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Table of Contents
M. ST. PIERRE *
F. M. BIRBALSINGH
J. C. JHA MAUREEN WARNER
* ERROL MILLER JOHN HEARNE
VOL. 19, No. 2 JUNE, 1973
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
7 West Indian Cricket A Socio Historical Appraisal Part I -
M. St. Pierre.
28 Indian Heritage in Trinidad, West Indies -
J. C. Jha.
51 Odomankoma Kyrema Se -
100 W. Adolphe Roberts: Creole Romantic -
F M. Birbalsingh
108 Self & Identity Problems in Jamaica Part II -
143 Book Reviews
The Jigsaw Men Creole Society 1770 -1820 -Edward Brathwaite
150 Books Received
151 Publications of the Department
The concern of this volume, as with the next, is with the general
subject of creolisation in the Caribbean, a subject which has been the
centre of an on-going, albeit silent, debate among scholars and commentators
on the process of decolonisation. The term 'creole' is sometimes, in a
perforative sense, suggesting a tenacious hold to the cultural apparatus
of the super-ordinate metropolitan forces of Europe which flourished
when the plantation system was taking firm root in the New World.
This is a distortion of the historically valid use of the term in the sense
of 'native-born' and 'native-bred' The journal is concerned with uncovering
the shape and elements of the agonising process of renewal and growth
that mark the new order of men and women who came from different
Old World cultures (whether European, African, Levantine or Oriental)
and met in conflict or otherwise on alien soil.
For two-thirds or more of the time since the great waves of migration
from Europe and West Africa into the West Indies, the meeting has been
on the basis of conflict in circumstances which rendered one set of migrants
the prescribed super-ordinate power over another set brought involuntarily
and kept in a carefully nurtured captivity. The disintegration of the structural
arrangements that, in law, ensured an unprecedented control by masters
over the life and limb of servants did not immediately bring a totally
new life based on civilized relationship between men and women deemed
to be of equal creative potential. But the fact of emancipation did begin
the release of the majority of West Indians from the trap of cultural
dependency and help to accelerate the process of indigenisation in terms
of the creation (conscious or otherwise) of a life and culture forged out
of the contact with the realities and demands of a new environment. The
process goes on.
John Hearne in The Jigsaw Men, a review of Edward Brathwaite's
Creole Society in Jamaica 1770 1820 warns against any exaggerated
claims scholars and readers would wish to make on behalf of Caribbean
plantation society that consolidated itself in the late 18th century. The
nature and texture of a society whose energies were concentrated on
commercial profit and the exploitation of one set of migrants for the
enhancement of another had no time to create any historic institutions
or the ideas that would give to a society historic dimensions. History,
then, is not the discipline through which any claims of the society's col-
lective creative acts can be justly validated. He, however, suggests that
the very failure of history to do the work provides opportunities for
sociology, psychology and poetry. It is again the work of Edward Brath-
waite (this time as a poet rather than historian) which in fact exhibits
the possibilities and offers Maureen Warner an excellent opportunity to
discuss the sensibilities of a West Indian artist of African ancestry in
the exploration of roots and the use of his discoveries in bringing new
meaning to contemporary West Indian life. For "going back" is part of
the complex creolising of "transplantation, growth and struggle for survival
of an Old World culture in an alien environment" as well as of the adaptation,
adjustments and final emergence of something recognizably its own in
a new culture.
The "struggle of an Old World Culture" in the new environment is
the concern not only of black West Indians. Even when power and cultural
certitude rested in the hands of the European migrants, the fear of
cultural recession among the 'Euro-creoles' expressed itself, and Frank
Birbalsingh discusses this aspect in his assessment of the work of W. Adolph
Roberts whom he dubs "a creole romantic" The Jamaican man of
letters used history but he brought poetry and literary licence to fill,
supplement, heighten and embellish what history might have failed to
History and romance need, however, to be placed in their proper
perspective in view of the facts and realities of modern West Indian life.
Errol Miller's article on Self and Identity Problems in Jamaica demonstrates
the constraints faced by a modern West Indian in the persistence of planta-
tion imperatives of his native Jamaica. The need for the creation of a self-
sufficient self-respecting native West Indian personality is here implied.
The proverbial struggle has found arenas in all fields of endeavour in the
growth and development of the modern West Indies. One such battlefield
has been the cricket pitch; and Maurice St. Pierre gives an account of this
phenomenon in the first of a two-part article on West Indian Cricket -
A Socio-Historical Appraisal.
The dialogue concerns not only the black-white dissensus of a
vintage plantation Caribbean. It must of necessity embrace, as well, the
experience and more recent history of the 'late-comers' like the Orientals
and the Arabs. For as Miss Warner reminds us in her article Odomankoma
Kyereme Se the primal awareness of the changes wrought by time; the
apprehension of the other world, the problems posed by war, death, new
environment; the need to adapt, the nostalgia for the past (my emphasis)
all are basic to human experience, regardless of race." The article by J. C.
Jha on Indian Heritage in Trinidad is an affirmation of this fundamental
The dialogue will continue in the next issue of Caribbean Quarterly.
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
R. M. Nettleford, Director of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
Lloyd Braithwaite, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., St. Augustine, Trinidad.
Sidney Martin, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., Cave Hill, Barbados.
Roy Augier, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica.
G. A. Alleyne, Professor, Medical Research Council, U.W.I., Mona.
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, U.W.I., Mona.
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, U.W.I., Mona.
Patricia Williams, Department of Extra-Mural Studies, U.W.I., Mona,
Jamaica. (Assoc. Editor).
All correspondence should be addressed to:
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
We invite readers to submit manuscripts on recommended subjects
which they would like to see discussed in CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY.
Articles of Caribbean relevancy will be gratefully received.
Subscriptions (Annual) *(Subject to price increase shortly)
United Kingdom 1 (Sterling) + Postage
Jamaica $2.00 (J.)
Eastern Caribbean $5.00 (E.C.) + Postage
U.S.A., Europe, etc. $6.00 (U.S.) + Postage
Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or to the Resident
Tutor at the University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this
EDITOR'S NOTE ON CONTRIBUTORS
MAURICE ST. PIERRE, is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Social &
Economic Research, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica.
J.C. JHA, is a Professor of Indian Studies at the Centre for Multi-Racial
Studies at U.W.I.'s campus at St. Augustine, Trinidad.
MAUREEN WARNER-LEWIS, lectures in English at U.W.I., Mona, and is
a leading member of the African Studies Association of West Indies. Her
personal knowledge of Nigeria and research into linguistic and social patterns
of West Africa has produced several articles in Caribbean Quarterly and
FRANK BIRBALSINGH, a Trinidadian graduate of U.W.I. lectures in
English at York University, Toronto, Canada.
ERROL MILLER, scientist and psychology tutor now heads Mico College
for teachers, Jamaica. He concludes his analysis of the identity problems
affecting Jamaican society.
JOHN HEARNE, leading W.I. Novelist and commentator, also Secretary of
the UWI's Creative Arts Centre, appraises the role of the historian in the
WEST INDIAN CRICKET -
A Socio-Historical Appraisal
At a time when West Indians are in the throes of shedding the
various vestiges of colonialism, one might be justified in asking why is
it that the game of cricket, which is a manifestation, par excellence, of
the colonial legacy, still features very prominently in the West Indian
cultural and sporting scene. This article seeks to answer this question
by firstly examining the historical underpinnings of West Indian cricket
and secondly looking at the functional aspects of this game, as far as
West Indians are concerned.
Cricket in the West Indies was forged and influenced by the same
conditions which moulded other facets of West Indian social structure
and culture. From the colonial experience, three such facets spring to
mind: white supremacy; the degree of violence, both physical and mental,
which has maimed the personalities of countless West Indians; and finally,
the concept of divide and rule, which has so successfully kept West
Indians of different ethnic and political persuasions at each other's throats.
The first section of this article will therefore look at the impact of
these three influences on West Indian cricket as well as the extent to which
they have led West Indians to indulge in this form of cultural expression
in a manner that is markedly dissimilar to that of other cricketing na-
tions. At the same time this section will look at some of the factors
generally advanced as being responsible for the current decline of West
White Domination in West Indian Cricket
The first West Indian Cricket Team to go to England left in 1900,
and in 1928 the West Indies were awarded full Test Match Status. Table
I shows that from then until 1957 every subsequent team was cap-
tained and managed by a white or 'near-white' West Indian. With the
exception of 1957 when Walcott was Vice-Captain under Goddard, the
manager and vice-captains were also white. In the course of time there
was a dramatic decrease in the proportion of white West Indians and a
corresponding increase in the number of non-white West Indians playing
cricket for the region. However, although the numbers of white West
Indian players declined, effective control and decision-making powers al-
ways resided in the hands of the whites.
RACIAL COMPOSITION OF WEST INDIAN TOURING TEAMS
TO ENGLAND 1900 1957
Year White Non-White
1900 10 5
1906 10 4
1923 8 8
1928 6 12
1933 6 10
1939 7 11
1950 7 11
1957 7 13
+ I am using the term in the sense of white West Indians, i.e., the extent to which
an individual looks predominantly Caucasian.
The game of cricket, therefore, in a real sense mirrored life in
general in West Indian Society, where a similar dichotomy existed. Whites
were represented in the top echelons of West Indian Society, out of all
proportion to their numbers in the population. They led and non-white
West Indians were expected to follow. Decisions with respect to who
should play, on which grounds test matches in the West Indies should
be played, amount of entrance fee for games and hence profits, con-
tinued to be made by the whites. Non-whites, as in other facets of West
Indian life, laboured so that the white administrators might profit from
their (non-white) labour. Thus when Denzil Batchelor1 writes, in the
manner not untypical of the white expatriate, that the West Indian
"picked up the lovely art (of cricket) as a child picks up a game, not
as a factory worker picks up a trade", apart from the obvious reference
to the "childish nature of the West Indian", he may have been referring
to this particular facet of West Indian life which has arrogated the
power of control to white administrators and the role of hewers-of-
wood and drawers-of-water to non-white West Indians.
We can see this in Barbados, where the caste-like stratification sys-
tem, based on race/colour, allotted to black Barbadians they were known
as "professionals" the role of bowlers and fetchers of balls delivered
during practice sessions in which whites batted and blacks only bowled
The emergence of the Barbados League, however, introduced club cricket
in Barbados, and blacks were given the opportunity to bat as well as to
bowl. This explains why, for years, the only Barbadian batsmen one
heard of were white: Challenor, Tarilton, Hoad, Goddard, and the only
bowlers one heard of were non-white: Griffith, Martindale, and E. A. V.
