Island Beat (Summer 1994)

Carnival in Antigua, art in St. Lucia, diving in Grenada, folk traditions in Tobago, jewellery in Trinidad, chess in Barbados, and much more

A striking piece by Roy Lawaetz: part of the Project Helen national collection in St. Lucia. Photograph by Chris HuxleyAntigua makes mas. Photograph by Alexis AndrewsBarbadian draughts champion Ronald ‘Suki’ King receives his trophy after winning the English Open Draughts Championship last SeptemberBarbara Jardine’s Chinee on Hold. Photograph by Abigail HadeedThe Bianca C’s stern section is encrusted with black and other soft corals. Photograph by Chris HuxleyThe king and queen of Arthur Edwards’s chess set: the late Sir Grantley Adams and Governor General Dame Nita Barrow. Photograph by Roxan KinasTrinidad and Tobago’s 1993 King of Carnival: Splendoria: Glory of the Sun, played by Barry Auguste, from Stephen Lee Heung’s band Safari. Photograph by Noel Norton

CARNIVAL IN ANTIGUA

The last week of July and the first Monday and Tuesday in August are set aside for one of the Caribbean’s great summer festivals – Antigua’s Carnival. Thousands of visitors join Antiguans in the quest for show tickets, T-shirts, food and drink, and learn the art of “liming” around the action spots.

There is an official programme of events covering ten days. But one big feature of the festival is the music of the street jams.

In 1985, a band called Burning Flames – three brothers and a nephew, called Oungku, Onyan, Bubb-I and Foxx – put out a record, Stylie Tight and Go-Go. It was an instant hit: the group captured the hearts, and the feet, of the young, and the not so young too. Then came the Country Pond Jam experience. The group erected a wooden stage and for six hours, every Saturday in July, they would jam in the hot sun before the official opening of Carnival City. People kicked up dust, jumped in the pond and got on, as they say, “kin a how”. By 1990, Carnival was not Carnival without a Jam Pond.

The best place to see Burning Flames and feel their magic is at Lion’s Den – in normal life the headquarters of the Lions Club. For six nights or so during Carnival, this becomes the home of the Burning Flames hysteria club, hundreds of people working themselves up into a frenzy to the band’s synthesised, hypnotic beat.

Once you recover from this experience, and you’ve watched the Carnival Queen contestants and the Teenage Pageant contestants and the steelband competition and the calypso contestants, you should practise the art of liming. For Carnival in Antigua is all about energy and the streets. For ten nights, St John’s sparkles and crackles with activity; groups head into town with no special destination in mind, just making for the lights. They stand around, laughing, drinking, joking, people-watching. The really skilful manage to lime outside the action spots, where they can sometimes enjoy themselves even more than the paying patrons inside.

Carnival in Antigua is also about dressing up. Don’t let visions of Rio or Trinidad distract you: New York and London street fashions are carefully reconstructed here, and woe betide you if you turn up at a Queen pageant dressed worse than the contestants.

Alternatively, head for Vegas. Not Nevada, but 20 yards from Carnival City. It’s a village of bars, eateries and a reggae dance hall. You can listen to the show on crackling speaker boxes, debate who will win the calypso crown, or listen to the sounds of Jamaica. It’s not for the faint hearted, but you can eat good food there and find new friends.

Make sure to eat regularly and drink water often – the jamming takes a lot out of you. And if you tire of the action in town, head for a beach and unwind.

By the time you are ready to leave Antigua, you’ll be humming every Burning Flames song, and your feet may be dragging and your dark shades may be a permanent fixture, but you’ll be happily planning your next visit.

Brenda Lee Browne

MONARCHS ON DISPLAY

Carnival Kings and Queens from all over the world will meet in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in September for the biggest gathering of Carnival royalty ever staged. By the time of Trinidad and Tobago’s annual Carnival in February, 84 Kings and Queens from 42 different Carnivals, ranging from Sweden to Brazil and from Spain to California, had already agreed to take part in the first Carnival King and Queen of the World Competition, and many more were expected to take up the challenge.

The event is being staged by the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) in association with the National Carnival Commission in Trinidad and Tobago. The competition itself will be surrounded by a week of festivities including float parades, old-time calypso and steelpan, reaching a climax with the crowning of the first Carnival King and Queen of the World.

The competition takes place in the National Stadium in Port of Spain from September 17 to 24.

TOBAGO HERITAGE

The screech of a fiddle, the rhythm of goat-skin “tambourines”; the trumpeting of conch shells against the crash of the sea. A broad-beamed mama and a little old man launch into a sprightly jig as spectators gather round to clap out the beat. And that smell, that mouth-watering aroma — could that be Tobago’s legendary curry crab and dumplings?

