For many years a “View from London” has wondered about and looked at the events surrounding the cultural leanings on a Friday night in Oistins, Christ Church. What is its magic, what is it that merges into a harmony that results from a mixing of a cosmopolitan group of people from all parts of the globe? It would be difficult to experience a similar setting in other parts of the Caribbean.
So, armed with a big appetite I went down to Oistins to savour the delights that were promised by a new recruit to the scene. A general tour took me to many stalls, each with its individual style and custom, but all selling ‘fish’. As the sound systems, each located within a few yards of each other, pounded out reggae, calypso ad back-in-time music with little or no regard to the decibel count, I was struck by the distinct, separate and individual flavour of the music.
I pushed my way through a heaving and yet orderly crowd of revellers of all ages, generations, colour and nations, as I made my way to sample Heather’s peas and rice, grilled swordfish, salad and tartar sauce.
It was now 9.30p.m., way beyond my bedtme, but I was assured by my friend that my wait would not be in vain.
I decided to spend my time in waiting, gazing at the crowd as they rolled along, many of them doing their own version of dance as the music reached a deafening crescendo. I was now capitivated by it all and occasionally my mind wondered to the sight of the waiters and waitresses gyrating to the sound of the music as they served their delectable offerings with irreverent and gay abandon – in short, they were wukkin up. What am I experiencing, I asked myself? Surely this is not what I was led to believe would happen; this event is exceptional and, surely unique!
Women, young and old, of all shapes and sizes, proudly displaying a sense of confidence in themselves, were dressed to the nines. The splendour and variety of colour were matched only by the shortness of their skirts. They were here to enjoy themselves whether or not the men wanted to join them. I was too concentrated on my dinner to accept any offer to join the party. Talk about knowing one’s limitations!
Oistins on a Friday Night offers an entertainment that appeals to everyone. The stage show with its exciting version of street dance appears to cater for mainly the younger patrons and just a short distance away you can find the older folk engaged in the serene choreography of line dancing on the boards of the internationally famed Lexi’s. The line dancers have a following of almost star-studded status and as they execute their moves with precision timing, I have reason to curse my two left feet.
After the line dancing I returned to the roadside where I ran into an old friend who was one of the island’s most successful businessmen. It is now past eleven o’clock and he is well past 78. I questioned “what are you doing in a place like this at this hour; have you no home to go to?” He replied, “Boy, I’ll tell you. Young and old, black and white, local and foreign, this is the place to be on Friday nights. Barbados is at its most embracing and you cannot bottle it.” And with a firm grip of my hand he said, “I must be off now – see you next week”.
So has this unique and magical joy of Oistins on a Friday Night become entrenched in Barbadian fokelore and culture? Can we now measure its worth to the island? One thing I am sure of is that, judging by the number and value of the bank notes passing through hands, Oistins is sure to provide an income for many of those who have ventured into this area of small business activity. Their efforts must be applauded. Surely this old fashioned version of self help should be replicated in other areas across the island.
The quantitive benefit to the tourism and alcohol industries cannot be easily gauged but by the number of tourists and empty beer and rum bottles on display, the pluses must register high on any scale. Barbados appears to have stumbled on a gem of an event which requires little official administration. When the lady, Stella St John, wife of the late and former Prime Minister, Sir Harold St John, first harboured the idea of Oistins on a Friday Night as a place to lime, never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined it would grow way beyond her modest and ambitious expectations.
We should be proud of its uniquely successful attraction, free of violence and rancour. We should not be afraid to shout about it from the rooftops whenever we set foot across other lands. The Barbados Tourism Authority should lead the way. Oistins on a Friday Night is a weekly carnival and could, by its excellent example, lead the way for a place like Speightstown to follow.
As long as there is fish in the sea, there will be Oistins on a Friday Night.
Mr Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and Disapora.