It is of some importance to note that it was the League's decision
to have an annual match between a team from the League and one
from the Barbados Cricket Association (which came into being before
the League)2 This led to the weakening of the social barriers between
the "professionals" and the "better-offs" by allowing Barbadians of
disparate social positions to interact on the cricket field, presumably
on an egalitarian basis.
It was also particularly as a result of the Thursday afternoon matches,
sponsored by the League, that Weekes emerged before the last World
War as a potential West Indian player. Not only did the number of
clubs affiliated to the League increase from 26 in 1937 to 99 in 1966,
but the effects of the weakening of social barriers by the expansion of
cricket opportunities, thus provided the possibility for other poor but
talented performers such as Hunte, Nurse and Sobers to achieve fame,
as well as an enhanced economic position. The fragmentation of this role
specialization produced with a vengeance a number of black Barbadian
batsmen who, it seemed, were out to settle within a decade the social
injustices of decades in the field of cricket.
In Guyana, the Georgetown Cricket Club (G.C.C.), on whose ground,
Bourda, all inter-colonial and international cricket was played, was a
constant hindrance to the development of Guyanese cricket along serious
lines. This was the club of the whites and the Portugese, and it was no
exaggeration to say that the colony team usually contained at least 7
members from the Georgetown Cricket Club. Among the non-white, non-
Portugese element there was the opening pair (in the 1940s) Reece and
Westmaas, the premier Guyanese batsman, Robert Christiani, a mercurial
symbol of uncontained genius, McWatt the wicket-keeper, Gaskin the
master of inswing bowling and sometimes Trim, a truly strong fast bowler,
who played as a professional for the Georgetown Cricket Club.
These performed very creditably and for years Christiani and Gaskin
were the best in their respective fields. But for years one watched, as
a succession of light-skinned Georgetown Cricket Club Members and
their sons, posing as cricketers, represented, or rather misrepresented
Guyana. The team, of course, was always led by a white or a Portugese
member of the Georgetown Cricket Club and it took a black Barbadian,
Clyde Walcott, himself a victim of the system, to help shift the basis
of selection from one of colour to one of merit. This was achieved
largely by his efforts (and to a certain extent those of Christiani) as a
cricket coach and a welfare officer on Bookers' sugar estates. The rup-
turing of the ascriptive basis of selection produced batsmen of the calibre
of Kanhai, Butcher and Solomon. This, it should be noted, was in the
1950s, when the drive for political independence w~atbeginning to make
irrevocable changes in the structure of Guyanese Society.
In Jamaica the position was not dissimilar, though the interest
taken by the sugar estates in cricket did help to provide the opportunity
for the dispossessed to play the game with the more privileged. The
most prestigious cricket club was Kingston Cricket Club whose policy
of discrimination along colour lines managed to preserve the club as a
bastion for the whites and near-whites in Jamaica.
In Trinidad we are assured by C. L. R. James in his book Be-
yond a Boundary3 that life for the non-white cricketer was one of
uncertainty, restricted upward mobility and discrimination along racial
and colour lines. For example, one gets the impression that W St. Hill
was left out of the 1923 West Indies Team to England for reasons other
than cricketing ability or bad behaviour. Again, Learie Constantine, after
a number of abortive attempts to play cricket and to keep his job in
Trinidad at the same time, eventually gave up and went to England
where he did both simultaneously He played professional cricket. This
problem obtained only for the non-white cricketer who, unless he was
affiliated to a club as a groundsman or practice bowler, needed regular
employment in order to be able to purchase cricket gear.
The position of the white cricketer was very much different be-
cause such a person usually had a better job, was more easily in a position
to get time off to play cricket, and was generally in a better position to
take advantage of the facilities in the society for those playing cricket.
Performance There are some who would argue that those whites
chosen to play for the West Indies were worthy of selection. To be sure,
Tarilton, Challenor, Nunes, Goddard and Stollmeyer, to name some, were
tall-scoring batsmen. (It has already been mentioned that bowling was
primarily for non-whites.) However, the fact of the matter is that they
only rarely demonstrated this ability in Test Cricket, at least not against
A look at Table II reveals that the number of double centuries,
centuries and fifties scored by non-white cricketers exceeded those scored
by white cricketers against England on every occasion the West Indies
played the latter during the period 1928 1959/60.
White West Indian batsmen scored no double centuries or centuries
and on 25 occasions made 50 or more runs (but less than 100) while
their non-white counterparts scored 7 double centuries, 29 centuries and
on 56 occasions made 50 or more runs during the period under discussion.
While it is true that as time went on, non-whites outnumbered whites
on West Indian cricket teams, it is also true that since whites were
not usually picked as bowlers (see Table III) and they did not perform
as batsmen, then they must have been picked for some other reason.
WEST INDIAN BATTING PERFORMANCES IN TEST MA TCHES
AGAINST ENGLAND BY RACE AT HOME AND ABROAD
50+ 100+ 200+ 50+ 100+ 200+
Runs. Runs Runs Runs Runs Runs
1928 England 3
1929/30 W. Indies 4 6 4 2
1933 England 4 2
1934/35 W. Indies 2 5 1
1939 England 3 3 3
1947 W. Indies 4 6 4
1950 England 5 5 5 1
1953/54 W. Indies 6 12 4 2
1957 England 1 5 3
1959/60 W. Indies 7 4 1
Total 25 56 29 7
WEST INDIAN BOWLING PERFORMANCES IN TEST MATCHES
AGAINST ENGLAND BY RACE AT HOME AND ABROAD
4 or more wickets 4 or more wickets
per innings per innings
Year Venue Times achieved Times achieved
1928 England 3
1929/30 W. Indies 7
1933 England 3
1934/35 W. Indies 2
1939 England 2
1947 W. Indies 1 6
1950 England 1 7
1953/54 W. Indies 5
1957 England 4
1959/60 W. Indies 5
Total 2 44
In view of the foregoing, one can only conclude that they were
picked as administrators and as leaders. Indeed, as mentioned before,
with the exception of the 1957 tour to England, when Walcott was
vice-captain, every West Indian manager, captain and vice-captain for the
period 1928 1959/60 on tour to England was white. During the 1958/
59 tour to India and Pakistan, the captain was near white (Alexander)
and the manager was black (Gaskin), but that was cricket against non-
whites, in front of non-white audiences and not against the "mother
Violence in West Indian Cricket
We have looked at the manner in which the structure of the West
Indian Society influenced cricket in the West Indies. But what effect
did this have on the cultural framework of the islands? It created the
framework for frustration.
Differentiation in West Indian society along lines of race, colour,
class and power had a number of important consequences for the darker
skinned members, nurtured as they inescapably were in a system characterized
by violence white master to slave.
At the same time the cultural emphasis in West Indian society upon
things 'white' and de-emphasis on things 'non-white', buttressed the European
slant of West Indian society by slavish emulation of whites by non-white
West Indians. Such emulation was not, however, rewarded by upward
mobility in West Indian society. The result was frustration which be-
spoke aggression and violence.
Non-whites set out to out-perform whites in all facets of European
culture. There was the dress, the speech, the culinary habits and there
was cricket! The thirst for recognition produced non-white cricketers
superior to white cricketers in every department of the game, but as in
every other walk of West Indian life, these West Indians were denied
entrance into the top echelons of West Indian Cricket society.
Some exploded in anger and were destroyed, sometimes violently.
There was, for example, the Jamaican, Hylton, who was hanged for the
murder of his wife. There was Gilchrist, who was hounded out of West
Indian cricket by allegations of ungentlemanly conduct (by European
definitions, of course). Others like Walcott appeared to have retired from
the game prematurely. However, Walcott's genius re-appeared in the form
of other cricketers, as he coached others to greatness, and also helped to
undermine the very system which had conspired to deny him his just
rewards on grounds other than cricketing ability. But most sublimated
their aggression into the only socially approved channel which allowed a
form of violence with impunity, i.e., through the game of cricket itself.
Violence in cricket then must surely be an outgrowth of the inert
violence which has characterized relationships between whites and non-
whites. To my mind it produced a series of famous West Indian fast
bowlers. When Learie Constantine almost immobilized the Honourable
F. S. G. Calthorpe, captain of the 1926 M.C.C. Touring Team, cricket
captain of an English County and an English aristocrat, he was in a
real sense striking out at the embodiment of his frustration (and that of
the stratum of West Indian Society of which he was a part) but in a
socially acceptable manner on the cricket field. Even so his colleagues
had asked him to desist because it was felt that this would cause "trouble"
He was told, "do not bump that ball at that man The bowling is ob-
viously too fast for him, and if you hit him and knock him down, there'll
be a hell of a row, and we don't want to see you in any such mess.
Of George John, the Trinidad and West Indian fast bowler, James,
in the same book writes, "If he had been an Italian of the Middle Ages,
he would have been called Furioso. He had an intimidating habit of
following down after the delivery if the ball was played behind the
wicket Almost every ball he was rolling up his sleeves like a man about
to commit some long premeditated act of violence."5
Wes Hall was in his heyday credited with being the fastest bowler
in the world, and he took one of the longest run-ups in the history of
the game. Roy Gilchrist, of whom mention was made, despite his slender
build and relative lack of height for a fast bowler, was quoted as saying
that when he runs up to bowl all he sees are pads standing in the way
of the stumps which he aims to hit.
It is possible to argue that there are technical factors, namely the hard-
ness of West Indian wickets and relative absence of heaviness in the atmos-
phere, which favour getting a batsman out by sheer pace But Australia, too,
has hard wickets, and though that country has produced Miller, Lindwall,
Ron Archer, Davidson and Meckiff, none possessed either the pace of
Hall or the ferocity of George John. Again one may argue that England
produced Larwood, Voce, Tyson, Trueman6 and Snow. But England cannot
claim to have produced fast bowlers in such constant succession as have
the West Indies. This is so in spite of the fact that the Trinidad wicket
favours swing bowling early on the first day of the match.
With the cricket bat, violence is even more pronounced. The West
Indies have produced such ferocious hitters of the ball as Learie Con-
stantine, Headley, Weekes, Walcott, Sobers, Collie Smith, Kanhai and
Lloyd. Constantine, although he was more famous as a bowler, hit es-
pecially the pace bowlers with tremendous power. Headley, despite his
relatively small stature and the lack of support from other West Indian
batsmen, was no mean hitter of the ball.
Weekes, though the shortest of the three W's, was described after
the 1950 tour of England, as having bat with a "hammer" One particu-
lar innings of his, of 94 against the M.C.C. in the third test in Guyana
during the 1953/54 tour, illustrates this point. Wardle the slow left-
arm spinner bowled from the northern end to Weekes, who having very
early spotted the delivery as being a trifle short, jumped around it seemed,
so that his body was facing a westerly direction and drove (one can't
say pull, though it really was a pull) the ball to the square leg boundary.
