CREATIVE SPACE #2 of 2020 (uploaded March 11th 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 written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, and freelancer.
This is the extended online edition with extras.
If you would like to be featured or to sponsor 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 to find out how)
CREATIVE SPACE: CENTERING US, YEAR ROUND
February is Black History Month, started in America as Negro History Week in 1926. March, by 1987 US congressional decree, is Women’s History Month. Both have had more global penetration than COVID-19 due in part to US cultural dominance, but also reflecting a lack, even in predominantly Black countries like ours – owed to a mix of colonial hangover, and isms related to race, class, and gender. Like, do we understand our history in a majority Black country to begin not on the plantation but in Africa, do we see our ancestors who lived and died on sugar plantations as slaves or enslaved people – meaning do we see their condition or their humanity, do we appreciate that less than a single handful of women have held elected office since universal adult suffrage in 1951. One of the things we heard on Observer radio during BHM is how the teaching of history has been de-centered. And we know that even when it was compulsory, it did not center us. This is what made a book like To Shoot Hard Labour, chronicling, through the life of Papa Sammy Smith, roughly 100 years of Antiguan history (including the slave-like conditions that persisted post-Emancipation) well in to the 20th century, so significant when it was introduced to me at Christ the King High School in the 1980s.
I returned to Christ the King as a guest on that leap day between between BHM and WHM. It was refreshing to see the majority of students outfitted in Africa-inspired prints, interpreted in their unique Caribbean fashion and individual style.
The programme included a presentation on Africa(1). We learned about principles like Ubunto – “I am because we are”, about the languages, the sheer size and cultural multiplicity of Africa. The soulful singing, the cadenced dancing, the profound poetry (Not giving back my Black!), the researched presentations about inventive women in history (all interesting, none Caribbean) were moving and entertaining(2). But the question that circled my mind was why one month (two if you count Independence season). We don’t have the excuse of being numerical minorities, others controlling government, education, media etc. This is ours to design, so why isn’t Africa, why aren’t we, a core part of our African-Caribbean education, our media, our socialization year-round in even a fraction of the way it is during BHM?
Barbara Arrindell, one of the presenters, quizzed the CKHS teens on four Antiguan women and their responses suggested some knowledge of only one(3) – national hero Nellie Robinson, founder of the TOR Memorial, a school that transformed society by collapsing class. The Hart sisters (Ann Hart Gilbert and Elizabeth Hart Thwaites) free Black women who opened the first schoolroom built for the purpose of educating enslaved and free Black people in the West Indies in 1813; and Sally Bulloch, a Barbudan woman who had influence on the island belied by her enslaved status were unknown to them.
On International Women’s Day, I attended the Directorate of Gender Affairs’ inaugural Women of Wadadli Awards(4) where even more women we should know were celebrated – and what I found truly inspiring about it was hearing all our stories, and the insight it provided to how we are moving things in our world.
As Barbara urged the girls at CKHS, “you have to know your history; you have to know who we are”. History is made every day and the past informs our present. For example, pre-TOR, “a hundred years ago, if your parents weren’t married, you couldn’t get a secondary school education.” These and other stories don’t belong to a single month. We should know their names all year round.
(1) Dr. Ayoola Awosika presented on behalf of the African Antiguan and Barbudan Organization. Did you even know there was an African Antiguan and Barbudan organization? I didn’t. I learned some other things I didn’t know (I won’t tell you which was new to be) but among the things he quizzed us on was the meaning of the word Africa (or Afru-ika, Mother Land in Egyptian), size (Africa being the second largest continent after Asia with a population of 1.2 billion), number of languages spoken across the continent (1000-2000), and practices (like every African name having a meaning, and like principles like Ugunto which priorities community over individual happiness).
(2) The programme was three hours long and there was something happening at every minute which means that the students at every level were deeply involved. Highlights included two Maya Angelou poems (I Rise, Phenomenal Woman) and Denis Scott (Epitaph), group and solo dances that worked in Afro-beat and Caribbean rhythms (especially dancehall), a fashion show, and lots of singing. During the singing there was this one stick of a girl, Jacqueena Tappin, with a deep resonant voice that had sonic range (she got low, she got high, though her lower register was the one that made you go woah) and the confidence to take on some of the biggest classics of soul – e.g. Sam Cooke’s Change Go’n Come. During one of the song presentations I really came to appreciate the Cynthia Erivo penned and sung the negro-spiritual-infused Stand up from Harriet
. Seriously, I’m now inclined to think this should have won best song at the Oscars. The section where a number of girls provided brief histories of Black women who changed the world with their inventions (Dr. Shirley Jackson re telecommunications with her invention of caller id and call waiting, Lydia Newman re haircare with her “good hair brush”, for example) was illuminating (if lacking in Caribbean examples).
