CREATIVE SPACE #18 of 2020 (uploaded October 22nd 2020)
CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) 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 October 21st 2020 in the Daily Observer: CREATIVE SPACE 18 A Tale of Two Kings
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: A TALE OF TWO KINGS
On Monday (October 19th 2020) I found myself listening to/watching two media broadcasts simultaneously: the livestream of the funeral of Sir Rupert ‘King Swallow’ Philo; and a roll call of some of the men executed with King Court. As I listened, these two did not seem unconnected to me. Beyond them both being snazzy dressers, both have inspired change and imprinted on the culture in enduring ways.
Swallow is indelibly linked with the village of Willikies; with Road March classics (like Satan Coming Down, Subway Jam, and Party in Space), holding five road march wins to his four calypso monarch wins; with his tent, Pepperpot, ‘the calypso university’; with accolades aplenty, from being a Sunshine Hall of Famer to being named one of TUCO’s top 50 Calypsonians of the 20th century; with an epic musical rivalry that pushed the art form to greatness and cemented his spot in the Big Three of Antiguan and Barbudan calypso alongside kings Short Shirt and Obstinate. He is celebrated for his style, his agility as a performer, and his soaring voice. With the possible exception of Man to Man, though, we don’t talk as much about his message songs. One of these is March for Freedom. It won him his first crown in 1973, inspired by that year’s African Liberation Day march, in a time when the Black Power movement would have been receiving institutional push back. Not unlike now with the Black Lives Matter movement. March for Freedom is not just a soundtrack of that time, it was part of the battle – as I understand it. It is easily one of Swallow’s more pointed rebukes of authority with lyrics like “we go march in peace/we don’t fraid police”. This is what calypso did; it spoke out, it stood up, with and for the people.
Something King Court, also known as Prince Klaas and Kwaku Takyi, did in a more literal sense in 1736 when he plotted to rip the island from the control of white enslavers. Court was also a King. There are reports of a Coromantee shield dance, recognizing him as such. This ikem involved music and dance and veneration by the people of their King as they prepared to go to war. Eighty seven of those people were executed with him for this aborted plot between October 1736 and March 1737, with a break during Christmas because the white women complained about the smell of the burning bodies. Most were burned alive; a handful were gibbeted, hung to die slowly; and Court and a few others broken on the wheel, strapped to a wheel, whipped, broken and torn apart – a slow and excruciating death I can only imagine.
I was moved by the reading of the names on the radio (subsequently recorded and broadcast on Observer by writer and bookseller Barbara Arrindell who has pushed for memorialization of Court throughout October). This roll call reminded anyone listening of the humanity of the enslaved people (not slaves) who sacrificed several lifetimes ago so that we could be free today. “These people were people,” to quote D. Gisele Isaac, the host of the radio show on which I initially heard the names called out as they have been on Watch Night. Court was taken from Africa as a child of 10, and was in his 40s when he died; in the in-between years, he never forgot that he was a person and freedom his birthright.
His collaborators were in many ways extraordinary; and in a way as ordinary as any of us. There were carpenters, fishermen, butchers, masons, coachmen, etc., even a handful of artists – fiddlers Samson, Fortune, and Colley, and Vigo, the drummer. All rose to the moment as we are all called to do when freedom beats like a djembe in our chests. All paid the ultimate price and in their life and death, inspire.
Many who have moved the culture have been lost to time. We shouldn’t forget either of these kings nor their courts. So I’ll end with this question, what are ways we can individually and collectively keep their memory alive?
Roll Call of the convicted 1736 revolutionaries
Songs mentioned in this post (that I could find)
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