The ball ricocheted off the railing, the impact removing pieces of white-
wash. Even this removal may not be lacking in significance.
Walcott, who is much bigger than Weekes, was described after his
168 not out at Lords in 1950, as a batsman who makes a bat look like
"a teaspoon" and bowling like "weak tea" He had hit the ball with such
force off the backfoot that it is said that on one occasion an English
fieldsman ran alongside the ball for some time before attempting to pick it up.
Though half of Walcott's size, it is perhaps not surprising that his
protege, Kanhai, should also hit the ball with such power. Indeed, his
innings of 251 not out against Victoria during the 1960 tour to Australia
was an explosion which hastened Meckiffs withdrawal from test cricket.
Sobers and Lloyd are both left-handed batsmen with high backlifts
which, in part, account for the force with which they hit the ball.
To be sure, Australia and England have produced tall-scoring and
hard-hitting batsmen. The Australians have had Trumper, Woodfull, Pons-
ford, Bradman, Morris, Bill Brown, Harvey, Barnes, Miller and Benaud.
None, however, not even Bradman, who once scored a century in 3 eight
ball overs, nor Benaud who hit 8 sixes in a Festival Match at Scarborough,
England, in 1957, could be described as possessing the murderous hit-
ting power of Weekes, Walcott or Lloyd.
England has produced Grace, Woolley, Ranjitsinghji, Hammond,
Compton, Graveney, Cowdrey, Dexter, May, Milburn and Boycott. How-
ever, with the possible exception of Dexter and Milburn (never a regular
member of the England Team) none matched the hitting power of the
West Indies. Rather Woolley has been associated with 'grace'; Graveney's
batting has been described as 'poetry in motion' and Cowdrey as an
'exquisite timer of the ball.'
The West Indies also produced batsmen of the calibre of Nunes,
Grant, Tarilton, Challenor, Stollmeyer, Gomez, Goddard, Trestrail and
Bayley who were white, but none was renowned for his hard hitting.
What can we infer from this record? In the first place it seems
that the fastest bowlers and the hardest hitting batsmen all come from
the West Indies. In the second place, it is obvious that these players are all
It is a well-known fact that race and colour were the principal means
by which West Indian Society was stratified. This meant that this caste-
like stratification system, lacking as it did a powerful divine rationaliza-
tion, such as religion in India, was bound to produce frustrations, which
ultimately sought aggressive outlets. Because other outlets for channelling
aggression were closed, either by cultural prescriptions (such as 'leh the
white man rule') or structural constraints (such as white ownership and
control of the means of production which supported their claim to make
the rules of reward and punishment), non-white West Indian cricketers
chose the game of cricket as the only available socially approved out-
let. In the West Indies the racist ideology which asserted the supremacy
of whites broke down as the transparency of this ideology was laid bare
on the cricket field.
Performance before an audience of West Indians equally emphatic
about violent and aggressive cricket, conspired to produce a change in
this "beautiful, difficult English game" This change was essentially one
of self-image, for not only has cricket been functional in this purely
cathartic sense for West Indians, but it has facilitated a degree of up-
ward mobility. Removal of frustration has been followed by a change
in the stratification system away from a purely ascriptive one towards
one based on achievement. The non-white cricketer is thereby putting
himself not against the white player but against a 'super-star'
Divide and Rule in West Indian Cricket
For a start, let us see how super-cricketer image compounded the
divide-and-rule policy which has affected West Indian social structure.
In the first instance a policy of divide and rule predisposed a spirit
of competition among West Indians. In the second instance, this was com-
pounded by a desire to emulate as much as possible whatever was defined
Political independence was at this time merely wishful thinking and
whites were still very much in control of the decision-making machinery
at every level of West Indian society. For dark-skinned West Indians
status was to be had by as complete an emulation as possible of the
dominant European cultural apparatus. Behaviour on the cricket field
was no exception.
The history of cricket in the West Indies, with the exception of
the period of Worrell's captaincy suggests that the West Indian team
has functioned primarily as a collection of brilliant individuals rather than
as a team of brilliant cricketers working together for the achievement
of a common aim.
In the early stages of Worrell's captaincy, the team was not selected
on the basis of merit and ability alone. Race and colour were more im-
portant. Whatever commendations came to be showered on West Indian
cricket during this period were due to the efforts of individual per-
formers, such as Tarilton, Headley, Roach, Constantine, Martindale, John,
Francis and Griffith.
In the field of cricket, as in other spheres of life, the above-men-
tioned factors were accompanied by the existence of a built-in feeling of
insecurity and of urgency. Since the darker West Indian could not always
count on merit to help him to make the team, then he was made to feel
insecure because his selection sometimes hinged upon factors over which
he had no control. In his desire to reduce this insecurity, the West
Indian cricketer placed excessive emphasis on performance individual
performance that would bring him to the top. This meant primacy on
intra-team competition and a consequent de-emphasis on team perform-
On the other hand, the sense of urgency inclined him to perform
spectacularly so that the imprint of his performance could be indelibly
placed on the minds of all, especially those who ran and controlled
West Indian cricket the whites. For this type of performance he found
a willing band of supporters the West Indian crowd.
The irony of the situation was that in his haste to perform specta-
cularly, the non-white West Indian cricketer often failed miserably. Many
a non-white West Indian batsman needlessly gave away his wicket be-
cause of the urge to please. He failed to realize that "bright cricket" is
something that is preached by whites but not often practised by them.
The position of the West Indian cricketer was like the man in the
ghetto. He is so accustomed to grovelling for an existence that when
he gets a chance to get out, he climbs on top of his brother's shoulders
in his haste to leave the ghetto. Such a situation cannot fail to breed
individualism and to abort any sense of team spirit. It is very clearly
up to the captain to infuse whatever esprit de corps is possible. This'
was not always possible where the captain was usually white and in
many instances a less competent cricketer, not worthy of a position on
the team, much less as a leader. In the period before Worrell's captaincy,
therefore, leadership of the West Indian team was usually given to a
white West Indian who it could be said was not always worthy of a place
on the team, and selection on the team was not always made primarily
by merit and ability.
The era of Worrell's captaincy started in earnest when he led the
West Indian team in Australia during the 1960/61 tour and ended with his
retirement in 1965. Worrell, it should be noted, had previously led West
Indian cricket teams and Commonwealth cricket teams, but these were
on unofficial tours and not against "the mother country"
The period 1960 1966 saw the rise of the West Indies to the
premier cricketing position in the world. During this period the four
major British West Indian territories attained political independence, and
indeed, it was in no small measure due to the efforts of C. L. R. James
that Worrell was given the captaincy. James, it should be noted, quite
rightly viewed the refusal to give the West Indian cricket captaincy to
the man best equipped for the job as symptomatic of a deeper under-
lying cause which had political implications at a national level. This is
significant because it exemplifies an attempt by a major political figure
to locate the game in the West Indian social-cultural matrix and to invite
public scrutiny, and indeed, control in an area of West Indian endeavour
which had long defied attempts to democratize it.
The status of West Indian Cricket was due primarily to Worrell's
astute captaincy, as well as his capacity to get the best out of team
members, and more importantly, to weld a set of disparate units into a
cohesive whole. Indeed, the performance of a former captain, Alexander
with the bat, and behind the stumps during the 1960/61 Australian Tour
was one example of Worrell's talents in the first direction. James (in
his book) recalls that on speaking to Worrell after the tour, the West
Indian captain spoke ot players primarily in terms of their being or not
being good team men a clear indication of the importance Worrell
attached to team spirit.
Table IV indicates that under Worrell's leadership, the West Indies
played 15 test matches during the period 1960 63, of which 9 were won
and 3 lost. This was the period when the West Indies were world cricket
WEST INDIAN PERFORMANCES UNDER WORRELL
(For the period 1960 63)
Year Country Win Lose Draw Tie Matches Played
1960/61 Australia 1 2 1 1 5
1961/62 India 5 5
1963 England 3 1 1 5
Total: 9 3 2 I 15
It is perhaps prudent to remember that during this period for the
first time in the history of West Indian cricket, the leadership of the
team was given to a man universally acknowledged to be the best man for
the job a black West Indian, Worrell. The members of the team enthused
with the knowledge that at last merit and ability in the sphere of cricket
had superseded ascriptive criteria for selection, such as race and colour,
shrugged off their feeling of insecurity and played as they had never played
before as a team.
Again, under Worrell's competent leadership, and emphasis on team
performance, anxiety receded and the West Indies became the best cricket-
ing nation in the world. Finally, even in Australia during the 1960/61
tour, despite what was generally felt to have been undue assistance by
Australian umpires to the Australian team, and though they did not
win the series, the West Indian performance helped to transform the
game from a dying sport into a viable one with increasing audience
participation and gate receipts.
After Worrell's gentlemanly leadership, followed Sobers' brilliance;
with Sobers leading the nucleus of the side which made the West Indians
world cricket champions. Sobers has, however, been unable to match
Worrell's success as a captain.
WEST INDIAN PERFORMANCE UNDER SOBERS
(For the period 1965/72)
Year Country Win Lose Draw Matches Played
1965 Australia 2 1 2 5
1966 England 3 1 1 5
1966/67 India 2 1 3
1968 England I 4 5
1968/69 Australia 1 3 1 5
1968/69 New Zealand 1 1 1 3
1969 England 2 1 3
1971 India 1 4 5
1972 New Zealand 5 5
Total: 9 10 20 39
The figures in Table V show that in the last 39 test matches played
under Sobers, the West Indies have won on 9 occasions, lost on 10 occasions
and drawn on 20 occasions. It should also be noted that of the 9 matches
won, 7 were won during the 3 test series played 1965 66/67, i.e., the
period immediately following Worrell's departure, and the West Indies
have not won a test match since the 1968/69 tour to Australia.7 India beat
us for the first time in 28 test matches at Queen's Park Oval in 1971.
By any standard this later performance makes dismal reading and
much has been said about the inconsistent performance of West Indian
cricketers, especially during the past two series against teams which at
least on paper, were considered inferior to the West Indian team. On
at least four occasions, the West Indies had half of the opposing side
out for 100 runs yet failed to get the whole team out for less than
300 runs. In the third test match against the New Zealanders in 1972
at least 5 catches were put down in one day, and so on.
The Decline of West Indian Cricket
The decline of West Indian cricket from 1968 onwards has been
variously attributed to a number of factors of which the most important
are poor individual performance; lack of team spirit; ineffective captaincy
and short-sighted selectorial policy.
