Island Beat (May/June 2001)

Coming events around the islands

Doorway to Caliban’s Island presented our island world from Caliban’s point of view. This painting features a doorway revealing a tiny red heart: acrylic, moulded plaster, 23k gold leaf on wood and canvas; 46 inches diameter. Photograph by Harold PrietoGupte Lutchmedial and manatee. Photograph by Ranji GanaseJazz time on Pigeon Island, St Lucia. Photograph by Chris HuxleyPhotograph by Mark LyndersayPhotograph by Ted JantzPirogues at rest. Photograph by Mark LyndersayPirogues at rest. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

CAN’T MISS THIS

Simon Lee on the Caribbean’s headline events of May and June

It’s hard to get the dress code wrong in the Caribbean once you realise bikinis and thongs are for the beach or carnival and won’t be appreciated in the bank.

On one occasion I did raise some eyebrows for being overdressed, when I strayed unawares onto the nudist beach at Negril’s Hedonism II resort in Jamaica. “No problem, mon,” I blustered, retreating into the sea.

But imagine my mortification when I presented myself one perfect Puerto Rican Saturday morning last June at San Juan’s cultural centre for a performance of Prokofiev’s kids’ classic, Peter and the Wolf. I was decked out in my crispest white shirt and navy Dockers, and I’d recently visited one of the many shoeshine boys in old San Juan. So there I was all ironed out, shining head to toe, barely able to recognise myself.

But the theatre usher was entirely unimpressed: my tie was missing and it wasn’t as though I could slip a lace out of my gleaming penny loafers. I felt like the little country “pickney” in Olive Senior’s story The Boy Who Loved Ice Cream, denied his ultimate fantasy. Seeing I was well on the way to tears, the usher relented, and dipping in his pocket, loaned me a tie.

So if you’re planning to attend this June’s Pablo Casals festival, the Caribbean’s only festival of classical music, gentlemen, just remember to walk with your tie; for ladies, this is optional. Founded by the great Catalonian cellist and advocate of world peace in 1946, the festival brings together international symphony and chamber orchestras, opera singers and leading conductors for three weeks of everything — from Bach to Borodin.

If jazz is more your style in May, you can go upbeat in St Lucia, Curaçao and Puerto Rico, while in June you can wait until the fat lady sings in Aruba or at Jamaica’s Ocho Rios festival.

St Lucia Jazz (4-13 May), which has earned itself a place in the world’s top five jazz festivals, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with performances from Miriam Makeba, Ronnie Laws, Eric Benet, Luther Vandross, Taj Mahal, Melba Moore and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It’s worth going to just for the open stage at Pigeon Island with its improvised backdrop of turquoise sea, which has become as much a St Lucian icon as the Pitons. Grenada’s Spice Jazz festival (26 May–3 June) mixes smooth jazz from George Benson and Nicholas Payton, with roots reggae by Third World, Lucky Dube and Steel Pulse, and has open-air venues to challenge St Lucia’s.

But everything that’s happening isn’t high culture. How about St Bart’s Golden Hammocks Day in May, which honours the laziest person on the island? And of course, since this is the Caribbean, you’re bound to find a carnival or two. Try St Maarten in May or the Cayman Islands in June, while the truly dedicated can help the Vincentians get into carnival mode from late June for the full fete in July. If you’ve the yen for some spiritual upliftment, head to Barbados for the Gospelfest (20-27 May); if you’re in the French Antilles on 22 May, you can join the celebrations for the anniversary of the 1848 abolition of slavery.

In a region where there’s more sea than land, waterborne activities abound. May is ushered in by the climax of Antigua’s Sailing Week, one of the world’s première single-hull yacht racing events, which attracts upwards of 200 boats from as far awash as Australia, Germany and Chile. Other May races include Grenada’s Yacht Club Race on 6 May; Tobago’s Angostura World Yachting Regatta (13-18 May); and the 31 May Canouan Regatta in the Grenadines.

In June we have the Jolly Harbour to Barbuda Cruising Race and Trinidad’s Mount Gay Regatta. Fishing competitions include Trinidad’s 9 June  Teachers Whisky Kingfish Tournament, and The Antigua and Barbuda Sports Fishing Tournament (28 June –8 July).

