This one’s going to be quick (so credit all errors or other failure to edit to that) because I’m juggling balls like a circus …juggler… but I wanted to remind you, if you’re in Antigua, that today is the last day of the 2015 edition of the annual Antigua and Barbuda Conference.
If absent, you’re missing some great panels. But you still have time to catch Jamaica Kincaid’s keynote address tonight (i.e Friday night)… there’s time before you head to Flames or your beach lime or other Carnival afterparty.
The panel I caught today
was chaired by Valerie Knowles Combie. Lead panelist was Althea Romeo Mark. Althea lives in Switzerland and this was her first trip home to Antigua since about 1971. Welcome home, Althea. Althea who has lived in the Caribbean, America, Africa, and Europe, spoke about ‘The Immigrant Story, the Arts and Self-Knowledge’. Quite an interesting presentation. High points her opening poem, Vessel, in fact her punctuation of the entire presentation with poetry to illuminate her family’s journey from Antigua, to the Dominican Republic initially and ultimately the world. The presentation was an honouring of that journey, the good and bad of it, in the bad column are things like slavery (how Africans came to settle in this part of the world) and xenophobia.
Her most powerful illustration of the latter was being a child recently relocated to the US Virgin Islands and being teased for the way she said “cat”: “It’s not cyat, it’s cat,” she said. “Coming from Antigua we were called garrats. I did not want to be a garret, so I learned to say cat very quickly”.
Language as a tool of belonging calls to mind the histories long tension between the Haitians and the Dominicans, and more recently, and not for the first time, the enforced expulsion of Haitians from the DR which Romeo Mark called out as racism.
The sense of dislocation that comes of being in a where where there’s “no monuments to my history” was referenced by her in another of her poems, all part of a very moving presentation – though I have to admit I’m still processing her generous (my words, not hers) characterization of curious Columbus (ground zero of the colonization of these islands and of the people who lived here and the ones who came) in one of her poems.
If Romeo Mark’s presentation was moving, Edgar Lake, who followed, was as always thought provoking. You absorb a lot of ‘new’ information during one of his presentation because he digs through the existing archives (the globally available archives not just what’s limited to the building here in Antigua) and offers up to us a buffet of our own history. There’s a lot to sift through, to be honest, too much for this quick post (the Mongrel Woman, Grace, a ground breaking case of 1827 among them). But I will say that the overarching point is we must re-think our relationship to our history and to the archiving of our history. His starting point, the collapse of the roof of the National Archives; his reminder at key junctures how much of our history has already been auctioned away (for example by clergy working among the then colonized people while pilfering their art and selling it away to England); his challenge in the end to understand that we can become a part of the process of archiving by digging in to our own family albums etc.
This point made me think of the Friends of Antigua Public Library’s Collecting Memories project, where oral histories including my own discourse on how to make cassava bread, are (or were) being collected and archived online; of my own efforts to collect and archive online the literary history of Antigua and Barbuda; and other scattered efforts to make our history accessible online (and the gaps – online Carnival Hall of Fame anyone?… anyone?), and so on, including how much more could be done as far as connecting programmes like the laptop and tablet giveaway to students and the need for active archivists.
“The archive is not the building…not the three or four government workers…it’s all of us beginning to build not only the images but the deep interpretation of our own narrative,” Lake said.
Rounding out the panel was Bernadette Farquhar, the presentation I had the least interest in going in to be honest but that does not mean that it was uninteresting, far from it. She gave a careful history of the bamboula (the food, not the dance ), though the latter was referenced by both Lake and Farquhar how it links us to Africa (the food, not the dance…though really both, I suppose), how it illustrates our innovation, and sometimes, frankly, our lack of vision. On the last point, she made the point about the opportunities missed to sustain the local palate’s interest in this ancient food and create a taste for it among the visitors to our tourism-focused islands. It would, she said, create a linkage between Agriculture and Tourism, reducing the import bill in the process. But that’s a song that’s been sung and sung, right?
So is this… why don’t more of us turn out to these things?
Actually, I know part of it, as in my case, is time. There are sessions – like yesterday’s Arts and the Growth of Self Knowledge with presentations by Adlai Murdoch and Hazra Medica that I really wanted to catch but couldn’t to today’s Issues in Contemporary Politics with presentations on Reparations by Dorbrene O’Marde, Gender by Ermina Osoba, and Entrepreneurship by Harland Henry that more of us need to catch. Will they be broadcast? posted online? or is it a case of if you missed it, you missed it… and many of us missed it. In some cases, it’s a case of when you na know you just na know. But some of it is our distraction by shiny things at the cost of opportunities for discourse on our situation, or maybe the discussion needs to be held somewhere else – online spaces perhaps? The venue this year was the University Centre and the Youth Enlightenment Academy. And depending on your definition of youth, not many or any to be found.
Kudos though to the organizers for sustaining this annual conference for 10 years.
Here’s the full conference schedule. It wraps with tonight’s keynote which begins at 7 p.m.