philip Treacy.

“Parker’s outfit was inspired by Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. Keckley was an enslaved woman who became the official dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln and the first Black female fashion designer in the White House.” (Source)

You can read more about Elizabeth’s remarkable life here. In referencing her, the designer said, “The idea was to highlight the dichotomy between the extravagant, over-the-top proportions of the time period, and the disparity that was happening in America at the time.” 

Rahda Blank in Denise Trotman/Jennifer McFarlane.

“I rep a woman who could have made Hollander’s dress- an Obeah Woman who by day used her hands to sew, cook, wash White folk clothes & tend to their chirren and by night used her hands to conjure spells for our survival using ancestral African spiritual practices not meant to survive the middle passage. This would be my homage to Marie Laveau but also The Condomble Woman, The Santeria Priestess, The Ifa Woman, The Yoruba Priestess. The Voodoo Vixen and all women practitioners of ancestral arts from Africa.” (Rahda Blank on instagram)

My favourite part of this outfit is the wooden cutlass replica because if that wasn’t a tool for survival and war for Black people on bakkra’s plantation, I dont’ know what was. I also love that she said “obeah” – as “voodoo” seems to be the default in American media but “obeah” is the more common term in the English speaking Caribbean. To touch quickly on her references: Marie Laveau was renowned in New Orleans for the practice of voodoo in the 1800s; Candomblé, particularly popular in Brazil, is a religion built on African spirituality; Santeria, similarly developed in Cuba during the late 19th century, is also an African diasporic religion; Ifá is a Yoruba religion and system of divination; Yoruba is a West African ethnic group and the related language spoken by people of Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Togo, Yorubaland, and their diasporas; voodoo and obeah alike are similarly religious practices rooted in West Africa and brought to the Americas by the millions of enslaved people who crossed over during the Middle Passage. Fittingly, the dressmaker is a Jamaican American which means that from concept to design, there was some Caribbean in the building.

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. Subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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You should read…

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.

There was an article on our only living national hero accompanied by this picture.

…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.

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“To understand Antigua and Barbuda is to know these names and to know there are many more names unknown.”

Read: https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/creative-space/creative-space-2020/creative-space-13-of-2020-say-their-name-in-memoriam

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(Barbuda image – JCH)

The annual Antigua and Barbuda Conference 14th in the series, has been set for August 15–16, 2019, and they have issued their call for papers.

Here It Is:

This year, our focus will be on Barbuda and its recovery after the devastating impact of hurricane Irma. To do this topic justice, we will have to break the usual patterns of putting Antigua first and Barbuda second. In spite of being constitutionally joined since 1860, the history of relations between Barbuda and Antigua has been a rather intense and explosive one. Consequently, between the two territories there have been deep and abiding levels of distrust and misunderstanding.

One indicator of the explosive nature of the relations between these territories of our twin-island state is the 1858 four-day explosion of violence in St. Johns between migrant Barbudans and resident Antiguans. A second indicator of the depth of this divide was the secessionist position taken by the Barbuda delegation to the 1980 Lancaster House conference at which the independence constitution of the soon-to-be nation of Antigua and Barbuda was being drafted. The Barbudan delegation made it clear that they wanted a separation from the union with Antigua. The third indicator of the depth of this divide that I will mention here is the one we are living through—the differences between Barbudans and Antiguans over how best to reconstruct and develop Barbuda after hurricane Irma.

In other words, in spite of 38 years of political independence as the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, we have not been able to forge a collective identity that includes Barbudans and Antiguans on equal terms. There remains a deep fissure in the “We” or the collective identity of our nation that continues to erupt every so often, with threats to dissolve our union. Thus it is important that we seek a better understanding of this long and well-established divide by exploring its distinct nature and history.

Let us refer to this divide between Barbuda and Antigua as a form of insular inequality. This is a form of social inequality that emerged out of the peculiar relationship that colonial rule established between a colony and its dependency. Consequently, in the period after colonial rule, the people and leaders of some postcolonial nations have found themselves confronted with not only forms of imperial, class, race and gender inequality, but also insular inequality. Just as these other forms of domination and related inequalities required well-developed discourses of analysis and organized action to counter them, so too does insular inequality. To fight it, we will need carefully developed discourses of insularism that should be comparable to those of classism, imperialism, racism and sexism. Among the new postcolonial nations that inherited all of these forms of social inequality, we can think of Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and of course Antigua and Barbuda.