Throughout the region, 29 June is celebrated as the feast day of St Peter, patron saint of fishermen. Whichever island you’re on, head for the nearest fishing village and join the fete. In Gouyave, Grenada, Fisherman’s Birthday is a serious week-long beach bash.

Back on dry land, cricket fans can catch some of the early matches in South Africa’s Caribbean tour: 2 May at St John’s Recreation Grounds, Antigua, one of the most entertaining pitches in the world, with resident and visiting DJs and cross-dressing crowd entertainers, and then 5 May in Grenada at the newest stadium in the Eastern Caribbean.

For unique events, check out these in Trinidad: 17-20 May , the Sugar and Energy festival (with cultural shows, donkey cart parades, festival queen and calypso competitions); 26-27 May, Pan Ramajay, which combines the best in steelpan with such jazz performers as Jamaican Ernie Ranglin, Cuban Bobby Carcasses, St Lucian saxophonist Luther François and Trinidad’s founder of calypso jazz, Clive Zanda. Last but not least, head south to Siparia for the Siparee Mai festival, a truly syncretic religious celebration, where the Black Virgin is honoured by Hindus and Roman Catholics.

Art is a door

Drawing on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, painter Pat Bishop’s 2001 exhibition in Trinidad was called Doorway to Caliban’s Island. Caliban, she argued, is the island’s little-understood “native” inhabitant.

Starting with actual miniature doors and windows, Bishop moved into canvases using plexiglass and multiple images. In July, she presents another collection in Barbados, at the Gallery of Caribbean Art in Speightstown. The theme is Kadooment. The technique will open other doors and windows to the soul of the Caribbean, as this artist perceives it.

At sea in an open boat

The pirogue is a classic Caribbean open boat used by island fishermen. In Louisiana it is the Bayou boat, a small skiff made of cypress that easily navigates shallow creeks and marshes. In both cases, it was named by the French who settled southern North America as well as parts of the Caribbean island chain.

Latter-day Caribbean pirogues are shaped and made for the rough ocean waters they ply. The hull is made up of overlapping planks, reinforced with cross beams and stabilised with a deep hull. In many fishing villages these are one-man boats, powered with a single engine, for line fishing, especially for kingfish or wahoo. The boats go out and return within the day. The blowing of a conch shell announces the arrival of the catch.

At the end of June, on St Peter’s Day, fishermen in villages throughout the Caribbean give thanks for the bounty of the sea, and pray for continued protection in their dangerous livelihood.

Doubles

Legend has it that the first doubles vendor in Trinidad used two “barra” instead of one to fold around the filling of curried chickpeas. With this “double” wrapping, he won over the competition and immortalised this East Indian snack-cum-breakfast food. What it was called before doubles no one remembers.

Don’t look for doubles after mid-day! Early in the morning, vendors in Trinidad set up their portable wooden trays at strategic corners. And for less than a US quarter (TT$1.50), they slap a filling of curried channa, flavoured with hot pepper, sometimes garnished with a slice of cucumber, between two yielding circles of fried dough, wrap it deftly in brown paper and presto, your mid-morning snack. Wash it down with cold coconut water and, as they say, you’re good to go!

Climbing Roraima

In May, an expedition of Guyanese mountain-climbers tackles the north face of 9,094-foot Mount Roraima, Guyana’s highest point, a mountain which also has faces in Brazil and Venezuela. The trek begins on 1 May and will be complete by the end of the month, though the actual climb may take only a week.

The project includes cutting a series of trails on the northern ridge of the mountain to give access to eco-tour groups, as well as documenting the flora and fauna of the interior. Aerial photos of the region will be taken before the climb. The core group of climbers, led by Rafael Downes, will be supported by professional teams including rescue boats, photographers, scientists, members of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), paramedics and cooks. The project was launched under the auspices of Guyenterprise.

Pre-Columbian find in Suriname

At Werehpai, in southern Suriname, two rich historic sites, probably pre-Columbian, are being explored. They may shed new light on the early settlers of this part of South America.

