CREATIVE SPACE #13 of 2020 (uploaded August 13th 2020)
CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and ran to 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. There are plans for its continued evolution across multiple media platforms. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, and freelancer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on August 12th 2020 in the Daily Observer: CS DO Say their Name
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with extras.
If you would like to be featured or to sponsor (i.e. advertise with) a future installment of the jhohadli.wordpress.com online edition of CREATIVE SPACE, BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture (contact Joanne)
CREATIVE SPACE: SAY THEIR NAME: IN MEMORIAM
This edition of CREATIVE SPACE is dedicated to the memory of activist and author (of To Shoot Hard Labour) Sir Keithlyn Smith (RIP)
Let’s begin with the person whose journey kicks off To Shoot Hard Labour, Mother Rachel, stolen from Africa in 1800, who with her daughters, Fanny and Barba, after Emancipation in 1834, went in search of another daughter, Minty, who had been sold off years earlier. They had never set foot off Old Road plantation, but “…them woman was so bound and determined to find Minty only death could stop them.” (p. 29) Fig Tree Hill proved too much for Mother Rachel so they took the long way around through Urlings, Bolans, Ottos, Briggins, Sea View Farm to Sandersons, only to find that she had been sold to Betty’s Hope. At which point “Rachel wept.” (p. 32) But they continued on and found her. “That was the freedom; only when they find Minty they really believe that slavery was all over for sure.” (p. 32)
Missy William was the first enslaved person to leave Pinchin Estate after slavery. She took up residence under a rock people used for shelter during bad weather. The Estate owners tried to move her out by sending people to break up the rock, but she beat them back.
Some had darker fates.
Missy Byam’s daughter Kate, 13, was raped by the same English planter who had previously raped her mother. Kate got pregnant and had dogs let loose on her, causing her to “fall in to Works Pond. That pond was deep.” (p. 40) Kate could not swim. Her body came back up some days later, she was buried, and that was that.
Hartie Bab was the first murder the narrator, Papa Sammy Smith, witnessed at North Sound estate. She was ‘rude’ to the so-called massa’s son who was role playing roll call and was locked in the estate cellar. When released, she was dead and “rats had bitten off her lips and nose” (p. 74) and that was that.
Other murders included Dicky for talking too much and Missy Friday for rebuffing ‘massa’s’ advances – one by rum, one by cake; both by poisoning. Henzel, also known as All Man Giant, was charged with theft, because he had taken a little molasses to try to cure the poison that caused him to miss work. “He got four months in jail, forty-eight strokes …and was banned from Jonas [estate] for six years.” (p. 50) Others who went to jail included Paul Valentine “for not showing up for work”, Missy Burke “for drinking water from the well at North Sound”, Tommy Joseph “for accidentally touching the bell rope”, and Maggie Prentice and her beau Clive “for trespassing under a white wood tree”.
Missy Count Paul was run over with a horse after she didn’t show back up to work and was found lying in the shade; her son Matthew was sure she was still alive when he buried her as ordered. Another planter enjoyed galloping his horse in to groups of Black people awaiting instruction. Missy Caldwell from Stony Hill “was a little hard of hearing” and that disability proved her undoing as she didn’t get out of the way of the horse fast enough. “Her knee came out of place…(and) after a period she die” (p. 82).
Mr. Joseph, top blacksmith at Betty’s Hope estate, was doused with cold water by a white planter because he didn’t let him jump the line. He caught stroke and died.
John Quarkoo, a calypso pioneer, who used to sing for money about local goings on, sang a song on the seminary – “me send me daughter a seminary, now she come with a big fat belly.” (p.97) – and spent six months in jail.
Charlie Martin spoke at a public meeting ahead of the 1918 riots (read: labour unrest) in which two were killed and 17 injured when the militia opened fire on the people. Leaders like George Weston were arrested. “(Charlie Martin) took a schooner and left the island.” (p. 133)
To understand Antigua and Barbuda is to know these names and to know there are many more names unknown.
1. Click on Quarkoo’s name above to go to the Wadadli Pen blog for more on him.
2. When I participated in week one of Observer Radio’s Voice of the People July long reading of To Shoot Hard Labour by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith, I said that this book made history come alive for me when a teacher introduced it to us during my secondary school years because it made it less about dates and more about people. In putting a cap on my recent re-read of the book, sub-titled The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan workingman 1877-1982, I wanted to share with readers of this column some of the people that have stuck with me. That’s the reason for this week’s focus on culture through history.
3. Minty, the ancestor of Papa Sammy’s whom they went in search of on Emancipation, had a brand when they found her (#104 which is what she was known by, not her name) though branding had been outlawed since 1828.
