David Comissiong

Four Bajan Living Legends

Submitted by David Comissiong, President, Clement Payne Movement

“Our youth must be made intimately aware of their heritage! If they don’t know what is theirs, they will be carried away by every passing […]

cultural whim and fancy.

George Lamming

George Lamming

Thus, we will ensure that African and Caribbean Studies programmes are implemented at all levels of the school system, and……. place outstanding books by Barbadian authors……. on the school curriculum.”

“The present Government has paid a lot of attention to encouraging Barbadians to appreciate the physical, athletic ability of our elders, but has demonstrated a total disregard for and a failure to tap into and utilize the collective wisdom and experience of our elders! We will correct this.”

 

(Peoples Empowerment Party manifesto, 2008)

In just a few months time Barbados will be celebrating its 50th year of Independence. I would therefore like – at this time – to urge the people, organisations, and Government of Barbados to make an effort to identify and catalogue the various “resources” that Barbados possesses, and to resolve to fully deploy and utilize these “resources” for the development of our country.

And one of the resources that I would like to identify and bring to the attention of the nation is the cultural and psychological power embedded in the collected works of Barbados’ four living legends of literature – George Lamming, Paule Marshall, Kamau Brathwaite, and Austin “Tom” Clarke.

Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke

Yes, Barbados possesses no less than four living legends of literature! Just take a moment to think about the significance of that fact. How many other countries can boast of possessing as many as four living legends of world literature? I – for one – cannot think of any! There is no other Caribbean country, no Third World country, no so-called First World nation for that matter, that can claim to possess as many as four living legends of world literature!

But being able to lay claim to these four cultural treasures is a relatively superficial thing! The real issue is – do we recognize the valuableness of the resource that lies in our hand, and are we putting it to good use?

The first and most senior of our four living legends of literature is 88 year old George Lamming, who is considered to be the dean of Caribbean writers – an accolade bestowed upon him by the great literary critic, C.L.R. James, way back in the 1960’s.

George Lamming is the author of six novels – In the Castle of My Skin (1953), The Emigrants (1954), Of Age and Innocence (1958), Seasons of Adventure (1960), Water with Berries (1971), Natives of My Person (1972) – and of three books of critical essays, namely Pleasures of Exile (1960), Coming, Coming Home (1995), and Sovereignty of the Imagination (2009).

Kamau Brathwaite

Kamau Brathwaite

Lamming’s fellow “legend”, Kamau Brathwaite, explained the ground-breaking significance of Lamming’s first novel as follows –

“Then in 1953, George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin appeared and everything was transformed. Here breathing to me from every pore of line and page was the Barbados I had lived. The words, the rhythms, the cadences, the scenes, the people, their predicament.”

In addition, C.L.R. James never spared any opportunity to bring to our attention the many profound and cutting-edge cultural/political critiques and perspectives contained in Lamming’s works. A couple examples from just one novel will suffice to prove the point:-

“Free is how you is from the start. An’ when it look different you got to move, just move! An’ when you moving say that it is a natural freedom that make you move”.

(Season of Adventure, 1960)

Paule Marshall

Paule Marshall

“Until the age of ten, Powell and I had lived together, equal in the affection of two mothers…….. Powell and I were taught at the same Primary school. And then the division came. I got a public scholarship which started my migration into the world of the educated….the elite…… which now shut Powell and the whole village right out of my future….. I attached myself to that new privilege…….. I believe that the mad impulse which drove Powell to his criminal defeat was largely my doing……. I am responsible for what happened to my brothers.”

(Season of Adventure, 1960)

The second living legend in order of seniority is 86 year old Paule Marshall, who was born in Brooklyn, New York City to Barbadian parents, and who not only grew up in a tightly knit Barbadian immigrant community, but also visited and lived in Barbados for varying periods of time.

The highly acclaimed Paule Marshall has produced five novels, four of which explore the history, culture, vernacular, predicament and spirit of the Barbadian people “at home and abroad” – Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959), The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969), Praisesong for the Widow (1983), Daughters (1991), and The Fisher King ( 1998) – and a Barbados-steeped memoir entitled Triangular Road (2009).

Ms. Marshall’s novels are filled with Barbadian female characters who would resonate with and speak in a profound way to the current generation of Barbadian girls and women, if only these novels were made widely available in our country! I refer to such characters as middle-aged Silla Boyce and her Brooklyn born daughter, Selina, whose coming of age is explored in Brown Girl, Brownstones; racially conscious Merle Kinbona ,who defends the cultural integrity of the island in The Chosen Place, The Timeless People; and the sophisticated 1980’s young professional – Ursa Mackenzie – who, out of a sense of love for her country and her politican-father, sabotages the latter’s election campaign and his Cahill-type plan to sell out the country, in Daughters.

