Some Things You Need To Know

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Scene from The Long Walk.

This weekend I saw Zahra Airall and Honey Bee Theatre’s The Long Walk, based on a true story. It won outstanding script, directing, costume, sound, and set at the 2019 Antigua and Barbuda Secondary Schools Drama Festival. I’ve posted my review as my first CREATIVE SPACE article of 2019.

I hope you read it.

But I’m really here to share some information from the playbill, headlined “a few interesting things you may want to know”. Given that we are a majority black country, Antigua and Barbuda, I’d re-edit that sub-head to say “some things you need to know”.

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Scene from The Long Walk.

You need to know that your ancestors didn’t begin on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean. They were people captured or sold, and enslaved from the west coast of Africa, primarily Ghana, “where the dominant nation along that coast was the Akan Nation, which spoke Twi; they would have been from Akan nations like the Asante (Ashanti), Fante (Fanti) and Coromantee (the warriors).”

reading St Kitts2

Gye Nyame tattoo.

You need to know that the Adinkra symbols, symbols of our tribe (a couple of which – Gye Nyame and Osram Ne Nsoromma – are tattooed on my body) can still be seen in the art around us and in some of our value systems. The playbill pointed out, for instance, that the Sankofa symbol (which is about learning from the past) is “the most popular in Antigua… found in many iron work, window bars, gates and fences”. That’s interesting to me – it’s always interesting to me what survived the journey over and hundreds of years of enslavement and colonialism, and whatever we call this Independence/post-colonial but not quite stage that we’re in right now; especially since at this point so much of it (language, food, mannerisms, etc.) is surviving in spite of us, and in spite of the flood of culture we absorb through media from other places, mostly America these days, unknowingly, unconsciously, but surviving still.

Fungi and Pepperpot Edison Liburd

Coal pot image features in this work of art by Antiguan and Barbudan artist Edison Liburd.

My ancestors, my family, those who’ve read my novel Oh Gad! know, are coal pot makers – i.e. potters making many things from the muddy including the iconic coal pot. Per the playbill, “the coal pot is a concept that came over with our ancestors along with the popular Ananse (Anancy stories).”

They describe the historical basis for the ritual in the play, through which a girl is ushered from girlhood in to womanhood – though in the play it’s interrupted, it can be interpreted as testimony to the ways we held on to ourselves in the lives we made here on the plantation. The ceremony accompanying a birth (something I also researched for Oh Gad!) is also explained – that too is interrupted…as we have been. “A child who has not received the outdooring ceremony is called ‘Ohoho’ until this right can be performed.”

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Scene from The Long Walk.

This is only one of the words (some again, familiar to me from my research but with room for learning) listed in the glossary in the playbill. It’s a short list so I’ll list them all here because it would serve us people of African descent to know.

African gods –

Nyame – Akan God also referred to as “Sky God” – sees/knows all.
Ogun – (of Yoruba) an Orisha, Spirit or God of Iron/Metal
Yemaya – (of Yoruba) an Orisha, Spirit or Goddess of the Ocean
Asase Yaa – Mother Earth/Wife of Nyame
Bia – also spelled Bea, first son of Nyame and Asase Yaa

Twi sayings –

Nante Yiye – travel well/safe travels
Nante yiye yebehiya bio – we shall meet again
Nyame nte – by God’s will/grace
Akoben – war horn used to sound a battle cry

Since we’re talking language and customs from Africa that may still be with us as Antiguan and Barbudan people, I’m going to recommend two resources among many others that were invaluable to me while researching Oh Gad! – the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda, and Joy Lawrence’s The Way We Talk and Other Antiguan Folkways. Zahra Airall also gave great credit to the National Archives of Antigua and Barbuda in researching her play, so shouting them out as well.

Be Innovative, Be Deliberate, Be Happy (my TEDx Antigua Barbuda blog) – Part 1

Broken into a few parts due to length

The Speakers. Image courtesy TEDx Antigua.

The Speakers. Images courtesy TEDx Antigua.

The first ever TEDx Antigua Barbuda, reportedly first for the OECS as well, has wrapped and I am one of the lucky ones to have nabbed a ticket. From the time I walked in to the sight of the X crafted from fish pot material (courtesy of Cedars Pottery) on the stage

See me nar lie? Fish pot X in progress. Images courtesy TEDx Antigua.

See me nar lie? Fish pot X in progress. Images courtesy TEDx Antigua.

– on one side of the much more familiar version of the TEDx sign

TEDx Antigua sign under construction. Images courtesy TEDx Antigua.

TEDx Antigua sign under construction. Images courtesy TEDx Antigua.

Showtime! Images courtesy TEDx Antigua.

Showtime! Images courtesy TEDx Antigua.

with a coal pot and yabba on the other side, I knew I was at an event poised, as one of the organizers would later put it, to not only bring a quality TEDx event to Antigua but bring Antiguan energy to the world. Organizers, take a bow.

...or, you know, just do what you do. From left: Colin J. Jenkins, Yvelle Charles-Jenkins, Zahra Airall, co-chair Amaya Athill, and behind her giving the thumbs up Jon Whyte, founder and co-chair Julianne Jarvis, Linisa George, and Kyle Christian.

…or, you know, just do what you do. From left: Colin J. Jenkins, Yvelle Charles-Jenkins, Zahra Airall, co-chair Amaya Athill, and behind her giving the thumbs up Jon Whyte, founder and co-chair Julianne Jarvis, Linisa George, and Kyle Christian. Images courtesy TEDx Antigua.

And if anyone has anything ever again to say about Antiguan and Barbudan mediocrity being inevitable, take all the seats in the Sir Vivian Richards stadium and don’t get up ‘til we sen’ call you. Because this group – participants of which have been involved in several quality events from local stagings of the Vagina Monologues to our first ever national televised political debates – prove routinely that mediocrity is not in our DNA. To reference one of the TEDx speakers, Kai Davis, who likened the imperative to a heartbeat, we can “do good, do good” do better, do better. It takes will, it takes vision, it takes cooperation, it takes creativity and discipline (yes, those concepts can co-exist), and watching the pictures from the TEDx Antigua behind the scenes, there is no doubting that it takes a whole lot of energy as well.

hard work

On to the next part…