Between a colony and its dependency, there exist definite feelings of insular difference produced by the maritime separation between the two islands or territories making up the union. These are basic self/other, or we/they differences that often develop on both sides around observable differences such as race, gender, geography or ethnicity. However, upon feelings of insular and other forms of difference, structures and processes of domination, exploitation and neglect were established during the colonial period. These practices greatly exaggerated these feelings of difference, transforming them into toxic forms of insularism. These exaggerated feelings in turn, became the foundations of the insular inequality that currently exists in cases like Antigua and Barbuda or Trinidad and Tobago.

We have not named and theorized insular inequality to the same degree that we have the other major forms of social domination. We have been able to name and theorize sexism, racism, imperialism and classism because there have been extensive developments of these discourses abroad on which we have been able to draw. This has not been the case with insularism, which has left us with the challenge of taking the lead in developing such a discourse that could guide the struggle for insular equality within postcolonial nations with inheritances of dependencies. We would not think of fighting racism or sexism without carefully naming and theorizing them. Yet this is precisely what we have been attempting to do in the case of insularism.

Between Barbuda and Antigua, there developed a particularly toxic form of insularism, even by Caribbean standard. Before gaining the constitutional status of a dependency, Barbuda was simply real estate owned by the Codringtons, and used to support their sugar plantations in Antigua. William Codrington called Barbuda a private governmency, a “constitutional” status that was clearly below that of a dependency. As a private governmency, there were no requirements that legislatures and other institutions of government be set up. All that was required was a manager and a lawyer, who had to report to the Codringtons. This was the low point from which Barbuda became a dependency of Antigua, with the developmental gap between the two only growing wider. As this gap widened, the insular differences turned toxic as they were equated with moral, intellectual and performative differences between Barbudans and Antiguans.

This is the persistent heritage of toxic insularism that continues to divide us. It has produced attitudes of Antigua-first and Antigua-centric forms of politics, which Barbudans have instinctively resisted. This resistance has been a major obstacle in the way of the central government’s attempts to develop Barbuda and to close the gap between these territories of our twin-island nation. The current tensions over the post-Irma reconstruction of Barbuda are the latest in a long series.

Given this long history of insular inequality, it is clear what we must do at this 14th annual country conference. First, we must listen to the anti- Antigua-centric voices of Barbudans and grasp more fully the depths of the fight for insular equality from which they speak. Second, we will have to put these Antigua-centric discourses and practices on the table for close examination. Third, we will have to get into the historical roots of this now toxic relationship so that we can understand it better. And fourth, we will have come up with suggestions for ending this practice of Antiguan superiority, as we have in the cases of white or male superiority.

Thus some of the topics that you may consider writing and speaking about are:

How is insular inequality different from class or racial inequality?
Is Antiguan insularism a form of micro imperialism?
What has been the history of the Barbudan economy and the attempts to develop it?
What have been the policies of the ABLP, PLM, UPP administrations on Barbuda?
What was the ACLM’s position on the development of Barbuda?
How do we deal with the vexed issue of land ownership on Barbuda?
How does Antigua and Barbuda today compare with Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines or St. Kitts-Nevis?
How do we heal and close the deep fissure between Barbuda and Antigua?

If you are interested in making a presentation at this 2019 conference, please send us a brief abstract that includes your name, your title and a brief description of the theme of your presentation. We must receive your abstract by May 20th, 2019. It will help us to put you on the right panel. Your abstract, in the form of a word document, should be emailed to paget_henry@brown.edu or to janetlofgren@gmail.com


Paget Henry, president, Antigua Barbuda Studies Association
Zane Peters, head, UWI (Antigua)
Schuyler Esprit, program officer, UWI (Antigua)
Janet Lofgren, editorial assistant, Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (founder and coordinator of Wadadli Pen, and author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, With Grace, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. Subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. 

There’s still time to vote in the #readAntiguaBarbuda #voteAntiguaBarbuda Readers Choice Book of the Year initiative.



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Senior, History, Challenge

When I came across an article about the honorary doctorate presented by the University of the West Indies to Olive Senior (my alma mater and first fiction workshop leader, respectively),

Senior on social media

From Olive Senior’s social media.

I wanted share it. Just to big her up. But what she says gives me an even better reason.

‘Reasoning that cultivating curiosity — a writing tool — will enrich lives, making better citizens, workers, parents, future leaders and future influencers, Senior urged graduates to be more conscious in employing the tool to know more about themselves as Jamaicans, the country and its heritage.