Individual performance in the field seen in terms of catches put
down, poor batting, and evidenced by the number of dismissals due to
casual strokes, and by getting run out, indicate an uninspired approach
to the game. It suggests that some West Indian team members not only
fail to regard themselves as part of a well-organized integrated unit, but are
not even motivated to perform creditably as individuals. It is almost as
though some feel that the cause of West Indian cricket supremacy is a
The second main reason usually advanced for the decline of West
Indian cricket is lack of team spirit in those incidents which, though
they are not part of the game per se, are nevertheless crucial to the
maintenance of group solidarity. When a West Indian batsman was given
out against India and New Zealand, this was a signal for all the members
of the team to hug and kiss each other, in addition to offering overt
congratulations to the person or persons directly responsible for the bats-
man's dismissal. In other words, the dismissal of a batsman was used as
a means of refurbishing group solidarity, and in so doing, reinforcing team
spirit. No such comparable ritual accompanied West Indian successes on
The West Indian Captaincy
In recent times, much has been said about the suitability of Garfield
Sobers as team captain and arguments have been advanced both for and
against retaining him as the West Indian cricket captain for a further period.
Those who argue in favour of his retention, do so on the grounds that
his tremendous all-round skill and experience make him an automatic
member of the team and provide him with the wherewithal to supply
the sort of leadership which wins matches. Those who favour his removal
from the captaincy argue that he is overworked and tired, seems to be
more interested in things other than cricket, and most important, he
has been a failure as a captain and is now beginning to fail as a player.
For example, against New Zealand in 1972, he scored a total of 253 runs
in 8 innings, was not out on one occasion with a highest score of 142
runs. In other words, in 7 innings he made a total of 111 runs which,
with the one not out innings gave him an average of 18.50 runs for
those 7 excursions to the crease. In the bowling department he took 10
wickets at an average of 33.20 runs per wicket.
Sobers, it is said, has failed to motivate team members to perform
at their best. One notices the fall of a wicket of the opposing team is not
accompanied by the same spontaneous fanfare of jumping, hugging and
shouting that accompanies the fall of a West Indian wicket. Again West
Indian on-the-field performances have not been characterized by the same
dedication and application that opposing teams show. This was particular-
ly true of the New Zealanders when they were fielding. Mention should
also be made here of Congdon's determination which shone through a
very shaky start and enabled him to score 166 in the first innings of the
third test in Trinidad, in 1971.
Again off the field, it has been said that Sobers spends less time
discussing on-the-field performance than, for instance, Kanhai did when-
ever the latter had the opportunity to captain the team in state matches
during the 1969 Australian tour. A man who made 70 odd runs and thinks
he has done well might find that he is criticized by Kanhai for (a) the
manner and mistakes made in compiling his runs and (b) for not having
made a hundred. The immediate result of this type of off-the-field in-
terest was an all-out on-the-field effort "to please Rohan" This manifested
itself in brilliant fielding performances. The team spirit thus gained signi-
Last, but by no means least, it is possible that playing in the same
team with Sobers, a man who has scored more than 7,000 test runs
(joining the select company of Walter Hammond and Cowdrey) including
26 test centuries (only Bradman scored more) and who has taken nearly
over 215 test wickets, must be an awe-inspiring experience. Often des-
cribed as the greatest cricketer the game has known, it is not surprising
that this manifestation of individual performance should have come from
a West Indian cricketer. The social, cultural milieu which spawned him,
emphasized individual performance in many instances to the detriment
of team performance. Similarly, the Charlie Davis' 'lapse of memory' which
resulted in Lloyd's run out in the Guyana test against New Zealand in
1972 can be seen as a surrealistic act of individualism, where Davis un-
consciously saw himself as performing alone. Both Sobers and Davis are
products of the divide-and-rule system.
There are some, like Lloyd Best8 who would argue that Sobers
is primarily concerned with doing a job for money. Since we live in a
world in which the cash nexus is a primary integrative force, Sobers is
motivated solely by the mechanics of demand and supply. He subscribes
to the motto performance, proficiency, professionalism and pay. Such
an argument, coming as it did from an economist, is perhaps understandable.
However, cricket in the West Indies is a national pastime; it does not
stop at the level of the individual in the game, but has wider societal
implications. The reaction to Sobers' "sporting" declaration against England
in 1968, when England won after being given 165 runs to make in 215
minutes, and to his visit to Rhodesia early in 1971 bear this out quite
But the question of leadership in West Indian cricket ought not
to be dismissed so easily. It is at the heart of the general question of
leadership in the West Indies. Let us therefore look at it in some more
detail. Frank Worrell, the first black captain of a West Indian cricket team,
had attended a top secondary school in Barbados and eventually graduated
from a British University. He was also reputed to be a cool tactician,9
to be capable and aloof when necessary and possessed of the ability to
deliver the goods, i.e., to win matches.
In sociological parlance Worrell took over the captaincy of West
Indian cricket and by his role-makingl0 changed the image of the game
in the minds of West Indians and also the expectations of West Indians
with respect to the performance of the captain, team spirit and the
behaviour of the West Indian cricket hero. Worrell therefore by his be-
haviour had made himself acceptable to both those the Metropole
and those of the Colony. He was the gentleman or as some may prefer
to say the "Afro-Saxon" and he had by his efforts, created in the minds
of West Indians particularly high expectations with respect to the question
of leadership in West Indian cricket. He was like the majority of West
Indian politicians a "middle-class hero" leading a "working-class crowd"
with few traditional promulgated examples of heroism, where history had
also predisposed them to accept uncritically a man with a background
like Worrell in an era when only Jamaica and Trinidad had attained poli-
tical independence (and only recently at that).
Now what of Garfield Sobers? An ex-policeman who made the West
Indies team at the age of 18 years1, he neither attended a prestigious
Barbados secondary school nor a university. His elevation to the position
of West Indian cricket captain was achieved at most solely on the basis
of all-round excellence in the game. Therefore Sobers succeeded to a
position which had been previously occupied by a relatively educated
West Indian of middle-class background who had attained excellence at
cricket, who by his re-making of the role had created a high level of ex-
pectation in the minds of West Indians with respect to the role performance
as captain. What is more, Sobers was asked to perform during a time
when West Indians,12 some of whom had recently attained political in-
dependence while others were struggling for this status, were questioning
old values and seeking to create new ones. It was a period of serious cultural
Sobers was therefore being asked to do a job for which his main
qualification was individual performance, but which required much more.
It may be said, therefore, that he was underqualified for the job and his
employers were not sympathetic to his short-comings. So Sobers continued
to use the tools in his possession to perform the job and his employers
gradually became dissatisfied with his performance, until a number of
them clamoured for his dismissal and received his resignation.
The final factor possibly accounting for the present state of West
Indian cricket concerns the question of selectorial policy. While it is tempting
when playing in the West Indies, to capitalize on the easy and relatively
inexpensive accessibility of replacing players who are deemed to have
failed, from match to match, many wonder at the wisdom of this policy.
During the recent New Zealand tour, the West Indies tried no less than
18 players with only Davis, Fredericks, Findlay and Sobers playing in all
the 5 test matches. Of these only Sobers played in all 5 tests against the
Indians. The tendency to place and replace is perhaps overdone, especially
if it is hoped to build a future team around a nucleus of players, accustomed
to playing together as a team.
The West Indies find themselves in this dilemma for two possible
reasons. In the first place, there appears to be no set policy of replenishing
the supply of West Indian cricket talent as each crop begins to fade out.
To be sure, there is a yearly inter-territorial competition for youths as well
as fully-fledged national players, but not much effort is made to scout
around to look for talent to fill the gaps in the West Indian team. In
other words, players can only make it if they come up through the formal-
ly designated ranks. The chances of discovering a Ramadhin, turning a
coconut on a concrete pavement, are thus reduced.
Recently both Hall and Griffith made an attempt to give Jamaican
fast bowler, Uton Dowe, a chance to fill one of the fast bowling slots in
the West Indian team by giving him special coaching. Although this is
admirable it should be encouraged at an earlier stage in the player's
career, and it should be designed to fill particular needs in the West Indian
cricketing body, where there are either no established players or where the
established players are on the threshold of retirement.
Obviously this, means taking the long-awaited step of "nationalizing"
West Indian cricket so that the game in all its aspects is open to any
West Indian of ability. There should be no need for a West Indian Cricket
Board of Control (the Board) which continues to allow particular individuals,
belonging to particular clubs, to make large profits from the efforts of
others by controlling match venues and admission prices.
At the present time, the Board has the power to invite and pay
for the passages of cricketers whom it wishes to consider for selection
on a West Indian team playing at home. It should be noted that usually
other players are invited on the understanding that they pay their own
passages, which would then be refunded if they are selected to play for
the West Indies. Since this latter group of players is almost certain to play
for their respective territories anyway, they are not usually out of pocket
as their passages are then paid by the territories concerned, should they
fail to make the West Indian team.
The Board also has the power to resolve itself into a selectorjal
sub-committee for the purpose of choosing the West Indian team and to
decide, in conjunction with the territorial Cricket Board of Control, which
club's grounds will be used as a venue for the Test Match. This ground
is hired by the Board, which then also reserves the right to recruit conces-
sionaires and to fix admission prices. The right to fix admission prices,
by extension, carries with it the ability to determine profits, which I am
told, are then divided among visiting team members, the West Indian team
members and the various territorial Cricket Boards of Control. The money
earned by the last named group is meant to be used for the improvement
of cricket facilities in the respective territories.
This simple breakdown of the processes of decision-making reveals
the extent to which the power structure of this most popular West Indian
sporting pastime is strikingly similar to other profit-making organizations
in this part of the world.
The Board which numbers eleven and which is elected for a period
of two years, constitutes the ultimate policy-forming body in West Indian
cricket. The members of the Board are equivalent to the managers of
the firm, in terms of the power they wield, especially to hire and fire
players and to determine the cost of the service produced by cricket.
Then come the players. These are the incumbents of middle rung
management positions. Their contribution is directly vital to the pro-
duction of the service emanating from the cricket organization, but only
indirectly to the determination of profits. They are equivalent to the
foremen in the firm and their position of structural marginality exposes
them to the same strains and conflicts as foremen, since they are required
to please simultaneously both the upper rung management and the lowest
level of organizational participant the spectators.
The spectators are the largest in number and in practice possess the
least power. In theory, however, they possess the most power in the
organization, since without them there would be no serious cricketing
atmosphere and ipso facto no players, no managers and no profits.