4. Multi-generational sexual assault was not unusual during slavery nor decades after Emancipation. Something for people to remember when questioning someone’s Blackness based on having white ancestors in slavery and post-slavery times (can’t believe that has to be said but apparently it does). Anyway, Kate, the 13 year old raped by Ted Cole (I opted not to mention his name in the OG article because I wanted to focus on naming the victim but that’s his name) was run her off because he didn’t want his wife to know. But when she wouldn’t keep quiet and he let his dogs loose on her, causing her to run and “fall in to Works Pond” (p. 40), none of the workers dared try to save her.
5. Hartie Bab was my introduction to this book as a secondary school student but another reason she probably resonates with me is because I grew up with a story of a family member for whom locking in a dark room with rats was a regular punishment at the school she attended, not that long ago really – the school staff was white at the time and this systemic torture is part of her childhood trauma.
6. Henzel, another character discussed, called All Man Giant due to his strength, was given the most challenging tasks, including strapping Black people to be punished to the whipping post, until falling out of favour when he refused to continue doing so. When Henzel took too sick to show up to work one day, Bakkra saw an opportunity to exact revenge for his perceived obstinancy and had him thrown off the estate and when Henzel persisted in trying to explain himself had him arrested. The charge, theft, because he had taken a little molasses to try to cure the poison. “He got four months in jail, forty-eight strokes – twelve at the end of each month, and was banned from Jonas for six years.” (p. 50) He spent part of his time in jail locked to a 75-pound ball and part of the time working on sugar estates for free. When he got out he still had to stay away from Jonas, which meant taking the long way to work, and he died relatively young either of yellow fever like his mother and grandmother before him, or of poisoning from jealous types. “Henzel left one son call Samuel. He went to Panama and never come back” (p. 51) one of many who left the eastern Caribbean for latin America in hopes of work and a better life.
7. There wouldn’t really be a sustained push for workers rights until the late 1930s, unionization, to the mid-1950s, the coming of universal adult suffrage, and ongoing, post-Independence, 1981 to present.
8. You’ve heard of being wrong and strong, well in those days Black people were wrong even when dem right. And some, as Papa Sammy continued things were so dread, some thought only of securing their position. “The Blacksmith helper that work with him (Mr. Joseph, the blacksmith doused with cold water who subsequently died),” he said, “was glad that he catch the stroke and die for he wanted Joe’s place.” (p. 118)
9. It was a Moravian minister who overheard Quarkoo singing his song one day and took him to court.
10. Charlie Martin is one that stuck with me as a hero we really should know more about. George Weston is relatively well known as a figure from the 1918 riots but Papa Sammy is the only resource I have seen referencing Charlie Martin. He was from Nevis Street, and spoke at a public meeting in All Saints encouraging the small farmers to demand their pay directly from the factory. See, at the time, the small farmers worked the land – some with provisions to feed themselves, some with cane, the planting of which was mandatory for their use of the land – but the owner of the land collected the money for the cane from the factory and pay the sharecroppers, because that’s effectively what they were, whatever they decided. The powers that be tried to cut off the head of the protests by arresting the leaders, Weston and others, but they never got Charlie Martin. “He took a schooner and left the island.” (p. 133) Often the lore of a country and our country in which the narrative has been one thing for so long narrows to the point where some names are excised altogether. Another name worth mentioning is Kem Roberts. He’s the man who organized the waterfront workers, such a forceful speaker he was nicknamed “Bustamante”, and was fired by Joseph Dew & Sons “because he was so strong for the union” (p. 150). Papa Sammy asserts that he was pushed out of the union because he was too strong a rival to the union boss (whom he doesn’t name but reasonably he’s referring here to second president of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union, many Firsts, and Father of the Nation V. C. Bird Sr.)
11. The original draft of this article ended with Papa Sammy’s mother, Margarette, for it was she (and his grandmother, Countis) who handed down the stories to him: for example, it was his mother who told him that the “bear bob” (baobab) tree was called the “Devil tree” between Clark’s Hill and Freemansville “for all sorts of crimes used to take place there”; and the greatest crime of all, slavery, for that tree “used to mark the place where the slave market was.” (p. 104)
In the tree’s defense, it was also in Stony Hill gully in that tree’s shadow that King Court and fellow revolutionaries plotted freedom.
12. Finally, there’s Papa Sammy himself who’s breadth of experience and memory has gifted us a wide swath of our collective history. The book’s subtitle describes him as an Antiguan workingman and that’s not by accident. This is a man who when he retired in 1962 under pressure from his family had worked 72 of his 85 years to that point “and was never sick or late for a day” (p. 155). A griot holds and tells the stories of his tribe, makes sure we don’t forget who we are, and that’s exactly what Papa Sammy did here. A major #BlackLivesMatter adjacent hashtag has been #sayhername (her name, his name, our name, the names of the discarded and forgotten), and in To Shoot Hard Labour, Papa Sammy does just that.
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