(3) Who’s heard about Sally Bulloch (no response), the Hart sisters (no response), Nellie Robinson (some response)? That’s what Barbara Arrindell asked before she gave some information on each women’s life – not to shame them for not knowing, it’s not their fault. Rather she wanted to nudge them to consider the implications of these women’s lived history in their lives, and encourage curiousity and research re our African-Caribbean-Antiguan-Barbudan history. So thanks to Barbara, I can share some of the history specific to these three women:
Sarah ‘Sally’ Bulloch, an enslaved Barbudan mulatto woman, co-habitated and had children with Samuel Redhead, attorney for the Codrington Estates, to which she ‘belonged’. He would leave her in charge when he went to Antigua. By proxy, she had authority over not only the other enslaved Africans but also the European employees. She ruled with a heavy hand and there were complaints, but there was also prosperity so the Codringtons did not see fit to demote her. There were also no uprisings during her tenure. Redhead, in correspondence, referred to his boys with Sally, also ‘slaves’ by law, as his “natural born children”. In 1771, Redhead offered to buy Sally from Codrington but Codrington refused, but when Redhead returned to England in 1779, he took Sally and the boys with him. One of those boys Henry Redhead would go on to be a renowned writer and activist. His standing was reportedly due to the ‘gentleman’s education’ financed by his father, but rumours abounded that his mother allegedly stole from Codrington over the years, helping to set her son up in life. Interestingly, Redhead, per his own writing, reportedly didn’t see himself as Black and was anti-abolition.
The Hart Sisters, Ann Hart Gilbert and Elizabeth Hart Thwaites, were free Blacks and daughters of Barry Conyers Hart, a plantation owner, owner specifically of Popeshead Estate, one of the few Black plantation owners and slave holders on the island. The older of the Hart sisters, Ann, caused quite the stir when she married a white man, John Gilbert, in 1798, a time when miscegenation was seriously opposed – including by Gilbert’s own family who tried to stop the wedding. The Hart sisters died a year before Emancipation but few could have been said to contribute more to it given their role in educating enslaved people. In 1813, the Hart sisters opened the first schoolroom built for the purpose of educating enslaved people in the West Indies, becoming the first to formalize education of enslaved children in not just Antigua but the wider Caribbean. The initiative began when in 1812 when one of the sisters and her husband were visiting Lyon’s Estate for worship. Afterwards, they heard enslaved children singing hymns and being ministered to by an older enslaved man. That he knew enough of the teachings of the church to pass it on impressed them. They spread the word inviting all enslaved and free Black children in the area and their teachers to a meeting – more than 500 turned up and the first school for Black children in the Caribbean was founded. They met on Sundays, the only day off from the grueling routine of plantation life. One Sunday, as the Thwaites’ made their way from Lyon’s to their home in English Harbour, they found what they felt would be the perfect spot for a building for their school, in Bethesda. The head enslaved person at Blake’s Estate, Vigo Blake, encouraged them to speak to the owners of the land and promised to get (enslaved) hands to build the school house in their spare time. And so they did, man, woman, and children, inside of six weeks. The schoolroom opened its doors on May 29th 1813. Many of the first students were enslaved people who were maimed or too old and fragile for regular plantation work. They were taught, so that they could teach others. An additional two or three hundred would make their way to the building at Bethesda for direct instruction.
Dame Nellie Robinson, 1880-1972, was founder of the Thomas Oliver Robinson Memorial High School, founded in 1898 and named for her brother, who encouraged her dream. Because of her work removing barriers to education, and by extension barriers to upward social mobility for children of African descent, especially those considered illegitimate, among other activities, Robinson was awarded the National Order of Merit, the only female to have done so so far. She was educated partly in Antigua, through private instruction and at the Wesleyan Coke College, and partly in the US. Arrindell has written about Dame Nellie in Collins Caribbean Social Studies 1.
(4) The inaugural Women of Wadadli Awardsis a Directorate of Gender Affairs initiative. Recipients are nominated by the public and selected by a committee. I am thankful to have been one of those selected, for my contribution in the area of Literature. The recipients other recipients are Heather Doram (Culture), Dr. Cleon Athill (Human Rights), Roberta Williams (Economic Development), Joanne Boulous Callias (Education), Andrea Otto (Environmental Activism), Noreen Phillips (Fashion), Dr. Jillia Bird (Health), E. Ann Henry (Law + the Dame Gwendolyn Tonge Lifetime Legacy Award), Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro (Politics), Dawn Soleyn (Banking and Finance), Colleen Simpson (Culinary Arts), Vashti Ramsey-Casimir (Tourism), Natalie Payne (Trade Unionism), Zahra Airall (Fine Arts/Theatre Arts), Granma Aki (Agriculture), Barbara Andrea Arrindell (Community Change Maker), Marion Byron (Music), Mickel Brann (Media), Valerie Hodge (Business), Kai Davis (Religion), Renée Edwards-Ambrose (Sports), Makŏ S. Williams (Science and Technology), Shawnisha Hector (Woman to Watch), with A. S. Bryden & Sons receiving the Prime Minister’s corporate citizen for exemplifying gender equity internally.
RIP to Eustace Manning Henry who ensured the legacy of the world’s oldest surviving pan orchestra Antigua and Barbuda’s Hell’s Gate. This edition of CREATIVE SPACE is dedicated in his memory.
[IMAGES IN THIS POST in descending order – Observer w/image from BHM Celebrations at CKHS from their facebook page, image of JCH at BHM Celebrations at CKHS, image of JCH at WoW awards]
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