Two factors, however, conspire to reduce this potential power to
a minimum. The first is that the spectators are not organized, or to continue
in the vein of the industrial analogy, they are not unionized. Therefore,
except when they spontaneously combine in protest as, for example,
during riots and in noisy ridicule of players, spectators normally fail to
influence the production of a service they help to generate. They may,
therefore, be said to be lacking in consciousness.13
The second factor is that the advertising media, which emphasize
the attractions of cricket and cricketers continually wed the spectator
to the idea of the organization by underscoring continued participation
in the latter. These two factors may also be said to indicate the spectators'
lack of consciousness and further help to explain why they continue
to watch cricket in the West Indies despite the poverty of facilities even
in the premier cricketing grounds. One is left to wonder to what use are
the profits of cricket being put, especially since it seems that much is
not being spent on recruiting a second strong eleven to fill the vacancies
created by the departure of more established players.
The second facet of selectorial policy concerns the allegation that
players are not chosen so much on merit, but on the principle of specific
numerical representation for each territory. Thus it has been said that
Kallicharran's long-awaited entree into test cricket was continually post-
poned by the Jamaicans' belief that they should have at least four players
on the team. In fact the arrogance of the Jamaican position was probably
borne out by the fact that a letter to the Daily Gleaner suggested during
the last Indian tour that Jamaica should go it alone in the test arena, i.e.,
apply for test match status. Though the less said about that suggestion
the better, it very clearly brings out the fact that some will stop at nothing
to perpetuate the adverse effects of the divide-andrule policy and weaken
unnecessarily West Indian cricket and whatever regional co-operation
The above-mentioned factors must, however, all be seen against
the backdrop of West Indian social conditions which prevailed during
the period of Sobers' captaincy. This period came soon after the failure
of the West Indian Federation and soon after the attainment of political
independence by Jamaica and Trinidad. It also saw the attainment of this
goal by Guyana and Barbados. The period of Sobers' captaincy, i.e., from
1965 to 1972 thus coincided with a period when there was much change
in the West Indian society.
West Indians began to experience the first set of post-political in-
dependence problems occasioned by new political constitutions and increased
strain on the national purse. Increases in unemployment rates, transitional
problems of change in personnel, especially in the civil service and some
branch plants of foreign-owned multi-national corporations, failure to meet
pre-political independence promises and the resultant disenchantment at
the national level all contributed to a society which saw more rapid
structural change than before.
This period also saw the beginnings of a cultural awareness in which
the trappings of colonialism were being questioned in earnest for the first
time. Matters of speech, dress, leisure pursuits, attitudes to West Indians
in positions of authority, the need for West Indian heroes and a West
Indian-oriented education system all became the focus of topical atten-
The combination of the structural and cultural changes produced
a social atmosphere characterized by experimentation, trial and error,
internal power struggles and a tendency toward intra-territorial autonomy.
This atmosphere influenced the organization of cricket and the performance
of managers, players and spectators.
Last, but not least, this period also saw the flight of West Indian
cricketers, both established and potential, to play professional cricket in
England and sometimes, Australia. Playing cricket throughout the English
summer tended to tire out West Indian cricketers playing at home, thus
reducing their capacity to perform to the best of their ability. However,
perhaps more important, it enabled English players in particular to get
accustomed to and know the secrets of West Indian players, thus reducing
the capacity for surprise.
The point of the foregoing is to argue that in addition to a dis-
cussion of some of the problems at the level of the game, any serious
assessment of the changing fortunes of West Indian cricket during the
leadership of Sobers must also take into account the changing nature of
West Indian society, coming in the wake of the quest for and the attain-
ment of political independence by the four main territories which contribute
to West Indian cricket.
So far in this article I have been content with pinpointing a number
of features of West Indian cricket by relating them to specific factors of
the colonial experience in the West Indies. Three such factors were dealt
with, i.e. white supremacy, violence and divide-and-rule. It was argued
that these three factors have conspired to produce a type of cricket played
by West Indians which is markedly different from that played in England,
despite the fact that the game was introduced to this part of the world
at a time when British colonialism was in full sway.
In the second part of this article, I will attempt to answer, in much
greater detail, the question: Why is cricket still so important, probably
moreso than ever now, to a nation of people who in various ways are
showing a burgeoning tendency to shake off the trappings of British
colonialism? The second part of the article will also deal with the contri-
bution the game makes to West Indian society.
MAURICE ST. PIERRE
1. Denzil Batchelor "The Developing Game" in Learie Constantine and Denzil
Batchelor. The Changing Face of Cricket. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode,
1966. p. 62.
2. For a fuller discussion see Clyde A. Walcott. "The Home of the Heroes".
New World: Barbados Independence Issue 1966. pp. 51 53.
3. C. L. R. James. Beyond a Boundary. London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd. 1969.
4. Ibid. p. 112.
5. Ibid. p. 81.
6. Trueman, in particular was an interesting personality who by his aggressive
bowling and humorous antics on the field of play, was considered by some
to be, at best "not cricket" and at worst "vulgar", was certainly the most
popular English cricketer when he toured the West Indies. He was, of course,
a working-class Englishman.
7. This article was written before the 1973 West Indian tour of England, which
restored West Indian cricket fortunes.
8. See Lloyd Best. "Beyond the Boundary: Each Man for Himself" Trinidad
Sunday Guardian, January 19, 1969.
9. It is said that he was capable of falling asleep while waiting his turn to bat.
10. Refers to the act of taking over a position and changing it in such a way that
expectations of the role change accordingly.
11. Sobers was actually 17 years and 245 days and was the third youngest test
cricketer in the history of the game.
12. Worrell's leadership during the early 1960s had come both before and during
the period when the colonial experience had predisposed West Indians to accept
as a fact of life leaders, who despite their indigenous origins were neverthe-
less close in orientation to the colonial masters. The period of Sobers'
leadership from 1965 1972, coincided with the beginnings of the de-mystifi-
cation of the aura of superiority of any one stratum in West Indian Society.
It was during this period also that a greater awareness of the ability of men
of humble origins to make it to the top began to surface.
13. The fact that the 5th Test Match between the West Indies and Australia in
Trinidad was undersupported, a daily average of 500 spectators in attendance,
now suggests that this may no longer be so.
INDIAN HERITAGE IN TRINIDAD, WEST INDIES
The Indian sub-continent1 in South Asia, situated between Longitude
610 and 960E. and Lattitude 80 and 370 North and known as Bharat-Varsha,
a part of Jambudwipa (big island of the blackberry), since ancient times, con-
tributed about 143,000 indentured labourers to Trinidad in the West Indies
between 1845 and 1917 A.D. This emigration from a vast country, about two
thousand miles from the north to the south and 1,575,000 square miles
in area, with varying geographical and climatic conditions, to a small
island, 1,750 square miles in area, situated thousands of miles away,
100 North of the Equator, meant the uprooting of an old culture and its
transplantation in a strange environment. Those who were aware of the
fallacy of calling Trinidad and the neighboring countries the 'West Indies'
would perhaps have been gratified to know that a real Indian element
had come to stay in this 'new' part of the world. Even though both
India and Trinidad were under British rule during this period, the risk
involved in this adventure was indeed great.
A vast majority of these Indian emigrants came from North India
(Aryavarta of ancient times and Hindustan of medieval age). Because they
came through the port of Calcutta in Bengal they were known as 'Kalkatiyas',
to distinguish them from about five thousand (10 per cent of the total emi-
grants up to 1870) South Indians who emigrated through the port of Madras
and were known as 'Madrasis' in Trinidad.
During the period of this exodus many political and administrative
developments took place in North India. The United Provinces of Agra
and Oudh, lying between 23o52' and 3118' North and 7703' and 84039'
East and bounded on the north by Tibet and on the north-east by Nepal,
on the east and south-east by the districts of the province of Bihar, on
the west by the States of Gwalior, Dholpur and Bharatpur and Delhi and
some districts of the Punjab, and flanked by the river Yamuna (Jamana)
on the west and Gandak on the east and the river Ganga (Ganges) passing
through its southern part, was created by the British for administrative
convenience. The Presidency of Agra, 83,198 square miles in area, acquired
by the British in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, was
formed in 1834 and a Lt. Governor was appointed to these North-West
Provinces in 1836. The major part of the province of Oudh (Ayodhya
or Awadh), 23,966 square miles in area, annexed by the British in 1856,
was first placed under a Chief Commissioner; in 1877 along with Agra it
became one administrative division under the Lt. Governor of the North-
West Provinces and then in 1902 the area was named the United Provinces
of Agra and Oudh.2
The northern Himalayan tracts of United Provinces consisted of the dis-
tricts of Garhwal, Almora, Dehradun and Nainital, a large portion of which had
been annexed by the British in 1816. The sub-Himalayan tracts comprised
the districts of Saharanpur, Bijnor, Rampur State, Bareilly and Pilibhit
and further down the districts of Kheri, Bahraich, Gonda, Basti and Gorakh-
pur on the Nepal border.
The western portion of the Great Gengetic plain consisted of thirteen
districts Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Muttra, Agra,
Farukhibad, Mainpuri, Etawah, Etah, Budaun, Moradabad and Shahjahan-
pur most of these between the famous rivers Ganga and Yamuna. In
the centre of the great plain lay the districts of Cawnpore (Kanpur from
Kanhiya or Krishna or Kanhpur), Fatehpur and Allahabad, with nine of
the Oudh districts lying between the rivers Ganga and Gogra: Lucknow,
Unao, Rae Bareli, Sitapur, Hardoi, Fyzabad, Sultanpur, Partabgarh and
The eastern portion of the great plain included Ballia, Jaunpur,
Azamgarh, Banaras and Ghazipur districts, all lying between the Gogra
and the Ganga rivers.
On the south-west and south lay the four districts of J5l5un Bandi,
Hamirpur and Jhansi. Mirzapur was the largest district in the plains.
The province of Bihar3 (from the numerous Viharas or Buddhist
monasteries), to the east of U. P with almost the same soil and weather
conditions as in the latter province, was formally acceded by the Mughal
Emperor of India to the British in 1765 by the Grant of Diwani for revenue
collection, and till 1912 it formed part of the Bengal Presidency. From
1854, however, it was under a Lt. Governor. Divided by the Ganges
almost in the middle and flanked by the foothills of the Himalayas in
the North, this area, excluding the Chota-Nagpur plateau, lying between
23048' and 27o31' North and 83o20' and 88032' East, consisted of the
districts of Saran, Champaran, Mdftffarpur, Darbhanga, Pumea and North
Bhagalpur in the North and Shahabad, Patna, Gaya, Monghyr, Santhal
Parganas and part of Bhagalpur in the south.
It was from these two provinces4 that a vast majority of Indians
came and settled in Trinidad. Up to the year 1870, 16,207 or 41.7 per
cent of the total number of Indian immigrants came from Agra and Oudh;
11,278 or 29.3 per cent from Bihar and 8,396 or 21.9 per cent from Bengal,
with a sprinkling of tribal people from Chota-Nagpur and the hills of North
Bengal and Assam, called 'hill coolies' or 'junglies' in Trinidad. Between
1876 and 1879 came 6,384 men, women and children of whom 46.5
per cent came from Agra and 27.9 from Oudh and 16.2 per cent from
Bihar and only 5.4 per cent from Bengal.