Quite likely it is; and if not, it will surely be something equally tasty. Welcome to the Tobago Heritage Festival; variations on this scene will be common across the island between July 15 and August 1. Thousands of visitors, local and foreign, will crowd into tiny villages on hillside and coast, eager to be part of the fun.

Launched in 1987 with the aim of giving new life to slowly-dying customs and traditions, Tobago’s annual folk festival has enjoyed amazing growth and popularity in its short life. From five villages that first year, participation had climbed to 19 by 1990, and if it has fallen a little since then, it’s only to keep the Festival manageable.

Festival events are organised by a Heritage Committee, which liaises with the village councils, kick-starting activities with a small amount of seed money and the necessary technical support. But it is up to the villagers themselves to decide which particular aspects of their heritage they wish to portray, and to undertake the research, script-writing and rehearsing.

The result of all this community effort is surprisingly good. Musical and dramatic talents emerge and flourish in the brief limelight. Neophyte writers and directors get the thrill of seeing their work performed before an appreciative audience. And the audience itself, good-natured and easy to please, has an absolute ball.

One of the basic principles of the Festival is that every part of Tobago should be represented, thus allowing visitors to sample a wide variety of different traditions. The fishing villages focus on the sea — aquatic races and fishing competitions in Charlotteville, a traditional boat-christening in Black Rock. The inland village of Les Coteaux, known for its own local “jumble” (mischievous ghost), produces a riotous evening of supernatural entertainment. And in Roxborough the past comes alive when the Belmanna Riots — which changed the course of Tobago history — are re-enacted with gusto.

Not all the shows are repeated each year; some come, some go. But favourites like the “old-time wedding” in Moriah and the Folk Tales and Superstitions in Les Coteaux have become virtual traditions in themselves, delighting fans year after year. Belle Garden’s evening of belé — a saucy mélange of courtly French-colonial and uninhibited African dancing — is also universally popular.

No doubt about it. Come late July, the place to be is Tobago, for the Heritage Festival.

Donna Yawching

THE CARIBBEAN IN CANADA

Caribbean athletes will be mounting a stiff challenge at this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia (August 18-28).

Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, who is profiled in this issue of BWee Caribbean Beat, was a star of the 1990 Games in New Zealand is the current world 200-metre champion as well as a strong contender in the 100 metres. Her team-mate Juliet Cuthbert was a silver medallist at the Barcelona Olympics, and

their compatriot Ray Stewart will also offer tough competition to Canadian, Namibian and Nigerian medallists.

This will be the biggest Commonwealth Games ever, with more than 3,200 athletes from 66 countries competing in 10 official sports, watched by 300 million television viewers. A year-long arts festival will climax in Victoria just before the Games with a free, nine-night Harbor Festival, featuring performers from 20 Commonwealth countries.

FOR THE RECORD

St Lucia has been creating a national art collection and museum, to make people proud of the island’s culture and environment. The programme, Project Helen, was born in late 1991.

The main part of the project is the art collection. Local companies were approached for support, artists were commissioned, and the search began for a suitable location. In January 1993, St Lucia’s national art collection was unveiled, an impressive collection of over fifty paintings from ten of the island’s leading artists.

Among the commissioned pieces is the haunting Once upon a time in the forest, a massive oil painting by the celebrated St Lucian artist, Llewellyn Xavier. A flamboyant extrovert, Xavier has for some years been on a personal crusade, fighting for the environment, and this cause has been the thrust for his latest body of work, an extensive series using recycled materials combined with original artwork.

Dunstan St Omer produced ten landscapes depicting different areas of the island, including Brigand Falls, Soufriere and Donkey Beach. Renowned throughout the island for his work on church murals, St Omer has worked in the Ministry of Education for over twenty years on the development of art in St Lucia. He has been particularly successful within his own family, as most of his nine children are artists, and his sons Luigi and Alwyn were each commissioned to produce five works for the collection.

American Nancy Cole-Auguste has lived in St Lucia for twelve years, and produced six pieces for the collection. Although born and living in St Croix, artist Roy Lawaetz has strong links with St Lucia, and his family owns two large estates on the island. He produced four paintings for Project Helen, using a diverse mix of materials in compositions inspired by local Amerindian settlers. Winston Branch produced five works, the Ravine Chabot Series, and Gregory James donated Pigeon Island at Dusk. Local photographer Chester Williams donated four photographic prints to the project.

Derek Walcott, the St Lucian winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature, was also commissioned to contribute. While Walcott is renowned for his plays and poetry, his art too captures the essence of the island. Gentle water-colours of island scenes include Reduit Bay and Causeway, Pigeon Island, while people at work and play are represented in works such as Musicians and The Holy Family.