Marshall’s novels also express what Kamau Brathwaite has described as the “literature of re-connection” with Africa. Thus, in describing a number of the quintessentially Barbadian characters in Chosen Place, Timeless People, Ms Marshall reaches back to Africa:-

“A…… strikingly tall, lean old man….. His face, his neck, his clean-shaven skull, had the elongated intentionally distorted look to them of a Benin mask or a sculpted thirteenth century Ife head”….. Whereas, Delbert, the shopkeeper “was huge with massive limbs….. He was the chief presiding over the palavering …. the colourful shirt he had on was his robe of office; the battered Panama hat….. his Chieftan’s umbrella, and the bottle of white rum he held, the palm wine with which he kept the palaver and made libation to the ancestral gods.”

Our third living legend is the 85 year old Kamau Brathwaite, whose works of poetry, drama, history, literacy criticism, and cultural analysis are far too numerous to list!

I will therefore satisfy myself with stating that Kamau Brathwaite is easily one of the world’s most outstanding intellectuals and scholars, and that he should have won the Nobel prize for literature many times over!

I will also recommend that our educational authorities should deem at least three of Brathwaite’s works essential and mandatory texts for our secondary and tertiary curriculum:- The Arrivants (Kamau’s first, Pan-African based, trilogy of poetical works); Ancestors (Kamau’s second, and Barbados-centred, trilogy); and Barbabajan Poems (Kamau’s encyclopedic exploration of Barbadian poetry, history, landscapes and culture).

And last but not least is the youngest of the four living legends – the 81 year old Toronto-based Austin “Tom” Clarke, the winner of such prestigious international awards as Canada’s W. O. Mitchell Prize, Cuba’s Casa de las Americas Prize, and the Martin Luther King Junior Award for excellence in writing. Tom Clarke’s body of work consists of ten novels, six short story collections and three memoirs, most of which are based either in Toronto or in Barbados itself.

In Clarke’s Toronto-based stories, we are able to more clearly discern the elements of the true Barbadian, portrayed as they are against a foreign back-drop. And, as Barbadian literacy critic, John Wichkam, has observed – Clarke brings to this act of re-creation a faithful ear for the accent and rhythms of our Barbadian nation-language, and a powerful visual memory.

But there are also the Barbados based novels such as Growing Up Stupid Under The Union Jack, The Prime Minister, and The Polished Hoe, which help us to understand and to come to terms with the trauma of colonialism and the psychic damage that it inflicted.

Fellow Barbadians: we will not have the living legends with us forever! Let us, therefore, show them our appreciation, love and respect – now! And let us have the good sense to do ourselves a big favour by embracing, reading, and making full use of their invaluable works!

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13 Comments on “Four Bajan Living Legends”

  1. A. M. Pilgrim August 4, 2015 at 9:40 PM #

    Well said!

    Like

  2. pieceuhderockyeahright August 5, 2015 at 4:29 PM #

    “Bridging the Middle Passage”

    Wunna dun know dat even doah de ole man ent know Commissingsong personally dat it does doan tek too long fuh me to got sumting contrary to whu he does be saying in me craw

    There is something empty and vacuous about David’s message that reminds me of the gentle brush of the skin of a lovely damsel who your arm had the fortune to touch on your way to the bar at Liberty Social Club

    Even these 50 sumting years hence, you mind flashes back to that two shops passing in the night moment, the searing heat, the electricity of the moment, gone for ever…

    As wy do de ole man wax philosophical or as Zoe and Donna might be inclined to say, express his longing for those moments forever gone?

    Why would it be these 50 years short of the island’s half century would de ole man be using these descriptions like the lascivious words of Donkey or Sanka Price?

    Because of the (ubiquitous( inability of our priests, venal politicians and renown political activists of whom David numbers in the top ten, to grasp the “what and the why” these Four noteworthy champions who fed we older folk with pride “growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack”, our collective inability to “Bridge that Middle Passage”

    Almost 50 years ago when these four Living Legends were Also Young you see how another society had a Vision which is so sadly lacking on our circumstances.

    I have tiefed dis from the internet

    “Director Ralph Bakshi was introduced to The Lord of the Rings during the mid-1950s while working as an animator for Terrytoons. In 1957, the young animator started trying to convince people that the story could be told in animation.[6] In 1969, the rights were passed to United Artists, where filmmakers Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman each tried to adapt the story.[3] (Contrary to an urban legend, Disney never owned the rights to The Lord of the Rings.[7])’

    We live in an age where these young people are assailed by MineCraft and WII an PS2 and all the rest of tings dat de ole man does only hear de chilrun are is learning well, using.

    You mean to tell me, that in the face of such issues that CommissingSong with all of his clout with the Cuban, or Venezuelan governments or with UNICEF, or whomever, could not have the VISION to understand that these legend will soon be fodder, as the ole man gine soon be and, to quote him “make an effort to identify and catalogue the various “resources” that Barbados possesses, and to resolve to fully deploy and utilize these “resources” for the development of our country”

    SingSong you done know that Government ent got one clue as to what needs to be done to get us out of these doldrums!!