…“Knowing about our country and ourselves is what enables us to feel rooted no matter how far we grow, for that is something that cannot be taken from us.”’

Apart from the obvious nod to one of the reasons we write, there is the specific reference to knowing and embracing your culture, not to the exclusion of others but as a way of understanding yourself when engaging with others. This naturally intersects with Wadadli Pen and especially with the 2018 Wadadli Pen Challenge. Wadadli Pen’s annual Challenge gives Antiguans and Barbudans the opportunity to write their world, and though we don’t normally do themed Challenges, this year’s is specific to historical fiction – not fiction necessarily set in a realistic point in our historical timeline (in fact we encourage writers to be experimental) but which, whatever the genre or sub-genre, engages with our history in some way. This was in part inspired by recent discussion about the waning interest in Caribbean history and our belief that we need to make Caribbean history cool again.

So, here’s the launch flyer Wadadli Pen 2018 Flyer

Here’s the link to the article on Olive Senior’s well-deserved honour

And here’s that history article

Looking forward to being wow’d by the submissions to this year’s Challenge

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, With Grace, and Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure; also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and workshop facilitator). All Rights Reserved. If you like the content here follow or recommend the blog, also, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. Thank you.

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Nelson’s Dockyard: On Becoming a World Heritage Site

World Heritage status is conferred on “a landmark which has been officially recognized by the United Nations, specifically by UNESCO. Sites are selected on the basis of having cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and they are legally protected by international treaties. UNESCO regards these sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.” (Wikipedia)

Nelson’s Dockyard is a Georgian era Naval facility located in English Harbour, Antigua. It is still a working Dockyard and popular tourism site. It became a World Heritage Site in 2016. This document made the case–> It’s our Nomination Document (2014) and I’m happy to see it archived online for research purposes.


cover photo.


My eyes glaze over some of the more technical stuff, but I found it quite interesting reading overall – lots of interesting insights in to the whys and wherefores, but it’s the human stories (in particular the often erased stories of the enslaved Africans living in colonial Antigua and Barbuda, and the complexities of their lives, the individuality of their lives, beyond the designation of ‘slave’) that grab me every time:

‘The records at the Dockyard Museum note that on 17th October 1823, the black sail-maker Tom Spanker died after 14 days illness. Another account found in the diary of seaman Aaron Thomas, who visited the Dockyard in 1798 as a gunner on board the HMS Lapwing, describes his attempts to observe the “negroes dance at Freeman’s Bay,” and his discussions with a Negro woman who was born in Makoko near Lake Zambra East Africa. Thomas also writes of the visit of MacCane, a fellow gunner, to see a healer named Grace, a black girl he had employed to heal his leg. Before leaving the island he wrote of a visit to the Swamp Market in English Harbour where he purchased a 42lb pumpkin. Plantation
slaves, who at this time were permitted to grow and sell their provisions to better
themselves, sold their produce on Sundays at small public markets. Fruit and provisions
were also sold/delivered to the ships and sailors on board by slave women who swam out to the ships with their products secured in baskets that the pushed ahead of them as they swam (Nicholson 2002).

‘…enslaved Africans worked and served in all capacities within the British Naval establishment on Antigua and elsewhere in the Caribbean. They also served on the ships of the Navy and saw action, even at Trafalgar, and were pensioners at Greenwich. However, they are invisible in the historical summaries and publications unless one looks below the surface and follows the obscure threads of history.’

This doc broadens and deepens our outstanding of our role (the role of our African-and-Africa-descended ancestors) in the building and work of the Dockyard (the country really but the Dockyard is a good example of that). And how crucial was that to England. our then colonizer?

“With the loss of its American colony, defending these islands became crucial as the sugar
revenues were vital for the continuing growth of Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution. In this light, the naval facility at the Antigua Dockyard contributed to the survival and future expansion of the British Empire at a significant stage in human history.”

The case has been made.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and With Grace). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out http://jhohadli.wordpress.com Please note that, except otherwise noted, the images also belong to us and ask first if you wish to use them for any purpose. Thanks.


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“The full has never been told”

Some dates chosen at random from Africans to Antiguans: the Slavery Experience A Historical Index collected by Desmond Nicholson with Overview and Postscript by Edward T. Henry. Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, 2003:

1674-Planters began importing their new slave labour force from Africa. Henry 1983:288.
1684-Governor Johnson’s slave, Philip, had his leg cut off, as he had entertained runaways. Gaspar 1985: 175


Gaspar’s book.




