George Lamming, Sir Garfield Sobers and Rihanna – three outstanding citizens of the little 166 square mile Caribbean island of Barbados! One wonders if the Barbadian people truly understand the significance of these three national icons, and the profound “message” that is wrapped up in their lives and careers.
Let us begin with Lamming. In the year 1950, George Lamming traveled to England and immediately proceeded to write In The Castle Of My Skin, a novel that demonstrated such a mastery of the English language and contained such compelling philosophical and poetic insights, that it catapulted him to the top of that most remarkable phenomenon of “world literature” — the emergence of the school of West Indian novelists. Lamming was a mere 23 years of age!
In 1958, Garfield Sobers, the Barbadian and West Indies all-round cricketer, batted for 10 hours against the Pakistani test team at Sabina Park in Jamaica and broke the world test cricket batting record with a scintillating 365 not out that confirmed his total mastery of the game of cricket. Sobers was 21 years old!
And in the two-year period of 2006 to 2007 Rihanna dominated the international music charts, demonstrating a profound understanding of the nuances of contemporary rhythm and blues music and copping numerous international awards along the way, including Billboard’s Pop Artiste Of The Year.
Amazingly, her product sales outshone anything that such legends as Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley had been able to achieve in the similar beginning phases of their remarkable careers. But what is to be noted here is that Rihanna’s phenomenal breakthrough came at the tender age of 17 years!
What is particularly remarkable about these achievements is the “precociousness” of it all! By any measure, the accomplishments of Lamming, Sobers and Rihanna bear the marks of genius, but to achieve these remarkable feats at such young ages, places them in the most elevated category of genius.
And what I wish to draw special attention to is that these three geniuses were born, bred and nurtured in the unique geographical, historical and socio-economic environment of little Barbados!
The unique genius of George Lamming was forged in the crucible of the 1937 riots that shook up the restrictive, racist Barbadian society, and was centred on the working class village of Carrington Village and the lower middle class based Combermere School, while Sobers emerged from the equally small working class ” village” of the Bay Land, the Barbados Cricket League and the social and nationalist sentiments that came to the fore in the Barbados of the 1950’s. Rihanna, for her part, is a product of a very familiar Barbadian upbringing, centered around Charles F. Broome Primary School and Combermere.
And yet, in spite of the seeming parochialism and narrow Bajan-ness of their upbringing and socialisation, these three “world historical personalities” were able to master the international mediums in which they chose to express themselves — the English Language, the game of Cricket and the genre of contemporary rhythm and blues music — and to add to that technical mastery uniquely Barbadian and Caribbean insights, essences and instincts that arise out of our local environment.
I therefore wish to adopt the reasoning and insights of the great Caribbean philosopher, Cyril Lionel Robert James, and to make, on behalf of my Barbadian island home, the expansive claim that our history and geography have conspired to create a society that is capable of producing the most outstanding accomplishments in virtually all spheres of human endeavour!
The eminent C.L.R James, was fond of comparing not only Barbados, but all of our Caribbean societies, to the “city states” of ancient Greece — the city states that produced such giants as Socrates, Plato, Solon, Pythagoras, Pericles and Archimedes. James discerned in our small size and in the intimacy of our social and political culture and internal struggles, a recipe for creativity and rapid cultural advancement that is comparable with what obtained in Greece in its most creative classical period.
I wish to concur with James, and to urge the masses of our people to recognise their potential and to throw off all the “dead-weight” that is currently holding them back.
* David Comissiong is President of the PEP.
The Peoples Empowerment Party may be contacted at [email protected]