CREATIVE SPACE #28 of 2021 (uploaded December 21st 2021)
CREATIVE SPACE is an award-winning series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition running here on the blog. It continues to expand across other media platforms (e.g. full interviews and extras on AntiguanWriter on YouTube). In 2021, the two–part mini-series on marine culture placed third in the OECS clean oceans journalists challenge. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared in the Daily Observer newspaper on December 22nd 2021:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS.
CREATIVE SPACE #28 OF 2021 – CARIBBEAN CHRISTMAS
Samuel Martin, speaker of the Assembly and colonel of the militia in Antigua, was primarily a planter at Green Castle Estate, a sugar plantation which began operation here in 1690. He was killed during a Christmas 1701 uprising. The uprising was triggered by – various things, probably, given the general realities of chattel slavery, including sexual exploitation of enslaved women, of which there were whispers, but more immediately – his insistence that the people he enslaved work on Christmas Day.
“In one accord they rose up in the dead of night, broke in and literally hacked him to death.” (1) A bit of poetic justice that the hacking was done with the same hoes used in the cane fields. (2) Everyone involved in the uprising was killed. Samuel’s wife and children escaped, with the aid of an enslaved nanny (subsequently freed in recognition).
Samuel’s namesake son would return to run the plantation in 1713. After a period of absenteeism and a return to Antigua and of the estate to profitability, a 1768 evaluation ahead of sale, eight years before Samuel the younger’s death, noted acreage at 605, 400 of which were cane lands, with 282 enslaved people, 217 of them “working negroes…at £45 per head”(2). This so-called “benevolent master”(1) wrote a 62-page Essay on Plantership, first published in 1755; let’s hope it included the perils of withholding Christmas.
Speaking of plantership, one analysis of the importance of the Christmas holidays on a plantation came from Frederick Douglass: “From what I know of the effect of these holidays upon the slave, I believe them to be among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection. Were the slaveholders to abandon this practice, I have not the slightest doubt it would lead to an immediate insurrection among the slaves. These holidays serve as conductors, or safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity.” (3) The 1701 uprising proved the truth of the words of this activist born in to slavery in the US in 1818.
The short of it: when it came to Christmas, the enslaved people didn’t play.
The Christmas masquerade pre-dated Carnival, by a few centuries. Features included music and dance; highlanders, moko jumbies, john bulls, and other characters from what we now call traditional mas.
“When you see dem masqueraders and them coming up Market Street and the Iron Band close behind, my heart does start beating real fas cause right behind them does be that John Bull. That is the culture … this is how I know that our Ancestors alive in the People.” (4) This is a quote from Gran Gran Yearwood repeated by her daughter Antigua Dance Academy founder Veronica Yearwood at the Bermuda Gombey Festival in 2018. She showed the connection, in this presentation, between masqueraders across the Caribbean, summarizing that the linkages included memories brought from Africa, things survived during slavery, and our need to remember.
(Mas origins – 2 panels from Veronica Yearwood’s presentation ‘Through the Eyes of the Masqueraders: The Intangible Bond of Caribbean Movement, Music and Mas’. Read online here.)
Other sources say the masquerade fuses traditions from West Africa (e.g. the John Bull from Upper Guinea, the stilt walking from Mali) with Western European traditions (Christmastime masquerade balls and parades).
KnowYourCaribbean on instagram, highlighting the Christmas masquerade connection between Africa, and the diaspora in the Caribbean and US, quoted a Moravian minister in Jamaica who complained, in 1812, that “the heathen negroes on the estate began to beat their drums, to dance, and to sing… (and did so) all night.” When he asked them to stop, they responded, “are we not to dance and make merry at Christmas. We always did so.”
Also, in Jamaica, Christmas 1774, “several tall robust fellows dressed up in grotesque habits, and a pair of ox-horns on their head, sprouting from the top of a horrid sort of vizor, or mask, which about the mouth is rendered very terrific with large boar tusks.” I.e. the masquerade; as KnowYourCaribbean said, Christmas was a time “to celebrate (our) African heritage, spiritual beliefs and heroes from the Motherland.”
All of this suggests that far from being ‘just’ a respite from bondage, Christmas was also a connection with the core self, with home.
Slavery ended in 1834 but the Christmas masquerade grew, until Carnival moved to the summer, here, in 1957. We don’t have the Christmas masquerade anymore, nor any kind of Carnival these last two pandemic years. Even favourite activities like Christmas light watching and “going to town” on Christmas Eve were shelved. But we still value time with loved ones, the newness of everything including the fresh blooming snow-on-the-mountain, the sounds of favourite local Christmas tunes like Denise Edwards’ ‘Christmas in their Eyes again’ and King Obstinate’s ‘How will Santa get here’, and especially the smells and tastes of Christmas washed down with sorrel.
Make the 268 CREATIVE SPACE Christmas Playlist part of your holidays and enjoy some music from Antigua and Barbuda, including those named in this piece and others.
Want more of the masquerade? Read my article Mas on the Road.
If you would like to be featured in a future CREATIVE SPACE or to pay for a (web only) sponsored post (on jhohadli.wordpress.com exclusively), BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
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