Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Ralph A. Jemmott
Professor Sir Henry Fraser, Dr Sean Carrington, Dr John Gilmore and Mr G. Addington Addy Forde have recently produced the Third Edition of their text “A to Z of Barbados Heritage.”
It is a 407 page volume not including a quite extensive section of references and an Index together covering 21 extra pages. By the author’s own admission, it comprises some 646 entries, 41 of which are recognisably new. It is a magnificent effort, and every Barbadian home and school should have a copy.
This version had a significantly different look to the two previous editions.
The 1990 first edition was published by Heinemann Publishers (Caribbean) Limited and the second 2003 volume by Macmillan Education limited.
This 2020 edition is produced by Miller Publishing Company Ltd. the now well- known publishers of the annual “Ins and Outs of Barbados” magazine, several back copies of which are in my possession.
It bears all the marks of the Miller Company’s work, which makes it an aesthetically pleasing and visually compelling production.
In fact, on first opening the text, one quickly recognises a number of the photos that have graced the pages of the ‘Ins and Outs’ over the years.
In an age when persons are more captured by images than by words, this gives it a broader appearance than the previous two versions.
It will undoubtedly appeal to visitors to the island and younger persons who have grown up in a visual culture. On the other hand, this may render it less appealing to the strictly academic reader.
Whether we speak of people or places, the photographs have all the appeal of those one sees in a Miller publication. There is, for example, a photo of a cut pawpaw or papaya on page 268 and a sea-egg catch on the beach on 333.
There is the picture of the fish vendor holding a flying fish with wings spread on page 141 and the lady roasting and selling corn along the highway at night, a summary tribute to Bajan entrepreneurship and the endeavour of “mekking a living”. Then there is the photo of centenarian and former saddler Melville Williams on page 71.
He celebrated his 110th birthday in 2019.
Photographs of old Barbados are always intriguing in showing the unalterable passage of time. There are plenty of these, including the Nelson Statue surrounded by Barbadians of all walks of life in 1900 or of goat racing at Lands End in 1910.
The notion of covering a country’s heritage from A to Z is a tremendous burden and responsibility in terms of what one includes and what one excludes.
In this respect, Carrington, Fraser, Forde and Gilmore have managed to provide a surprisingly comprehensive coverage of nearly all aspects of Barbadian life including its flora, fauna, landscapes and seascapes, personages, folklore, visual art and artists and all the things that define the Barbadian zeitgeist.
In John Wickham’s foreword to the First Edition, this volume also constitutes “an efficient laboratory for the study of the response to geography, history, and landscape, the prime ingredients of a people’s culture.”
When one publishes a third edition of a text such as this the obvious query is why. One answer is to bring it up to date. Things have changed.
The chattel house like the donkey cart is less in evidence, while some old historical structures have been demolished or fallen into disuse and new less attractive ones have been erected in their place.
Another motive must be to widen its appeal to a new generation with somewhat different interests and tastes.
This Third Edition of what Wickham called ‘a vocabulary of cultural items’ is a welcome addition to our historical writing.
Its obvious commercial appeal does not significantly detract from the ostensibly more academic template of the earlier publication of the same name.
We must write for the future, for the present generation and those to come who must be kept aware of our history and culture. These generations may well be more likely to read material that is accompanied by intriguing pictures than the dullness of the printed page, and more likely to take their history
in small bits or nuggets than in large indigestible portions.
It may be a sad commentary on the tenor of our times, but this volume will undoubtedly keep us in touch with our heritage A to Z. A for Ackee, the small fruit known elsewhere in the Caribbean as “gineppe” and Z for Zouave, the ceremonial uniform of the Band of the Barbados Regiment introduced in 1987 on the 21st anniversary of our Independence.
Ralph A. Jemmott is a retired educator.