In May last year, Kamainja Panashekung, coordinator of Conservation International at Kwamalasamutu, found the main location while hunting. The importance of his find only became clear when visiting cameraman Ted Jantz was asked to light and film the petroglyphs, so that the Trio Tribal Chief, Asongo Alalaparu, could see what Kamainja had found.

Both sites have cave-like spaces, enclosed by rocks. In addition to the artifacts, including shards and even complete vases, hundreds of petroglyphs were revealed. So far, only a few “rooms” have been examined. The caves probably served as living space and shelter for Amerindian tribes. Nowadays, the old Amerindians have been replaced by unique cocks-of-the-rock (known to ornithologists as Rupicola rupicola), who have made this monument their home.

Conservation International Suriname, Lim A Po Straat 17 (2nd floor), Paramaribo, Suriname. Tel. (597) 421305, fax (597) 421172, 

e-mail: cisgravn@sr.net

Manatee alive!

First, they used fish-finding equipment to locate and count them. Now they are considering some kind of satellite or Global Positioning System to keep track of the manatees in Trinidad.

Sounds far-fetched? Not if the person behind the plan has the energy of Gupte Lutchmedial.

Ten years ago, hardly anyone knew or cared that manatees still lived in the Nariva Swamp and the estuaries of Trinidad’s east coast rivers. Heading a project of the San Juan Rotary Club, Gupte undertook a programme of observation, patrols and public education to protect the manatees and keep them from extinction. Today, there are about 20 manatees, including two calves.

Trinidad’s Antillean manatees are a sub-species of the West Indian manatee that lives in Florida and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Gupte’s efforts have included inviting Florida’s manatee experts to observe and study Nariva’s animals. The result is a better understanding of these creatures, and better information for villagers living in and around Nariva, in order to maintain the habitat and protect the animals. This year, scientists from Florida will probably be helping with genetic testing, tagging and other documentary activity for the Manatee Conservation Trust.

Manatees once lived throughout the islands of the Caribbean chain. Continuous hunting and habitat destruction have driven them from all but the larger islands — Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico — and Trinidad, at the far end of the island chain. Although manatees can spend extended periods underwater, they must surface to breathe air. They can survive in sea or swamp water. In the Nariva’s dark, tannin- and humus-rich waters, the manatees are seldom seen: bubbles where they surface, the humps of their backs, and sudden splashes, were for a long time the only clues to their movement.

The Nariva Swamp and the Bush Bush Sanctuary are protected wildlife areas, but can be visited with special permits and guides.

Celebrating the ganges

The first Indians brought into the Caribbean as indentured labourers on the sugar cane plantations arrived in Guyana in 1838 and Trinidad in 1845. Since then, their presence and culture have filtered through these multi-ethnic societies. Food such as curries, roti and doubles are everyday fare in both countries, and their festivals include Phagwah, Divali and Eid-ul-Fitr.

In Trinidad, at the end of May, Indian Arrival is commemorated with a public holiday. Mock arrivals are enacted at Manzanilla, on the east coast, with boats and costumes. In June, Trinidad’s Hindus also pay tribute to the spirit of water (Ganga Dharaa) with a pilgrimage to the upper Blanchisseuse River for puja (prayer), homage to the river (in which flowers and deyas are floated on the water) and feasting.

“. . . an interesting means of illustrating the 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that the experts tell us are here in the basin . . . imagine a tube the circumference of the Queen’s Park Savannah – take that to the moon eight times.”

Robert Riley, Chairman, BP Trinidad and Tobago LLC

LETTERS

Ronald Moody

I would, if I may, draw your readers’ attention to a statement included in my recent profile of sculptor Ronald Moody, printed in your magazine’s November/December 2000 issue. On page 58, the second paragraph refers to Moody’s move, in 1959, to a studio in Chelsea. In my original copy, I had mentioned that it was adjacent to one occupied by the well-known sculptor, Elizabeth Frink. In an effort no doubt to compress what I had written, your editor has changed my tentative speculation to a presumptuous claim: I wish to dissociate myself totally from the statement as printed. To claim that work by Frink might have been influenced by Moody seems an outrageously bold and unscholarly assumption, and one that I have always been scrupulously careful to avoid.

Apart from that, comments on the article and its presentation are unfailingly complimentary.

Cynthia Moody

The Ronald Moody Estate