by Michron Robinson
A promise is a promise and it should be kept under all circumstances even until death.
This is what keeps leader of the Barbados Landship, Lord High Admiral Vernon Watson, going day and night where this unique, indigenous cultural form is concerned.
In an interview today at The Dock or the main guard for the now floundering ship, Watson shared with Barbados TODAY where his interest for the 150 year-old movement started, his challenges through the years and most exciting times with this paradox of a name Landship movement.
Known for their energetic movements, including plaiting the maypole, the group is a staple at cultural events and this year will be saluted at the Crop-Over Folk Concert.
With a face lit up as he recalled the memories, his voice filled with nostalgia, he said that in his district in Highland, St. Thomas in 1971 he saw a lot of lawlessness and fellows throwing at glass bottles which he said could not be done when he was their age.
”It bothered me seeing that this generation, which would be after me, could be doing something like this, pelting at people’s glass windows and I am talking about in plain daylight especially if the people are not at home. This was in a tenant on a plantation estate and you would call this area [Licorish Village] a village and I decided that we had to do something [but] me and my boys- old school friends had no idea what to do. Then this Landship came up. We had a Landship Dock in Highland Tenantry and I went home and asked my father what happened to the Landship that was here when we were children he said that it was finished, that it had sank. So I said I would like to raise it and he said, ‘Man V you cannot raise any Landship’. I said ‘okay we will try’,” Watson said with rising triumph in his voice.
The Admiral said that he then got assistance from his father who said that he must get money to raise his children which he got from his dock of about 50 or 60 cents.
Watson explained that amount was a lot of money back then valued to an equivalent of $60 these days.
”I went and asked all of my father’s friends and that Landship was named Director. My father was 78 years at the time and all of the officers were between the 50s and 60s and I went for all of them and we started with the people in that age group. That was a success because we went and got some drums from an old ship called the New Gold in Canefield Tenant which was our neighbours also,” Watson said.
The septuagenarian revealed that the only kind of entertainment for the villagers and tenants back then was the three string box guitar and the Landship. T guitar however, would only be seen in calypso tents these days.
The now 24-member movement which Watson said was used to keep the poor people happy, is a community based organisation which still functions where 90 percent of their operations are free. There are birthday celebrations and end of the month limes for members. There was also a camp at Easter and there are tours
The Lord High Admiral said that the promise he must keep was one with dying Commander Leon Marshall who wanted the movement continued and prayed for someone to do such.
”As I made a promise to a dying man I do not think I knew how serious of a state he was in when I made that promise but I will do my best to keep the Landship alive so I must be involved in the movement and do anything that I can to keep the Landship alive,” Watson said, his voice filled with emotion.
In sharing his history of growing up to a poor Barbadian family with eight siblings, seven of whom are alive today, Watson expressed that on holidays he would go and assist his father cutting canes after taking him lunch his mother made.
The Admiral stated that years after leaving elementary school he found himself as a chauffeur, working at the plantation which he said he enjoyed along with his love for the sight of corn, potatoes and sugar canes.
The father of five said when he left Lion Castle as a chauffeur he went straight to the NCF working until he retired.
When asked what he does in his spare time Watson said- “Landship is all I do! All of my time is in the Landship movement!.
He described the most outstanding and his proudest moment was when he was made Admiral.
As for the Landship’s milestone 150th anniversary, Watson said that his feelings just cannot be estimated. While his concern is the decreasing membership, he will continue to fight hard to keep the ship that never sails in a safe harbour.