Island Beat (May/June 2000)

–Elibabeth “Pampo” Israel at 125. Photograph by Stephen ThorpeIllustration by Gregory St BernardTraditional “Wild Indian” mas’. Photograph by David Wears

Sports: Cricket Goes Disney

Mention the word “cricket” at Disney World and most minds leap immediately to Pinocchio’s wise-cracking pal Jiminy. But as of June, wooden puppets and their insect sidekicks may find themselves relegated to the boundary as cricket the game takes centre stage at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, for the British-American Millennium Windball Festival.

Windball (or softball) cricket, a gentler variant of the sport so beloved of the Commonwealth nations, is played with a tennis ball, a wider bat, shorter boundaries and less stringent bowling laws. And, like the”hardball” version, the game is wildly popular in the islands of the English-speaking Caribbean. For the past ten years All Sport Promotions of Trinidad and Tobago have organised a yearly Windball Festival in the region: Grenada, Trinidad, St Kitts, Antigua, St Maarten and Anguilla have all played host to the merry band of club and national teams who participate each year.

For 2000, the show moves to Disney World, where, from June 8 to 11, Caribbean teams will be joined by sides from Florida, New York, Toronto and elsewhere for a rollicking series of round robin preliminary matches and knockout semifinal and final rounds. Teams vie for prizes in the categories of throwing, bowling, Ladies’ and Fun/Masters. Participants and spectators can also take advantage of a tour package which includes ground transport from Miami to Orlando, tournament fee, Disney event fee, hotel accommodation and passes to Disney’s theme parks.

According to All Sport’s Marguerite Aanensen, it didn’t take much to convince Disney to host the event: the Sports Complex Director is an Australian.

Contacts: All Sport Promotions: (868) 625-0318; Web site: www.allsportpromotions.com
British-American Millennium Windball Festival
Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Florida
June 8-11 , 2000

Newsbeat: a plan for pan

“We want to raise half a million dollars for pan,” Simeon Sandiford says.

He might do it, too. After all, half a million Trinidad and Tobago dollars is less than US$80,000. Sandiford aims to raise this money with a special CD – Pan Sweet Pan: Steel Orchestras of the Caribbean – which features Renegades, Exodus, All Stars, Starlift, Birdsong, Fonclaire, and Rising Stars from St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. He says he’s going to sell 30,000 copies.

Things are stirring in the Trinidad and Tobago pan community. Although the steel pan was invented in Trinidad around 60 years ago, and is the country’s national musical instrument, it’s been clear for some time that the centre of gravity has been shifting away, to North America and Europe. There’s a growing recognition that Trinidad and Tobago has to take back the lead in research and development, marketing, promotion, organisation, making sure that the world knows about pan music and where it really came from.

Two new organisations are at the centre of the current planning by the Pan Trinbago Foundation Board. A Pan Development Foundation will channel money into research and development, training, awareness building, etc., and a private-sector Pan Company will invest in commercial projects – recordings, merchandising, retailing, intellectual property etc.

The air has been humming with new ideas and projects. A magazine for the global pan community; a Steelband Development Centre at the University; special “pan wagon” trucks for steel orchestras with full amplification facilities, to get pan back on the road for Carnival; a massive sculpture of the legendary Desperadoes leader Rudolph Charles on top of Laventille Hill…

Sanch, the record label run by Simeon Sandiford out of his Curepe music centre near Port of Spain, released the new fund-raising CD just before Carnival, and has been asking the corporate world to buy it in quantities, to use as gifts and giveaways. It contains some of the best 1999 music, at a nice slow chipping pace, clear and easy. Not that Sanch doesn’t relish the Panorama frenzy too: last year and this year, the label released compilations recorded live at Panorama finals, with all the pace and decibeIs that the occasion requires.

“But we will continue with the Pan Sweet Pan series too, as a fund-raiser,” Sandiford says. “There are big plans for pan in the air these days, and what we want to do is going to cost money.”

If you’d like a copy of Pan Sweet Pan – and add a few precious dollars to the campaign to give pan the global marketing thrust it so badly needs – you can order it from Boston (www.eCaroh.com, or e-mail EeCarohcom@aol.com), or from Carolyn Chang’s new Caribbean marketing site in Trinidad ( www.stellarmark.com).

PAN SWEET PAN

Steel Orchestras of the Caribbean (Sanch CD0001, 78.51 mins)
• Woman on the Bass (Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars)
• Play my Music (Exodus)
• Pan in a Rage (Amoco Renegades) • Toco Band (Rising Stars) • In my House (PCS Nitrogen Starlift) • Trini Know How (Birdsong) • Carnival is We (Fonclaire)

First Person: Say What?

There’s a TV in one corner of the Kiskadee office. On the screen are crowds of people in black-and-white hustling through the streets of Port of Spain like an army of Charlie Chaplins. On closer inspection it turns out to be Trinidad Carnival, circa 1940.

“Isn’t that great?” Vicki Assevero asks. She runs it again, pointing out the traditional masquerade costumes.

“I’m on a crusade,” she says. “The Carnival has been changing so fast that its memory is going. It is full of real, deep-rooted traditions which have come from different continents and have interacted with each other and with Trinidad, and they need to be understood and respected, we need to see what has been happening to them. Instead we’ve all forgotten where they came from and what they meant. We’ve got to go back to doing primary research on Trinidad Carnival and its roots, especially the way it has been influenced by Africa.”