After the collection was unveiled, it remained on display for some time at the Duty Free Shopping Complex at Point Seraphine in Castries. From there, the collection went on tour around the island, to some of the smaller communities, and has since been displayed in bank buildings and at the offices of Cable and Wireless in Castries.

There are plans to house it in the old Officer’s Mess building in the historic British fort on Pigeon Island National Park, which is being rebuilt.

Joyce Huxley

THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE

The largest wreck in the Caribbean is the transatlantic cruise liner Bianca C., which sank 30 years ago off Grenada. The ship was commissioned by a French shipping company in the late 1930s, and work began on her in 1939, at a shipyard at La Ciotat in the south of France.

She was launched in 1944 as the Maréchal Pétain and transferred to Port-de-Bouc for completion. Shortly afterwards, German forces retreating from the occupied French territories scuttled the still incomplete ship in the harbour, her first sinking.

She remained on the seabed for two years, and was raised again in 1946 and renamed the Marseillaise. She was towed back to La Ciotat, and work on the hull was completed. In August 1949, ten years after she was laid down, the ship made her maiden voyage, sailing from Marseilles in France to Yokohama in Japan. She was hailed as the most luxurious liner of her day.

In 1957, the Marseillaise was sold to a Panamanian company, the Arosa Line, and was renamed the Arosa Sky. She underwent a major refit, and went into service on the route from Bremerhaven in Germany to New York. But after little more than a year, the Arosa Line’s financial problems forced the sale of the vessel yet again. It was bought by the Italian Linea C Company, and was renamed the Bianca C. The passenger accommodation was modernised again, and in 1959 the Bianca C started sailing from Naples and Genoa in Italy to La Guaira in Venezuela.

On October 12th, 1961, the Bianca C left Italy for the last time, sailing to South America. On her way back, she dropped anchor in St. George’s harbour in Grenada, her last stop before the long transatlantic crossing. Early in the morning of 22nd October, an explosion in the engine room started a series of fires which quickly spread to all decks.

On shore, people in St. George’s had been woken by the explosion. Fishermen and private boat owners rushed to their vessels and went out to assist the terrified passengers and crew. Passengers leapt into the small craft or jumped directly into the dark water. There were remarkably few casualties. All the 362 passengers were rescued without injury. Of the 311 crew members, one was never found, and two died later from their injuries. Several had to be treated for burns, but otherwise escaped unscathed.

A British frigate, the HMS Londonderry, responded to the distress call, but it took her two days to reach Grenada from Puerto Rico. By this time, the Bianca C was totally engulfed by fire and sinking, threatening to block the harbour. A team from the Londonderry boarded the blazing vessel, secured a towline to her, burned her anchor lines and started to tow the burning, sinking ship away from the harbour area. The Bianca C was very unstable, listing, and swinging heavily on the towline. In six hours, the Londonderry succeeded in towing her only three miles. Before she could be beached, her hull plates buckled, the towline parted, and she sank in deep water off Point Salines.

That is where she has remained for the last thirty years, her strong, hard lines gradually softening as every surface became covered with encrusting sponges and delicate branching soft corals. She became home to a wide variety of fish: large barracuda, horse-eye jacks, margate, squirrel fish and many others. Occasional sharks and turtles passed by. Deep within her bowels, traces of the former days remained undisturbed: bottles and pans, crockery and cutlery.

The Bianca C is an exciting dive, but is definitely for experienced divers only. The wreck sits upright in 160 feet of water, the upper parts at 100 feet. The depth severely limits the time available to explore, and as the wreck is close to 600 feet long it is impossible to see the entire ship in the course of a single dive.

A large bronze statue, the Christ of the Deep, stands beside the Carenage; it was presented to the people of Grenada by the Italian Costa Line, owners of the Bianca C, as a tribute to their assistance in 1961. Many of those who rushed to help on that fateful day are still alive and working in St. George’s. These plucky folk would be hard put to recognise the encrusted wreckage sitting today at 160 feet as the gleaming white ship which once nosed so proudly into St. George’s harbour.

Joyce Huxley

CARIBBEAN CHESS SETS

You can find mounted policemen, cricketers and rastafarian drummers, not to mention Carnival kings and queens, battling it out in a mock war. But don’t worry: this is chess. Barbadian miniaturist Arthur Edwards has designed and crafted a special limited edition chess set with pieces that depict cultural features of his homeland.

“Ethnic” chess sets, considered collector’s items by enthusiasts, use pieces that reflect a nation’s culture. Pieces in Edwards’s set include cricketers as bishops, Barbadian chattel houses as rooks (castles), mounted police as knights and rasta drummers as pawns. The kings and queens portray local heroes, including former political leaders Sir Grantley Adams and Errol Barrow and the current Governor General, Dame Nita Barrow.