    I am sure that an approach to any one of these agencies for a project to (i) preserve the cultural currency of our cuntry (ii) by developing a tool of outreach for posterity and the minds of our youth would not fall on deaf airs

    Imagine if SingSong and BIDC sought to solicit the assistance of one of these agencies (currently dying for “upful” projects) to support and underwrite the animation of “In the Castle of My Skin?” for Primary Secondary school students?

    Wunna see why we lost? And why the Grenville’s of this world are taking “new wine and putting it into old vessels?”

    Like

  3. David August 5, 2015 at 5:25 PM #

    @Piece

    Are you being a tad hard on Comissiong?

    Like

  4. pieceuhderockyeahright August 5, 2015 at 6:03 PM #

    @ David [BU]

    I am not sure…sometimes I sense moments when David would be a serious Clement Payne if he wanted to be, doing what he knows to be right and going all out to shake up Barbados but then at other times he just settles down like the old dust that this old man will soon be.

    Have you even heard David talk?

    I am told that close up his passion comes through his voice but then something happens and

    You know Honourable Blogmaster we are often lukewarm when we need to be like the cauldron of elves and dwarves heating Excalibur

    I for one would wish to be known as He who did not slumber at the stumps and gave as good as he got rather than to have be a “good gentleman” if in my anarchy and rabble rousing I brought good changes, instead of being mamby pamby.

    He is not going to starve, he is a good lawyer and people still seek him out, he ent tief nobody 250K.

    He is said to be like Andrew Pilgrim, a man who will tek on the establishment.

    And he is respected by Cuba and Venezuela.

    There are animation experts in both of those countries who would love to show their skills in animating the Revolution of the Sphere of the Medulla Oblongata of our People’s Psyche.

    He runs half way down the pitch after hitting a glorious ball and pauses.

    It is men like him who MUST “bridge the Middle Passage” with ideas that are real and not like the waste foops like Denny and Murray who love the limelight and the wordshow and do diddly squat.

    Mek a difference, the Clement Payne Building has to be entrenched in the minds of the young ones who go there on an evening.

    You more than many understand what it is to be “In the Castle of My Skin” and there has to be a way to equalize this struggle in a way that when the 5% start to see that the 95% have equalized the equation, in economic terms, then they cant laugh at us dashiki wearing “fronters”

    Like

  5. David August 5, 2015 at 6:11 PM #

    @Piece

    Understand the point you are making, if only David C would accept the challenge and debate you.

    Like

  6. Alvin Cummins August 5, 2015 at 10:36 PM #

    @Piece under…,
    “In the Castle of My Skin”; (Excerpts thereof) have been produced on stage, and adapted for television, many times. “Growing Up Stupid” (portions of it) have been adapted and been rendered by secondary schools before, and tributes, including readings of Kamau’s works have been performed regularly by various theatrical groups.
    All three male icons have been honoured and celebrated and I think they should be honoured further.

    Like

  7. balance August 5, 2015 at 11:34 PM #

    “All three male icons have been honoured and celebrated and I think they should be honoured further.”
    For what? What contribution have they made to the nation to be deserving of further accolades. Their scholastic achievements redound to their own benefit. Are their works really required reading?

    Like

  8. Alvin Cummins August 6, 2015 at 8:19 AM #

    @Balance.
    They SHOULD be required reading. George Lamming still conducts classes in creative writing. He is not sedentary and is available for discussion and consultation at the Pedagogical centre every week. Kamau and Austin are not as well as one would like but …
    By the way, have you read any works of these gentlemen? I’ll bet not. Have you read any of MY works? I’m sure not.

    Like

  9. are-we-there-yet August 6, 2015 at 8:35 AM #

    AC;

    What and where is the pedagogical centre?

    Like

  10. A. M. Pilgrim August 6, 2015 at 9:06 AM #

    The Pedagogical Center is located at UWI Cave Hill. I believe the works of all 4 of these giants of literature should be studied in our schools. They have been a major part of defining our national culture.

    Like

  11. David August 6, 2015 at 9:49 AM #

    The view expressed by balance is interesting. Should our educated sons and daughters be expected to give back out of a sense of duty? Is there a place for reward recognition?

    Like

  12. Alvin Cummins August 6, 2015 at 1:46 PM #

    @ARE WE THERE YET, and Balance,

    The George Lamming Pedagogical Centre is located next to the Earl Warner Theatre and the Rex Nettleford Dance centre, in the Centre for Creative Imagination
    To give back out of a sense of duty, still requires a national recognition of one’s achievements; especially in a country such as our’s where the ability to succeed is entirely dependent on one’s own hard work. For people such as us, to succeed, and gain international recognition does not come easily. It requires a degree of fortitude, sacrifice and pain both physical and mental.

    Like

  13. Hants August 6, 2015 at 2:40 PM #

    A section of this building could be devoted to honoring Bajan authors.

    http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/70537/carnegie-library-restoration-fund-raising-project-launched

    Like

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