Codrington reported that Coromantees were faithful slaves and born heroes. Oliver lxxii. Coromantees passed through the Dutch Fort of Kormantin on the Gold Coast. They spoke Akan. Laz. 1990:55
1706-30 slave holders owned 1,150 slaves. This was a 346% growth from 1688. Gaspar1985:96


An artist impression of a sugar plantation during slavery.

1715-(On Barbuda) Slaves were allowed to own horses, cows and sheep and grow their peas, maize, squash, potatoes and ground nuts in their small gardens N/Yorker 6Feb89:79
1726-4,633 slaves had been imported in 32 shipments since 1721. That’s an average of 1,148 a year. Gaspar 1985:74
1730-great numbers of runaway slaves hiding near Boggy Peak


Boggy Peak, now Mount Obama.

committed crimes. Gaspar 1985: 201
1739-May 24th. Cuffey and Robin were awarded their freedom and rewarded for discovering the (King Court led 1736) insurrection. BessieH.


King Court being broken on the wheel after their betrayal.

1750-Newly arrived slaves were liable to die during the 3 year seasoning. Tweedy:209
1764-There were over 300 estates of average value 10,000 pounds of average 200 acres with 100 slaves each. Sheridan:S20:343
1787-“Dog-drivers” were black men with whips to maximize labour in the fields. Luffman : L14 #23
1793-(On Barbuda) 178 acres were planted to corn for the Antiguan estate slaves. Beans and oats were also grown. Low & Clark: 514
1799-February. Bat’s Cave was being used by runaway slaves. “You must be armed if you visit it.” Thomas Journal: 232


Read about the taking of Warner’s wife in The Legend of Bat’s Cave.

1809-A Moravian missionary, Mr. Newby, came to Antigua, but he was not allowed to pursue the EDUCATION of the slaves. After a while he kept an evening school “in a secret way”. (T & K: 18)
1827-Elizabeth Thwaites was at the Court House answering charges reference the relief of destitute slaves. Fergusen 1993: 134


Read about Elizabeth and her sister in this book.

1831-March. Martial Law was imposed due to the slaves unrest over the abolition of the Sunday Market. The 86th Regiment was called out form Shirley Heights. Gasp2000: 121.
1832-From 1817 to 1832, 34 young Barbudans and 7 young women were transferred to the Antigua estates for plantation labour. Overseers of slave gangs were young Scotsmen…  Low & Clark 523
1834-Planters regarded the negroes as an inferior race fit only for slaves. They considered them as their rightful property, and that they could never be made to work without the whip. Those persons who favoured emancipation were considered “enemies of their country” and were persecuted. Anti-slavery people in England were considered fanatics, incendiaries, knaves and religious enthusiasts. There was no anti-slavery party in Antigua before emancipation. There were some individuals in St. John’s, and a very few planters, who favoured the anti-slavery views, but they dared not open their mouths, because of the bitter hostility which prevailed.
1835-Emancipation gave the negroes a desire to possess a portion of the soil in perpetuity, thus many VILLAGES were formed over different parts of Antigua. (eg. Liberta, Freetown). (AAI: 267).


Read about the rise of free villages post-emancipation in this book.


To read Africans to Antiguans, and other books by Desmond Nicholson, visit the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda located in the old courthouse building (built circa 1750) located in Long Street, St. John’s City, Antigua, W.I.4463_107936128031_3414431_nClick here for other books by Antiguan and Barbudan writers.

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A & B Arts Round up (March 15th 2016 – )

April 25th 2016 – deadline to register for the new Directorate of Gender Affairs (Antigua and Barbuda) book club – first book Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Email gender.antigua@gmail.com with the subject line ‘book club’ to register.


March 26th 2016 – An evening of theatre to raise funds to help offset the medical expenses of burn victim Shaveesa Gaspar. This is a project of the students and director from the Antigua Girls High School with whom Gaspar, as a member, won best actress at the national secondary schools drama festival late last year.