Up to 1891, about 11,885 went back to India; many died in
Trinidad, and after the offer of Crownl land around 1870 many settled
in Trinidad for good. It is these settlers who bequeathed to their children
and grandchildren the cultural heritage of India, to be precise, the legacy
of the 'Madhya Desh' of ancient times. This area, the seat of ancient
cultures, was overpopulated and economically depressed in the later part
of the nineteenth century. The extreme heat in the summer, the floods
in the monsoon loading to whole-scale destruction of crops, and the
recurrent famines5 made life difficult under the British rule. Rural in-
debtedness was appalling and agriculture was 'by no means an easy business
by which to make a living' 6 Moreover, the Mutiny-oum-Revolt of 1857
had a disastrous socio-economic effect on this region.
Most of the Indian emigration in the second half of the nineteenth
century therefore occurred from this area. From the United Provinces
(now Uttar Pradesh) alone, about 700,000 persons left in search of
employment for other parts of India between 1891 and 1901, while
more than 100,000 were registered in 1908 as emigrants to the West
Indies, Fiji, and Natal, and there was a considerable exodus from the
eastern submontane districts into Nepal.7 The districts from which people
chiefly emigrated lay 'east of a line drawn through Allahabad and Fyza-
In Bihar, the western districts of Shahabad with district headquarters
at Arrah, and Saran with headquarters at Chapra and contributed a good
deal to emigration. The people of Shahabad, it was said 1908, 'are
in demand all over Bengal as zamindars' peons and club men'- and many
also emigrate to the colonies' 9
Many of these emigrants had possessed land before the unforeseen
calamities fell on them; they also knew the value of money Naturally,
therefore, they preferred to live a simple life and save money to acquire
property as soon as possible so that their children could live in comfort.
No wonder then that by late 1870's the Indians in Trinidad had some good
horses which won prizes in races and the best kept cows and between
1885 and 1909 they acquired 69,087 acres of land.
E. F L. Wood's report of 1922 described the East Indians, to dis-
tinguish them from the Amerindians and West Indians, 130,000 in number,
"largely illiterate, speaking some five or six different languages" and
living a life of their own.10 What Wood really missed was the fundamental
unity in apparent diversities a legacy from India. 'Illiteracy' here meant
'devoid of English education' but this again was a legacy from U. P and
Bihar where western education in the rural areas was suspected up to the
end of the nineteenth century as leading to conversion to Christianity
Exclusiveness was a result of the exigencies of the situation.
The proportion of Hindus to the Muslims in Trinidad in the last
decade of the nineteenth century was approximately the same as in U. P
and Bihar at this time. In 1893 Comins noted that in 1891, 85.90 per
cent of the non-Christian Indians were Hindus and 13.44 per cent Muham-
madans. According to the 1901 census of India 85 per cent of the popula-
tion in U. P were Hindus and 14 per cent Muslims and in Shahabad (in
Bihar) 92.7 per cent Hindus and 7.3 per cent Muslims.
Religion has always been the core of Indian culture and the religious
philosophy has occupied a central place in the Indian way of life. To
the Indians who emigrated to far-off lands religion was a great sustainer
and at times a tranquilizer.
The Indian Muslims brought to Trinidad their scripture, the Qoran
('Recital'), the infallible word of Allah (God), containing the creed and
the proper pattern of life, believed to have been revealed to the Prophet
Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel. Even now the reading of the Qoran
and offering of namaj (prayer) is a must with the devout Muslims. Islam
is a brotherhood, all the faithful being equal before God. But in Indian
conditions a sort of social hierarchy had been created in the Muslim
The shias brought the festival of Muharram. The Tazia procession
(Husain or Hose) was the biggest festival in which Hindus also participated.
In fact, from 1850's"1 this festival became the annual demonstration of
Indian national feeling which culminated in the Hose Riots of San
Fernando in 1884. A big flag is raised at the start of the ceremony and
the tazias (replicas of the tombs of Hasan and Husain, grandchildren of
prophet Mohammed) are led by specially trained moon dancers to the
accompaniment of drum beating and 'gatka' (stick) fighting. In the past
fire rod dancing was also done, twirling a twelve foot pole with flaming
rags secured to either end.12 Even non-Indians have been taking part in
the procession. Like the Muharram, Idul-fitra and Sab-e-Barat are celebrated
in Trinidad in the same way as in India. The Hindu festival of Shiva-ratri
has some similarity to the latter Muslim festival.
Smaller mosques were built as soon as some Muslims in Trinidad
could afford to have them. Today the St. Joseph mosque and the Nur-e-
Islam mosque in San Juan are beautiful structures, serving as religious and
cultural centres for the Muslim community.
There is evidence of some Christians having come from India,
especially from the Malabar coast; many Indian Christians in Trinidad,
however, have been converts from the Hindu and Muslim communities.
Many of such converts still retain their hereditary respect for the Hindu
or Muslim way of life. A few churches, like the Susamachar Presbyterian
in San Fernando, established in early 1870's are visited mainly by the
Indians. Hindus participate in the festivities of Christmas and offer oil
and even bracelets to the image of Virgin Mary (Sipari M5) at Siparia.13
The relationship between the Muslims on the one hand and the
Hindus on the other has been, on the whole, cordial. In the United Provinces
and Bihar where a rapprochement had taken place between the two
religions in medieval times, the same sort of co-existence could be seen
in the early nineteenth century. The cult of Satyapir and the veneration
of Muslim Sufi saints in North India symbolized this cordial relationship
since the mediaeval times. Muslim separatism culminating in the partition
of the sub-continent was a much later development.
Hinduism has no established church nor one prophet and it may
be called a commonwealth of varying sects and beliefs. The Hindu immi-
grants in Trinidad brought almost all the intellectual, metaphysical and
ritualistic traditions of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But in the early days
of indenture they pursued their religious practices modestly. There was no
big festival or community yajnas neither 'swinging festival' nor the
birthday of any god was observed on a big scale. But by the early
1860's Hindu temples were built, priests were engaged and in early 1880s
the south Indian fire walking ceremony became so popular that regulations
were issued by a frightened Government to curb the processions.
Today the Vedic tradition of Yajna (fire-sacrifice) homa and
havan can be seen in many Hindu homes. The Upanishadic (Vedantic)
tradition of jnana (knowledge througipmeditation) and the bhakti (devotion)
tradition of Shrimadbhagvadgita is also known. The Varnashram dharma
(ordained duties of the four classes of the people Brahman, Kshatriya,
Vaishya and the Shudra) and the four stages of life (Bralimacharya,
Garhasthya, Vanaprastha and Sanyas), and the four goals of life dharma
(righteousness), artha (vocation), kama fulfilment of desires) and moksha
(release from the cycle of births and deaths), and the theories of reincarna
tion, the karma and samsara (transmigration of soul) -are known to
many elderly people.14 The Puranic belief in the triad of gods Brahma,
the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva (Mahesh), the destroyer
the three manifestations of the Supreme Brahman (God) is retained
by the majority of Hindus.
J. H. Collens in 188815 referred to the mythological, philosophical
and theological works which the Hindus in Trinidad respected. Even now
the pandits (priests) and older Hindus in general, know the traditional
cosmic chronology divided into the four epochs Krita or Satya (golden),
Treta, ending with the events of the Ramayana, Dwapar, ending with
the age of Krishna, and Kaliyuga (dark age) which is continuing. Indeed,
the religion of the Hindus has a very long tradition, from the animism
of the Indus-Valley Civilisation through the Shruti (heard), Smriti (remem-
bered) literature, the two epics (the Ramayana of Valmiki and the
Mahabharata of Vylsa) and the eighteen Puranas to the medieval bhakti
(devotional) movement and the reformation movements of modern times,
and all these stages of development are familiar to the priests and some
of the older members of the Hindu community in Trinidad.
A puja (worship) is either an individual affair like sandhyavandan
in which the mentras (hymns) from Rig-Veda and Yajur-Veda are chanted
or a community or congregational affair in a temple or a hall or a pandal
like the reading of Bhagavat or Shiva Purana in Sanskrit or the Ramayana
of Tulsidas in old Hindi (Awadhi). On the festival days special pujas are
done in honour of a deity; some pujas, on the other hand, are done
on the fulfilment of some wish for which a ceremony had been promised
(manauti done). God Mahabir (Hanuman) is worshipped to ward off danger,
Goddess Saraswati for learning, Goddess Lakshmi for wealth and Sun God
Surya Narayan for warding off diseases. The worship of Kali is only con-
fined to a smaller section because it involves the sacrifice of goat.16
As in North India, a few devotees of Shiva or Vishnu, usually of
the higher caste, have the Shiva-linga (stone emblem of Shiva) or the
marble image of some god in the house and they worship these deities
daily; special pujas are, however, done on the occasion of Shiva-ratri or
in honour of the two most popular incarnations of Vishnu, Rama and
The most popular festival of the Hindus in Trinidad is Diwali
(festival of lights) to commemorate the home-coming of Rama to Ayodhya
in the Fyzabad district after slaying the demon Raven and rescuing Sita.
In the late nineteenth century a Trinidad newspaper called it the 'Deliwarri-
AHAMAWAS' (Diwari-Amawas), a Hindu 'feast' when all the houses and
places of business 'were illuminated with tiny tapers and Chirag (little
earthenware bowls filled with coconut oil and having cotton wicks lighted).
and plantain and banana trees were used the decorations, lights being
suspended from the leaves'.17 Arches were also erected and lights were
fixed on them. Tunapuna Hindu Temple was skilfully decorated and
illuminated. During the last four or five years the celebration is done on
a national and lavish scale.
The worship of Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, is done in many
Hindu homes: the image of the goddess is washed in milk or water,
prasad (offering) offered and bhajan (devotional songs) sung in her honour.
Of late one of the most popular songs is 'Jai Lakshmi Mata' Floor-washing
(lipe) with gobar (cow-dung) is still done in some ordinary houses, but
the special treatment of cows and bulls with a herbal mixture (pakheba)
is almost forgotten. So has disappeared the Bhratridwitiya (Bhai-Duja)
when the sister performs a ceremony to wish a long life to her brother.
