The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Ralph Jemmott
I suppose I have always loved Barbados. I am a born Barbadian with a navel string buried somewhere on my grandmother’s land in the Kew Road in Tudor Bridge.
I really came to love my country after spending eighteen months studying in Toronto. I was becoming homesick
and after my studies were completed I said, “It’s time to go home.”
What was I missing? I was missing the little things like eating a lead pipe and drinking a Ju-c from Gwen Workmanian on Nelson Street or eating a pork-cutter at Enid’s shop on Baxter’s Road.
I was missing the sea, particularly the Accra Beach.
I was tiring of the cold anonymity of Toronto’s streets.
Although I had and still have many dear Canadian friends, I really did not like living as a minority black person in white Canada.
Beyond economic and safety imperatives I really have never understood why people migrate to other people’s countries as my sister and many of my friends did after Expo 67 in Montreal. On a visit to Canada one such friend, now departed, told me he was now “a Canadian.” OK.
The day I flew back from Canada I could not wait for the plane to land at the Grantley Adams Airport.
It was a very clear day and as Air Canada approached, from my window seat, I could see the outline of the South coast, the blue sea and the white sand beaches.
Tears came to my eyes and welled up as the plane touched down. I couldn’t wait to get off the aircraft and feel the native
ground under my feet.
The next day I took a bus to Hythe Gardens to see my daughter. It was an experience sitting on a bus with people who looked just like me and hearing the sometimes boisterous Bajan accent.
When the bus approached the window to the sea next to the old San Remo Hotel near Oistins there was the ocean I had missed, with all the varying shades of blue described so vividly in the poem by Dianne Kennedy.
One of the phases that have crept into the discourse is Prime Minister Mottley’s mantra about “the kind of people that we are.”
Frankly, I’m not a little sick of hearing it as I’m not sure what it means. Sure, there are common features to our identity, but we do not all have the same sense of that identification.
I was born, raised and schooled in the colonial era. Perhaps more importantly, my father was a lover of European culture, particularly classical music which, along with church music “Hymns Ancient and Modern”, was the only music permitted in the home on Sundays. I grew up hearing about Enrico Caruso and Mario Lanza, Catherine Ferrier, contralto, and
Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting the Promenade Concerts and Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein.
Today, I have become my father. I think that I am more culturally conservative than he was when he passed at age 73, as he had grown somewhat more liberal in his old age.
One is what one is and one should hold on to what sustains when, in Nicholas Brancker’s words, “yuh feel like yuh gine shackle out.”
The great black American musician, Wynton Marsalis, was asked how he reconciled playing both the jazz and the classical repertoire.
His reply was that the latter represented a great musical tradition and he questioned the interviewer as to why on earth would he want to give that up. Conservatism is not a bad word.
There are times in life when societies, like individuals, need to conserve and take stock. November 30, 2021 is one such time. Avoid the silly rhetoric of charlatans and the untutored and think deeply.
What then is it about Barbados and Barbadians that I love and admire?
I admire the Barbadian tendency to caution, moderation and common sense that once produced a high level of social civility. I was in a bank years ago where the line was long and hardly moving.
A voice in the line remarked that if this was Trinidad or Jamaica people would be ripping hell. Not in Barbados. To raise one’s voice and “rip hell” in public would mean that either you were raving mad or had no “brought-upcy.”
I still admire our civil communitarian spirit or what’s left of it. I have a firm belief that the best of Barbados was based on a Protestant Calvinist ethic that produced a people who were poor, but decent or “poor-great.”
I admire a people who prided education for its own sake, not because it would get us “a big job,” in which we might exploit the said people who had paid for that schooling.
In spite of the often silly partisanship, I admire the fact that we have managed to hold on to the guard-walls of our democratic political infrastructure and that no leader since independence has chosen to breach the limits.
Elections have been, generally speaking, “free and fair” and succession largely peaceful and undisputed.
I have contended that sometime in the 1970s the Barbadian zeitgeist changed as we were opened to cultural penetration from external influences.
This was inevitable. Culture is never monolithic and it is usually fluid, particularly in a time of great technological change in an increasingly global world.
I am not sure about “the kind of people that we are” or what it is that we are changing to.
I just wish that we could control some of the deficits of what David Comissiong in an article once called “Ugly Barbados” – increasing public vulgarity, excessively loud music, the drug culture, lack of environmental awareness,
dumping garbage in gullies, etc.
A relative by marriage on a visit to Barbados borrowed my car for the day and visited remote places I had never heard of.
After one such exploration, he announced that in some respects Barbados had made tremendous advances, but in others it had declined.
One aspect he mentioned was the fact that wherever he drove, there were lots of young men liming on the streets often engaging in less than desirable behaviour.
We are told that we have to adjust to the wider world. Some things indigenous and good may be lost in the changeover adjustment.
In one of the Republican “speechifyings”, a Vincentian born Barbadian who talks about “We” implied that with Republican status we need to adopt “a revolutionary consciousness”.
For one reason or another, the search for a revolutionary ethic has never borne fruit in the English speaking Caribbean.
In one territory, that search has led to a political atrocity never before seen in the region.
What exactly is this gentleman selling my people now that he has been given a voice to talk down to us?
The same authority proposed to increase our population by almost a third. Might that not alter our genus, the kind of people that we are or were?
I hope that Bajans are wide awake and thinking seriously about their future now that we are totally self-directing. We no longer have any colonial masters to blame. Much could be lost if we sell our birthright for a mess of pottage.
Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.