Three weeks later, the crusade is taking shape. The street outside Kiskadee is blocked off, traditional Carnival characters are swaying down the road to a broadcast commentary, and part of the house is plastered with explanatory posters. One darkened room is lined with exquisitely detailed glass-cased Carnival dolls by designer Wayne Berkeley, 60 of them. Another has 32 gouache paintings of traditional masques by artist Brian Wong Won.

The posters trace the roots of traditional Carnival characters. The Moko Jumbies on their tall stilts, the wide-winged Bats, the scurrilous Jab Molassies, are all linked with Africa. The preposterously padded Dames Lorraines, the Minstrels and the Pierrots are traced back to Europe. The Sailors, and the Midnight Robbers with their wide-brimmed hats and mind-numbing oratory, sprang from the US military forces which occupied Trinidad in the 1940s, or from American movies. The devilish prancing Jab Jabs have roots in India, the Guarahoon in the old pre-Columbian culture of the islands.

“This is a good example of what we really want to do,” Assevero says. “We’re exploring the whole 500-year Caribbean story. This was the theatre in which the European powers played out their drama of domination. And a whole new world has emerged from the interaction between native American people, Europe and Africa, plus those who came later. We want people to explore what has come of that diversity.”

Vicki Assevero calls her Kiskadee project a “cultural laboratory”. It occupies one of those spacious St Clair houses in Port of Spain. Trinidad, she figures, is a good place for the project, being pretty much a laboratory itself. “Diversity is a huge issue. Not just in culture, but in global business too. These days, everyone has to understand what other cultures are talking about. If you don’t understand other people, you can’t do business with them. The big question is – how do we all get along?”

Assevero herself is part Trinidadian, part Jamaican, part American. Her father came from the Blue Basin area of Diego Martin, and left Trinidad for Washington DC when he was 17, 61 years ago. He became a doctor, and married  aNew York Jamaican. Vicki only saw Trinidad for the first time after she’d been through Yale and the Harvard Law School. “I’m American really, but I feel very Caribbean.” Until moving to Trinidad, she practised as a lawyer in the US, mostly dealing with communications issues, and in Abidjan and Paris. Then she met and married Wendell Mottley, who had been finance minister in Trinidad’s 1991- 5 government, and became part of the Trinidad scene.

She launched the Kiskadee Cultural Laboratory in 1998. It’s a nonprofit arts and educational foundation: not quite an art gallery in the conventional sense, more of a workshop, a place to make things happen, to provoke ideas about “the multi-ethnic pluri-cultural nature of Caribbean civilisation”. It has put on some one-man exhibitions – Jackie Hinkson, Isaiah Boodhoo – and has staged a production of Yasmina Reza’s provocative play Art. But it is looking for alternative formats which can feed off diverse experiences and traditions. After the Carnival adventure come exhibitions on the Amerindian heritage, Caribbean artists who have re-settled outside the region, drawings by painters, Caribbean architecture, Gods and Goddesses of the Caribbean, and Islamic art, as well as the work of copper artist Ken Morris, Trinidad’s Leroy Clarke and St Lucian Dunstan St Omer.

Kiskadee is the local name for one of the commonest Trinidad garden birds. It’s a contraction of the French qu’ est-ce qu’il dit? (what did he say?). Or it could be translated, “Say what?” “We made that the title of our first exhibition,” Assevero says. “That’s what it’s about. Finding out what the other voices are saying.”

People: the world’s oldest woman?

Dominica’s Elizabeth “Pampo” Israel has a strong claim to be the world’s oldest woman. She celebrated her 125th birthday last January at home in Portsmourh, and can prove by authentic record that she was born in 1875.

The Guiness Book of Records named Sarah Clark Knauss, a former Pennsylvania seamstress, as the oldest living woman, at 119. Knauss died late last year and thorough research has now confirmed Israel’s longevity. The baptismal register for the Catholic church of St John and St Lewis identifies Israel’s godmother, Louisa Frager, and provides final proof of her birth on January 27, 1875.

“Even old people here always knew her as an old woman,” says Lucien Da Silva, a longtime neighbour.

Pampo is one of the last direct descendants of an African slave. Her mother, Magdelaine Israel, was brought to Dominica to work at the Morne Talin plantation in Colihaut. She was tall and light-skinned and spoke “Kokoy”, the Antiguan and Montserratian dialect. Later, the devastating hurricane of 1838 forced her to move to Picard near Portsmouth, where she lived to more than 100.

Pampo has suffered a small stroke and is blind, though her memory is sharp and humour undiminished. Her secret? “I ate callaloo, dumpling, lots of fish, meat and crab. And don’t forget de coconut milk and dasheen either. Never eat a heavy meal after 6 p.m., then drink a bush tea. Fertilisers are making people weak.” Never one to touch alcohol, she smoked tobacco in a clay pipe instead.

Brought up with four siblings, she went to Picard at 25 and started working on the estate there, picking peas for 2s 6d a month. She became a supervisor, directing ox carts and work at the grinding mill, and organising the processing of vanilla, limes and coconuts.

Strong and agile at 104, she continued in her official capacity at Picard until redundancy in 1979, and lived alone up to the beginning of this year.

Pampo remembers her only trip to the capital, Roseau, 20 miles to the south. “It was my wedding day,” she grinned, “and we went by the estate boat.”