The bon-fire and a candle on a bamboo near the entrance of the courtyard
are also not seen on the Divali night. But the lighting of the yam-diya
(big clay wick) to ward off evil spirits, the lighting of thousands of smaller
diyas on bamboo pieces and the distribution of sweets are even now the
special features of the festival.18
Phagawa (Holi or Hori), the spring festival of India,19 continues to
be another very important festival in Trinidad, even though there is no
spring season here. The Hori or Kabira songs sung to the accompaniment
of dholak (small drum), jhal or majira and sometimes harmonium, are
the same which were brought from U. P and West Bihar, For example,
'Panghat ni j5 panghat na ji, chhaila abir marel,' (Do not go to the
bank of the river, for the boy (Krishna) throws colour). The Chowtal
singing competition and throwing of dry colour or plain white powder or
coloured water continue to be the main items of the celebration. The
legends connected with demoness Holika, Bhatka Prahlad and demon
Hiranyakashyapu as well as those of the demoness Putana and Lard
Krishna are known to many Hindus of Trinidad and in their songs they
commemorate the sporting of Krishna and Radha on the one hand and
Rama and Sita on the other.
The other important Hindu festivals of Trinidad are the birthdays of
Rama (Ramanavami) in the Hindu month of Chaita (March April)
Krishnastami (Janmastami) in Bhadava (about August), the wedding night
of Shiva (Shiva-ratri) in Migha (February March) and Katik-ke-nahan
('ceremonial bathing in the month of Kartik' or October November).20
Bathing in the sea, the devotees believe, will get them almost the same
boon as bathing in the Ganga river.
A jhandi (small triangular flag) is put on a green bamboo and planted
near the house where the puja is held. The most popular puja is that of
Satyanarayan (Satyadeo) perhaps as popular as in the rural areas of U. P
and Bihar. The Katha of this God of Truth is said in Sanskrit, Hindi and
English by the priest and a white flag is hung in his honour. A red flag
is hung in honour of Mahavir (Hanuman), a yellowone in honour of goddess
Lakshmi or Durga and sometimes in honour of Krishna. Unfurling of a
black flag in honour of Goddess Kali is now a very rare thing.
The making of vedi (altar), putting of a 'kalsa' (Kalash) with water
and mnrapallava (mango-twig), offering of ghee (clarified butter) and some
pieces of mango wood, irati (sacred fire with camphor), guru-puja (respect-
ful offering to the priest-teacher) dakshina (in cash) and sidha (in kind,
usually rice and dal) uttering of significant syllables (Pranava) like 'Om'
frequently, chanting of the famous Gayatri mantra of Rig-Veda, the making
of the sacred sign of swastika, and the invocation of Ganesh (elephant-faced
God) in the beginning of a puja these are the same in Trinidad Hindu
puja and have havan as have been done in North India for ages.21
The pujas of the Kabirpanth and Shewnarainpanth are different
from the Sanatani and Arya Yajna (Jag), but the teachings of Kabir Das
(1440 1518 A.D.) of Banaras and of Swami Shiva Narayan of the
Kanpur area of U. P of the eighteenth century are very much based on
the Vedanta. Their opposition to the caste-system and some rituals is a
legacy of the religious reformation movements which started with Gautam
Buddha in Bihar in the sixth century B. C. The sakhis (poems) of Kabir and
Guru-Aryas (Guru Grantha) of Shiva Narayan in old Hindi are read at
the respective congregations in Trinidad. The Aughar-panthis or Kanphata
yogis, the followers of Guru Gorakh Nath, were seen in Trinidad by Comins
towards the end of the last century, but now only one or two of them
can be found. The old jyotishis (astrologers) and palmists have also dis-
appeared and now the Hindus have to rely on a few old pandits who can
consult the patras (panchinga) and tell the planetary positions.
In the field of music, dance and drama the Indians brought to
Trinidad the classical as well as folk music,22 but the classical forms
like Bhairavi sung in early dawn have almost disappeared. Hori, Jhumar,
dhrupad and basant forms are sung at the time of phagawa (Holi). Thumri
and Gazal are also heard sometimes. Birha, rasiya and Alha-Udal (Rudal),
the ballads from North India, are now disappearing. But the singing of
the Ramayana and other bhajans are still very popular. Among the musical
instruments, sarangi, sitar,23 dholak ('a small barrel-shaped drum which is
struck sharply and rhythmically with the fingers at one end and the
palm of the hand at the other'), tabla, harmonium, dand-tala, Kartal, etc.
are still popular.24 But the tassa and dhap and other drums are used
on special occasions only.
Indrasabha,25 Raja Harishchandra26, Gopichand27 and Sarwarneer
were very popular dance dramas at one time among Indians of Trinidad.
So were the Ramaleela, Krishnaleela and Rasmandal28 dance dramas. Now
Indian films and their songs have almost killed these traditional shows.
What one finds on the television, radio and social gatherings is an imitation
of popular Hindi film singers' renderings. Now there are local Rafi, Lalat,
Mukesh and others those whose voice resembles the artistes of those names
from Bombay.29 Lalchan Singh is the local Rafi who won the prize of a
Toyota car on the Mastana Bahar Indian Programme on the Trinidad and
Tobago Television recently N. Ramaya is an accomplished violin player.
Indian musical tradition has influenced the band music also. Many
popular Indian tunes are rendered on the steel band. There are more
than one hundred registered Indian orchestras in Trinidad at the moment
and the Raymond family renders popular tunes from Hindi films into
Caste is an all-India phenomenon,30 but a few castes can be found
only in certain areas. The first reference to the chaturvarnya (four orders)
is found in the Purush-sukta of the Rig-Veda of the mid-second millennium
B.C "When they divided the primeval being (Purusha). the Brahman
was his mouth, the Rajanya became his arms, the Vaishya was his thighs,
and from his feet sprang the Shudra" In course of time, this system
based on colour and professions, became very rigid and endogamous,
with hundreds of sub-caste (jati), and the association between caste and
traditional occupation got disturbed many cases. According the
Indian Census of 1901 there were about 2,378 tribes and castes in India,
the most numerous being the Brahman (fourteen million) and the next
two in number being chamar (eleven million) and Rajput (nearly ten
Because of the crossing of the seas (Kala-pani) or black water,
the community dining on the boats and in the plantations as well as the
same type of manual work done by members of all castes,31 the Indians
in the early period found it difficult to maintain the high and low status
and touch-me-notism32 of the society of their origin.
The caste panchayat (tribunal) was broken down. But gradually with the
village settlements coming up, the professional distribution and specialization
was done. Thus the kumhar (potter) took to pottery, nau (barber) to
his traditional work, teli (oil-processor) to his own, the brahman to teaching
and priesthood, bania (grocer) to grocery, and ahir or goala to cattle rearing
and cultivation. The mallah took to fish and crab catching and the
chamar would beat drums at festivals. Many of the Rajputs (kshatriyas)
had lost their land India due to the faulty land revenue policy of the
British and now they again became landholders. Besides these castes,
Koiris, Kurmis and Kahara who had been good cultivators in U.P. and
Bihar took to their old profession here. Among the untouchables, chamars
and Dusadhs and Pasis had been most numerous and hardworking. Many
of the chamars and Mahars had been cultivators in U. P and many were in
the Bengal Native army. Following the unsettled state of U. P and Bihar
during and after the Mutiny of 1857 many of these as a few high-caste
displaced people emigrated to Trinidad. Strangely enough, the word
chamar Trinidad is not used for shoe-makers and drummers only. but
for any untouchable.
Endogamy was observed among the highcaste Indians of Trinidad
and inter-caste marriage was frowned upon for quite some time, but of
late intermarriages between the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas rather
common. The marriage between a high-caste girl and a low-caste boy
(pratiloma) is. however, still looked down upon.
The old professional division or craft exclusiveness changed in course
time in India as in Trinidad. and the process of 'sanskritization'33 led
to the elevation of many lower class people to the higher castes. Collens
refers to some brahmans and Sadhus investing the lower caste rich people
with Kanthi and even 'cord' (Janeu) on payment of good fees.34 The same
process could be seen North India in the early twentieth century
Now a brahman or Kshatriya by birth selling provision or fishing is not
From very early times the caste system had been attacked by some
reformers in the areas of the origin of the vast majority of Indian immi-
grants. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century caste Sabhas
U. P and Bihar tried to reform the way of life in their respective castes.
Tables 8 and 9 in Weller's The East Indian Indentures in Trinidad
gives the break-up of the immigrants caste-wise in 1879 80 and 1889 90.
In the first table there arc 648 Muslims, 294 Rajputs, 294 chamars. 255
Ahirs and Sadgopes (reformed Ahirs). 175 Brahmans and 128 Kahars:
in the second 647 chamars, 355 Muslims, 275 Ahirs and Sadgopes, 268
Rajputs, 157 Koiris, 144 Kahars and 129 Kurmis. The number of other
castes is minimal. Even the high-caste people would have most cases
belonged to the agricultural profession.34 Indeed. the Indian emigrants to
Trinidad did not represent the cross-section of North Indian society;
vast majority of them belonged to the labouring class. They were not from
one caste and one locality either. In the early days, therefore, the houses
and the way of life were not of one pattern small houses with mud-
walls35 and thatch roofs and a few small and unimpressive temples of
North Indian style could be seen coming up after the barrack days.
Use of Bhang (hemp) as a drink. Aphim or Haphim (opium) and
Ganja36 (cannabis) and Charas for smoking could be seen among sonic
frustrated Indians. Pachisi and wrestling among some grown-ups and patang
(kite-flying), Kabaddi, Gulli-danta, cock-fighting and other sports and
amusements were brought from North India. Today a typical Indian
intoxicant or a typical Indian play can hardly be found: rum and cricket
have sidetracked these Indian things.
Surnames were almost unknown among the lower class people of Uttar
Pradesh. Only a few surnames like Misra (Mishra), Sukul (Shukla), Pande,
Debey and Tiwari for Brahmans and Singh for Rajputs came to Trinidad.
In the list of emigrants on the first boat of 1845 printed in the Indian
Centenary Review of Trinidad (edited by M. J. Kirpalani and others,
1945), all names are without surnames. Later names of pioneer emigrants
like Gopal (Gopaul) became the last part of the name of the descendants.
Also a name like Charan Ram became Ramcharan to look more dignified.
