I do these Quick Takes for books for which I won’t be doing a full review but might still have something to say – this is the 1st 2022 Quick Takes page. Search Blogger on Books Quick Takes or go to the main page of the respective year for previous Quick Takes.
Selected Poems by Lorna Goodison is the former Jamaican Poet Laureate in full confidence and craft and if I was better at analyzing poetry I’d say why. All I can say though is what I particularly liked and that’s her narrative poems – maybe the fiction writer in me responding to the storytelling aspect of pieces like “The Woman speaks to the Man who has employed her son” which truly reminded me of recent read What a Mother’s Love don’t teach You by Sharma Taylor (for the arc about a mother trying to keep her son out of the clutches of a drug don, while knowing she has little power to really sway things but having to try because … “she carried him full term right up under her heart”). And stories like this are an example of how rooted Goodison’s poetry is in Jamaica – and not one single Jamaican narrative, but a variety of them. In particular, I liked “Sister Mary and the Devil” which, I believe, was the first poem – eight pages in – to stand up and surprise me; “The Road of the Dread” which brought tears to my eyes as it moved from desperate bleakness to hope and humanity; “Wedding in Hanover” with its insight to traditional wedding practice (some of that different Jamaicas that this book blithely traverses, as easily and unshowily as it moves between English and the Jamaican creole – patois, as they call it); “Bridge Views” which I remember sharing with a friend because it was so familiarly a Caribbean childhood; and there were others but I read most of this on the go, so didn’t note all that I liked. But I liked enough of it and every now and again a line, a turn of phrase truly floored me. If you love poetry, you’ll love this one – in its warm tones, deep-seated sense of place, dry humor, dark realities, and naked vulnerability.
A History of Barbuda under the Codringtons 1783-1883 by Margaret T Tweedy is really an essential work for understanding Antigua’s sister island (its deep familial connections, its independent spirit, its strong connection to the land etc.), or it was to me. I’m only doing this as a quick take because it’s not really a book – it was Tweedy’s Master’s thesis, dated 1981, and is archived in the University of Birmingham’s e-theses repository. This text reveals so much about the lived experiences of Barbudans historically, even while acknowledging its own limitations, having to gain its insights about the experience of enslaved Africans on Barbuda almost entirely from records (letters between management and absentee owners, asset records, court records etc.) kept by their white colonisers and enslavers. And as much as they fill in gaps in the history I’ve been taught, they are themselves spotty – so that I learn that there was a 1745 revolt resulting in the murder of a manager Mr. McNish on December 22nd, but “it is not clear what the grievances against McNish really were.” They paid the price though – “ringleaders were subsequently burned alive in front of the castle gate”. One of the most fascinating details for me was the sheep theft – “Sheep stealing…was more than a mere taking of food. It represented also a defiance of authority, a relatively mild expression of discontent with their situation.” This was one of the more egregious crimes on Barbuda, so serious the punishments included mutilation; yet, these thefts continued. In terms of social patterns, it’s important to note that Barbuda was not a plantation society with the routines that that necessitated and as a result a different type of society was formed. There were a number of different types of craftsmen, the craft being handed down between generations because they had, “unusual amongst slaves in the West Indies”, more stable family bonds (and Tweedy called them by name e.g. The Mopps family of carpenters traced from 1766 to 1828, the Tanners who were tanners – Will Tanner was documented in 1766 and “In 1814 Quaw and Little Will [his sons] were still working together and in 1817 were joined by Will Tanner Junior”, the Baileys who were shoemakers accounted for between 1766 and 1817 when the youngest of them “joined the hunters and gunners”). Hunting wildlife being another of the pursuits that made the life of an enslaved person on Barbuda different from Antigua. The sea-related crafts (e.g. boat building, also handed down father to son as in the Beazors family, and sailing, with Humanity being the lead sailor on record in 1782 until his death in 1818) could probably fit in to this category – though obviously there were coastal communities in Antigua, but generally speaking, certainly as related to Codrington holdings on the mainland, sugar production was the main occupation. Barbuda though depended heavily on sea travel to move provisions (crops, livestock etc.) to market and were heavily involved in everything from fishing to salvage. In general, there was more variety to the routine of enslaved people and Tweedy suggests, “a gentler atmosphere” which affected things like reproduction rates and inspired in the enslaved there a “stronger sense of freedom” and “a strong tie of affection for the island which manifested itself particularly when the Codringtons attempted to transfer slaves from Barbuda to Antigua”. There was no worse punishment; I exagerrate as obviously there are things like sales and whippings and the aforementioned maiming but, yeah, being banished to Antigua was pretty bad. For all of the above reasons and others explored in Tweedy’s thesis, the enslaved Barbudan was, therefore, thought to have a difficult character. If you remember the tensions between Antiguans and Barbudans I discussed in Dreamland Barbuda by Asha Frank, you know some still have that perception of Barbudans – who remain very independent of spirit, very unique in culture, and very tied to their land, all of which this thesis provides some historical perspective on. The thesis also delves in to commerce and other activities on or in relation to Barbuda but these insights to the lives of the enslaved were the most interesting to me.