by Michael Goodman
Not everything about Barbadian and Caribbean culture and tradition is written down or can be found in history books. In fact, some of the most noteworthy aspects of times gone are best passed down from generation to generation through the spoken word; in storytelling; in songs; in poetry, and even in old jokes.
In this world of smart phones, computers, laptops and iPads, oral tradition still has an important part to play in the preservation of our past, and to ignore this vital contribution to protecting the unique and personal history of Barbados and its people, is to collude in the acceleration of the gradual decay of the values, morals and interest in the lessons in life learned by “these loyal sons and daughters” who have long walked “these fields and hills beyond recall”.
If we are to ensure the younger generations gain a greater understanding of and respect for Barbadian culture and traditions, it is up to the older generations to communicate and share stories from their past, and that of their own parents and grandparents.
Passing down local history in whatever form should not be about preaching or admonishing the youth about the negative shifts in behaviour and attitudes that seem to be omnipresent, but rather about enabling them to discover the richness, variety and potential for inspiration to be drawn from the past of their own people.
Even written local history can be brought alive by engaging in conversation with someone who lived through the documented times. It can be fascinating to hear about an individual’s experiences of “making do” during the war years when food imports were scarce and “growing what you eat and eating what you grow” was the order of the day; better appreciating the concept of saving money from personal stories of the early Friendly Societies, or “meeting turns”; getting a sense of the fear of being trapped in Bridgetown during the riots of 1937, or understanding what it felt like to live through the colonial period and then suddenly become a citizen of an independent nation with its own National Anthem.
To assume that the only way of passing down oral tradition is for an elderly person to address a younger relative or group of young people, is to overlook the vast resources of storytelling to be found in other forms of recording and passing down the past in oral forms such as calypso, poetry, comedy and even surviving TV and radio programmes.
And before we completely dismiss and accuse the Internet of destroying oral tradition, it is more than a little heartening to discover that YouTube channels such as Bajanmusicfan includes over 200 painstakingly and lovingly collected and collated recordings of local music, including spouge and calypso, dating back to the 1950s and 60s, and a search of the name Alfred Pragnell will also lead to a cornucopia of delightful performances by this greatly talented and much missed communicator of highly descriptive stories, morals, values and characters of a time gone by.
Whilst there is no question that we must look and move forward, we will be enriched in our endeavours to do so successfully if we preserve, treasure, learn and draw from our past; but most of all, seek out and listen to the spoken word before it is lost forever.
* Join Michael Goodman & Peter Boyce on Bajan Living every Monday, 2-3pm, on 100.7 QFM Barbados or online at qfm.bb. Find us on Facebook or email us at email@example.com