At the 1986 CARICOM Heads of Government Conference, the late Errol Barrow made a most insightful observation about the Barbadian and Caribbean people:
“If we have sometimes failed to comprehend the essence of the regional integration movement, the truth is that thousands of ordinary Caribbean people do, in fact, live that reality every day. In Barbados, our families are no longer exclusive Barbadian by island origin. We have Barbadian children of Jamaican mothers; Barbadian children of Antiguan and St. Lucian fathers… We are a family of islands…”
Barrow knew exactly what he was talking about: after all, his own father, Bishop Reginald Barrow, had been born in St. Vincent; his uncle, Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neale, had Tobagonian antecedents and had lived and worked in Dominica and Trinidad; and Barrow himself had been partially educated in the Virgin Islands.
The point that Barrow went on to make, after drawing attention to the inter-connected island nationalities within Caribbean families, was that all Caribbean people are part of, and share in, a common “storehouse” of historical traditions, knowledge, wisdom, and artistic, social, political and economic inventions.
In other words, the people who inhabit these Caribbean territories, from Cuba in the north to Guyana in the south, have, over the centuries, created a common and unique culture — a Caribbean civilisation.
There can be no doubt that we are indeed the possessors of a valuable civilisation which has the potential to develop into a beacon of creativity and humanism to the rest of the world. A brief overview of our Caribbean experience will suffice to substantiate the point.
The Caribbean people have been the creators of unique social inventions in the spheres of religion, politics, art, sport and economic organisation.
Our religious heritage ranges from Cuban Santeria, through Trinidadian Shango, Haitian Vodun, Jamaican Pocomania and Rastafarianism, to the numerous Afro- Baptist and Afro- Protestant churches so prevalent in Barbados.
In politics and economics, our heritage includes our role in fuelling and sustaining the Industrial Revolution of Europe, Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution, Marcus Garvey and George Padmore, Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism, the Cuban Revolution, Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. And our experiments in political structure run the gamut from Cuban socialism to Third World liberal parliamentary democracy.
In music, we have created the steel drum, the Cuban conga, calypso, reggae, spouge, salsa, meringue, cadence, zouk and numerous varieties of folk music. Our dance spawned the calendar, the National Ballet of Cuba and a variety of Jamaican, Trinidadian and French and Dutch Antillean dance traditions.
A military tradition has been marked out by Cudjoe the maroon, Antonio Maceo and Toussaint, while geniuses like Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Vivian Richards, Teofilo Stevenson, Sammy Soso, Usain Bolt and Merlene Ottey have created a distinct sporting tradition and style.
Our intellectual successes include Aime Cesaire and Negritude, Jose Marti, Jean Price-Mars, Frantz Fanon, Alexandre Dumas, C.L.R. James and the school of English-speaking Caribbean writers, including George Lamming and Edward Kamau Brathwaite. And over the last 40 years, a contemporary intellectual tradition rooted in the realities of Caribbean life, and centred around the University of the West Indies, has developed.
Indeed, a substantial body of development-based intellectual work has been created, utilizing all of the tools of modern scientific analysis, including the Marxist system of theorizing.
These latter day intellects include economists like Clive Thomas, Arthur Lewis, Norman Girvan and George Beckford; historians like Elsa Goveia, Walter Rodney, Douglas Hall, Hilary Beckles and Gordon Lewis; and political scientists such as Carl Stone and Lloyd Best.
Surely, the task of any serious leader, politician or political party in the Caribbean today, must be to bring home to our people their stake in our Caribbean civilisation, and to utilise the enormous store of Caribbean collective wisdom and intellectual work to enlighten the path that lies ahead of us as a people.
We are one region, and if we are to have an acceptable future as an independent, progressive people with an identity of our own, then we must begin to think and act as a Caribbean family, making full use of our native intellect, ingenuity and natural resources.