A systems analyst with the government’s National Insurance Scheme, Edwards also runs a small firm that specialises in casting metal and plastic souvenirs, badges and advertising aids. “Getting into miniatures and statuettes,” he says, “was almost automatic. It was a natural progression for me to shift from two-dimensional to three-dimensional work.”

Visitors can see Edwards’s limited edition set at the Barbados Museum. The pieces took a year to make, and were cast in ceramic with a hand-painted finish. A later set with a simpler, more general theme for sale throughout the region features Carnival kings and queens as the top royalty.

Edwards is also working on a series of one-foot-high statuettes, starting with a ceramic series of internationally famous West Indian cricketers. Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd will be the first. Although they will be mass-produced, he promises: “I will not be compromising quality.”

Roxan Kinas

A THING OF BEAUTY

Barbara Jardine has been one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading jewellers for many years. She was one of only six students chosen internationally to take a Master’s Degree in Jewellery and Silversmithing at the Royal College of Art in London. For years Barbara had been planning to take a year off from making commercial jewellery, and finally took the plunge last year to pursue her own private project.

Working at a small wooden bench equipped with all the tiny tools of her trade, her view is a magnificent one. From her loft nestled high in the hills behind Port of Spain, you can see the city, the Savannah and the harbour. It’s easy to see how she could forget the world and settle down, undisturbed, to the job of creation.

When she finally descended into the bustling city, she brought with her the fruits of 11 months’ concentrated labour: 15 containers and 10 boxes, all exquisitely worked. The first thing that strikes you is how tiny they are, the biggest measuring 6.5 cms across by 3.5 cms deep. But they feel solid and complete, and fit, as if by magic, in the palm of your hand.

Barbara spent three to four weeks on each piece, starting with an image in her head. If she wanted to use a particular flower or dragonfly she practised sketching it until she knew its form intimately and could reproduce in miniature. She begins by carving out grooves in the “female” material which is inlaid with silver or gold foil. A transparent piece of turtleshell (the “male” material) is then fitted in carefully, glued into place, and buffed and polished to remove any ridges until the surface is completely smooth. Barbara recycles ivory and turtleshell, ebony, black coral, mother of pearl, abalone, beetles’ wings, birds’ feathers, semi-precious stones like moonstone and opal, and 18-carat gold and sterling silver.

Each finished box tells a tale. Their titles are sometimes mysterious, often deeply personal, sometimes with a rich eroticism. Chinee on Hold is an exquisite turtleshell, ivory and silver box with the face and hand of an Oriental woman on the lid surrounded by glowing red anthuriums and their protruding phallic stamens. Noli me tangere (Don’t touch me) shows a woman’s face in turtleshell half hidden by a defensive hand (fending off an abusive lover perhaps); the tongue-in-cheek Pandora’s Box is dark and secretive with its silky groove carved out of turtleshell and inlaid with mother of pearl and resin lilies carved underneath with silver-backed leaves. The charming Lunchtime Lovers offers its viewers a voyeuristic peek through its rock crystal domed lid, past the overhanging green resin and silver banana leaves, and through silver louvres and fretwork to the passionate embrace of a couple beneath.

The beauty of Barbara’s work is in the individual’s response to each distinct piece and the myriad interpretations that are conjured up by her symbolic motifs and the haunting contrast of light on dark.

Simone Aché

WORLD CHAMPION

Barbadian Suki (Ronald) King is just about the hottest thing in international draughts (checkers) today. When the 36-year-old went international in 1985, he quickly took the American and British scene by storm. Today, he is a world-class player with no less than four international titles under his belt, including World Go-As-You-Please champion, a title he defended for the first time in late 1992.

That match, held at Heywoods Resort in Barbados, pitted Suki against the British Grand Master Derek Oldbury, the reigning Three-Move Restriction champion. The elderly master gave Suki a rough ride in a game of high drama: Oldbury seized the lead and soon left Suki trailing 5-0. But just when the title seemed to be lost, Suki staged an unprecedented comeback, and won five games to retain the title in a stunning tie.

Suki is also the United States National Three-Move Restriction champion, the British Open champion (a title he recaptured for the second time last November), and a former American Go- As- You- Please champion. He took the Barbados National Draughts Championship title last November as well.

In 1991 he took an adventurous shot at the Guinness world record for the largest number of simultaneous draughts wins – but not enough enthusiasts turned out to challenge him.

Suki has been sharing his expertise with children in Barbados by running a series of clinics in primary schools across the island, coaching youngsters in the rudiments of the game and the development of strategy. The clinics culminated in an island-wide school draughts tournament.

Roxan Kinas