Sunday 20th March 2016 – 4 p.m. – This one’s for New York folks. It’s another activity from the Caribbean Cultural Theatre: Let me tell you about WOMAN TINGS! – A Caribbean Literary (and Art) Lime featuring seven talented women (Victoria Brown, Nandi Keyi, Jacqueline Bishop, Michele Voltaire Marcelin, Opal Palmer-Adisa, Mercy L. Tullis-Bukhari, Laura James, an artist of Antiguan heritage… and one man, Antiguan and Barbudan artist IYABA IBO MANDINGO) in a celebration of the multi-layered experiences of immigrants, artists and the indomitable Caribbean Woman. Venue: St. Francis College, 182 Remsen Street, (bet. Clinton & Court Sts), Brooklyn, NY 11201

woman tings


Saturday 19th March 2016 – Dr. Allen Sanderman, former head of undergraduate history and senior lecturer at University of Westminister will be presenting an exciting and interesting  multimedia lecture on ” A brief History of Antigua, what is history? history is not what happened, but what people chose to write about it” at the Museum. $20 donation. Cocktails at 7.



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Invitation to Serve as a Resource and Research Person

From my friend and colleague Marcella A. Andre-Georges, founder and director of NIA COMMS and Emerge Caribbean Women:


Dear Colleague, Friend, Historian, Artist, Researcher, Antiguan/African History Enthusiast

I am writing in conjunction with Antigua’s African Slavery Memorial Society (ASMS) and the TOSTEMS (Tourism Programme Centered on the Sites of the Slave Trade, Slavery and their Memories) Project.

The TOSTEMS Programme is a project that has been undertaken within the framework of the ACP-EU Support Programme for the ACP Cultural Sector. The Coordinator of the project is Edith Oladele.

o     Coordination of the creation of a touristic offer “History and Memory”

o     Coordination of the conception, technical preparation and circulation of the travelling exhibition, and organization of the Scientific Committee meeting in Antigua & Barbuda

o     Creation of the initial exhibition of the future slave trade and slavery museum in Antigua & Barbuda and corresponding catalogue

–       Study and validation of the research work and provide research support with the help of the Shackles of Memory network when necessary

–       Study and validation of the exhibition and catalogue texts

–       Study and validation of the inventory of objects, documents and other materials that make up the exhibition

–       Reflect on the exhibition’s scenography in tandem with the ASMS

o     Creation of Postcards and derivatives

–       Participation in the reflection regarding their design and creation

–       Selection of the appropriate photos, study and validation of all derivatives’ contents

–       Study and validation of all quotes related to printing postcards and producing derivatives

o     Training sessions: study and validation of the different elements necessary in order to prepare the training programmes: needs assessment questionnaire, preselected guides lists, training programme

In order to achieve these objectives it is necessary to engage members of the public who are not only interested in preserving our history but passionate. This letter serves as your invitation to consider adding your expertise, knowledge and know how to ensuring that this project is successful through collaboration with other individuals knowledgeable and passionate about this aspect of our history. Ultimately the fulfilment of the project’s remit will redound to the long term benefit of Antigua and Barbuda for generations.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of these projects. Please also find attached to this mail a copy of the aims and objectives of the African Slavery Memorial Society.   In anticipation of your favourable response we propose a general assembly on Monday December 8th [7 p.m.] at the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, Long Street to further discuss and orient you to the ASMS/TOSTEMS project. We look forward to hearing from you.

For further information on the ASMS please see the attached document: ASMS 2012 Aims Objectives Abbrev.

Kind Regards,

Marcella A. Andre-Georges                                               Edith Oladele

Communication and Public Outreach Manager                 Local Coordinator

ASMS/TOSTEMS Project                                                  ASMS/TOSTEMS Project

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HAS highlights

Just catching up on the HAS newsletter, and thought this might be interesting to some of you:

art installation

Read the entire issue here HAS Newsletter 2014-3 15 8 14zb and read more about this artist and his installation on Page 12 and read all the way through to find out how you can support the very important work of the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda.

From the artist’s website:

Dion Fitzgerald is a Canadian visual artist & musician. Oral history, cultural traditions and personal experience highly influence his abstracted concepts, realized in both acrylic and mixed media. Since his 2008 exhibits in Toronto, he has gone on to showcase his work internationally, including gallery shows in London, UK and Barcelona. Fitzgerald refers to his new work as “conceptual expressionism” and has several shows planned for 2014.

“I create paintings that occur in the past, present and future. The works are about Black male identity in North America during each of these periods. There is a beauty in the highly textured backdrops that provide a platform for an evolving dance of tone, chiaroscuro, colour, movement and markings. My work has evolved into an abstracted conversation of my own history and family heritage, the absence of African based high art, assumed power, emotion & romance. This collection of works represent the new man, the son of the diaspora, reborn and as beautiful as he has ever been.”

– DF 

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