Names like Dukhi (afflicted), now Dookee, Goodor (in rags) and Bhikhoo
(beggar or got in alms) would have been selected to save the child from
the wrath of the god of death. Some of the names of Indians in Trinidad,
as in U. P. and Bihar, are even now connected with the name of the day
on which a person was born: Ravi (Sunday); Somaroo (from Somavar or
Monday), Mangal or Mungal (Tuesday), Budu or Budhu or Boodoo (from
Buddha or Wednesday), Virhaspati (Thursday), Sukra (Friday), Sanichar
(Saturday). In case of females, Sanichar becomes Sanichari and Mangal
Names connected with Vishnu and his two popular incarnations,
Rama of the Ramayana and Krishna of the Mahabharata, are most common:
Ramaprasad (Rampersaud or with the grace of Rama), Ramanaresh (Ram-
narace or King Rama), Ramabissoon (Rama Vishnu, i.e. Rama, the in-
carnation of Vishnu), Ramakissoon (Rama Krishna), Bissoondial (One on
whom Vishnu is kind), Bissoondath (Given by Vishnu), Kissoondath (Given
by Krishna), Kissoondial (One on whom Krishna is kind), Deokissoon
(God Krishna), Balkissoon (Child Krishna), Srikissoon (Shree Krishna),
Jaikissoon (Victory to Krishna), Ramananan (Ramanandan), Ramabaran
(Ramavarna or one whose colour and features are like Rama, Gopaul
(Gopal or Krishna), Ram-yatna (Ramjattan), Ramlogan (Ramalagna), (at
the feet of Rama), Ramcharitar (representing the life or character or Rama),
Ramchate (ever conscious of Rama), Ramacoomar (Prince Rama), Ramdath
(given by Rama), Ramadeen (a poor man seeking the kindness of Rama),
Ramdial (one on whom Rama is kind), Ramadeo (God Rama), Ramadhan
(with the riches of Rama), Ram Dharie (one who carries Rama), Ramadhar
or Ramadar (one whose hope is Rama), Ramdwar (at the doors of Rama),
Ramessar (Rameshwar or God Rama), Ramgoolam or Ramdas (slave of
Rama), Ramoutar (Rama Avatar), Ramnarine (Ramanarayan), Ragabir
(Raghuvira or Rama), Madhava (Madho or Madoo), Kunj-bihari (Krishna,
sporting in groves), and so on. Names connected with Lord Shiva (Shew) -
Bhola, Mahadeo, Baidyanath (Baijnath or Bajnath), Shambhoo (Shimboo) -
are also quite common.
Among females Sita (Siya) of the Ramayana, Tara, another Hindu
Goddess, Radha of the Bhagavat Purana, Parvati (the consort of Shiva,
born on Parvat or mountain), Lakshmi or Lachhmin (the consort of Vishnu),
Indri or Indrani (wife of Indra), and Gayatri (of the Rig-Veda) are popular.
Names connected with sacred rivers of India, like Ganga, Jamuna,
and Sirjoo (Saryug river), and sacred places like Pariyvg (Prayag or Allaha-
bad), Harduar (Haridwar), Mathura, Ajodhia (Ayodhya), Awadh, and Kashi
(Banaras), can also be found.
Place or street names like Indian Walk and Hindustan Settlement,
Agra Street, Ayodhya Street, Calcutta Settlement, Fyzabad, Mathura Street,
Madras Settlement, Benares Street, Delhi Street, Patna Village, Baroda
Street, Cawnpore Street, Barrackpore, and so on, are living monuments of
Indian heritage in Trinidad. There are also place-names connected with
persons: Katwaroo Trace, Mahess Road, Abdool Village, Akal Road, Kalloo
Road, Koonkoon Street, Jogie (Yogi) Road, Sookoo Trace, Amar Singh
Street, Luckput Street, Maraj Street, Jamadar Street, Ramoutar Street,
Pujadas Street, Ranjit Kumar Street, and so on.
Collens in his Guide to Trinidad36A gives the pictures of an Indian
male with turban Mirjai (old Kurta) and dhoti and of a female with long
shirt and Indian ornaments. Unlike dhoti, sari was not popular among
Indians in Trinidad even in the nineteenth century. But some other tradi-
tional North Indian dresses the dhoti, kurta and chadar or jora-jama and
pagari (turban) for males and sari, choli, ghanghri, orhni (head-scarf) for
females, are even now used on ceremonial occasions. Nehru shirt or jacket
has become most popular.
Betel (pin) and nut (supari) chewing, gondana (tattoo mark on hands
and feet) of females, caste-marks tilakk) and other such things have almost
disappeared. But certain important old Hindi terms are even now used
widely: dhan (unmilled rice), chaur (milled rice) with varieties like arua
or araba (milled without soaking the paddy in water) and usani (milled
after soaking in water), akshat or achchhat (arabi rice for sacred rituals),
murahi (puffed rice), bhuja (less puffed rice), chura (flaked rice), bhit
(boiled rice), phulouri or bar,, dilpuri (stuffed puri) and sohari (a soft
variety of roti). In rice cultivation the common terms are har jote (plough-
ing), hanqiwe (harrowing), kola (small piece of land), meri (raised edges
of a kola), machan (raised platform of bamboos), biya (seed) and biya-khet
(kola of seedlings). Words like Jinti, Ukhal, Musal and dheki used for
pounding rice and its varieties are used in the rural areas.
Bhai, bhaiya, bhaiwa and bhayi are the variations in North India
for the Sanskrit word bhratri (brother) and these are found Trinidad
along with the word (dadi) used among the Bengalis. Bhauji for sister-
law instead of bhabhi of modern Hindi, bahin or didi for sister and not
bahan, sari and not sali for wife's sister, skr and not sla for wife's brother,
kak5 and not chachi for father's brother, kajar and not kajal for an unguent
for eyes, Aja and Aji for Dada and Dadi (father's father and mother),
khaibe (eating), nahaibe bathing), uthawe (getting up), sutawe (sleeping),
jaibe (going), are some of the linguistic legacies from U. P and Bihar. Murai
for raddish, baigan, Sahijan, for brinjal, bhaji, lauki, jhingi, suthani,
karaili, haradi (turmeric), kiap (for copper) and the use of 'na' in English
are the typical Indian influence in this part of the world.
The Indians in the early days of indenture yearned for their return
to the mother country some day and therefore did not create a society
here. But after they acquired land and developed their village settlements,
like Calcutta, Coolie Town, etc., they kept in touch with India through
the visiting religious leaders and Indian commissioners maintaining their
cultural traditions and old values.
Rice and sugar cultivation (ketari or Ukha) were major factors in
the persistence of Indian culture and in the maintenance of the social
structure.37 Indeed, these two had been the main crops in U P and Bihar
since very ancient times. The very word 'sugar' is a corruption of the
Sanskrit word 'sharkara' and Hindi word 'shakar', and Alexander the Great
is said to have been surprised to see this in India for the first time.
Rice, on the other hand, had been a staple food in many parts of North
India since pre-historic times. Also, rice has been a very sacred thing for
In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar the people were familiar with jhils
(swamps) and therefore they had no difficulty in raising paddy in the swamps
of Caroni and Nariwa and Ihe lagoon of Oropouche. They brought the
knowledge of small-scale irrigation with river or well-water raise vege-
tables.39 In 1891. says Comins, 78.33 per cent of Indian population
Trinidad belonged to the agricultural profession. Even now in
industrializatLon and urbanization Ihe position has not changed much.
From their land of origin the Indians brought concept of
self-sufficien village with panchayat40 (tribunal of usually five village
elders) deciding their disputes. They also brought the concept of joint
(extended) family, 'joint in food, worship and ale' one economic
unit under the common shelter of which children and grandchildren would
work for the economic betllermnt of the family41 the basis of 'lromi
each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs The
remnants of this system be seen even now in the Indian community
In the late nineteenth century features of rural leadership
which existed in North India could be seen in Trinidad Indian villages
pandits, money-lenders and landholders having a say in the important
matters of the community.42 In many cases the Sardars. Mails, Overseers
and even drivers of the estates had become prominent in the society on
the strength of their newly acquired wealth.
In the indenture days a Madrasi and a Kalkatiya or even a Bihari
(from Bihar) and a person from West U. P (Pachh5h) would cut jokes
with each other regarding each other's way of life. Some would use the
Nagari script. others would use Kaithi or Persian. But there was no
animosity against each other. With the emergence of electoral politics
the twentieth century, however, caste jat or jati), religion (dharma),
and regional feelings were exploited in the same way as in India. Even the
feeling of Hindu-Muslim separateness was on occasions emphasised. The
Hindus who had been a majority community U. P and Bihar became
more and more inward-looking for they were now a minority, and they
did not produce any eminent leader before the 1920's
The social and cultural organizations among the Indians of Trinidad
have largely been moulded on Indian pattern: the East Indian Congress
of the past fighting for the marriage and other rights of Hindus and
Muslims:43 the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha starting as a branch of the Arya Samaj
of India. the Kabir panth and Shewnarine panth getting their inspiration
from the parent organizations India. The Sanatan Dharma Mahasabha
seems have been inspired by the Hindu Mahasabha and Jan Sangh of
India with the difference that thle Trinidad organization is concerned
with religious, educational and cultural functions also.
The Muslims and a few others brought to Trinidad Urdu which
had developed as a camp language medieval India; it differed little
from Hindustani or Hindi of towns except script. The language of
the vast majority of Indians in Trinidad, however, has been Hindi and
its dialects of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, derived from the Indo-Aryan group of
languages. It is still a living second language in the rural areas where Indians
live. According to the Imperial Gazetteer of India of 1908 the central
portion of the Grangetic plain of U. P roughly bounded by a line drawn
north and south through the town of Balnda on the west and a parallel
line through Mirzapur on the cast, the eastern Hindi (Purvi or Awadhi)
was spoken by about 15 million people, and 21V million to the west of
this area spoke western Hindi (mainly Vrajbhasha). In the eastern part
of the plain ten million people spoke Bihari (Bhojpuri dialect), but the
official language was Hindustani, a dialect of Western Hindi. The Khari
Boli as a prose, developed around 1803 as a link language for North Indian
cities and now the State language of India, was not very popular yet. The
language of West Bihar was also Bhojpuri, but the Muhammadans and
Kayasthas (scribes) spoke Awadhi or Urdu.
It is true that Magahi (Magadhi) of Patna, Gaya and North Hazaribagh
districts of Bihar, Maithili of North Bihar, Bangali of Bengal, Oriya of
Orissa, Assamese of Assam, the tribal languages of the Mundae and
Oraons of Chota-Nagpur, Tamil of Madras, Telugu of Andbra Pradesh,
Malayalam of Kerala and a few other Indian languages were also brought
to Trinidad, but the dominant languages among the Trinidad Indians have
been Vrajbhasha (Paschimi Hindi), Awadhi (Purvi Hindi) and Bhojpuri
and among the old surviving Indians of Trinidad, Bhojpuri is the most
popular spoken language. In the folk and ritual songs (Sohar and others)
also either of the three dialects can be seen. The most common form of
greeting among old and middle-aged Indians is 'Sita-Rama', and the San-
skrit words 'Namaste' or 'Namaskar' are confined to the Aryas and a
few others. 'Kaisan hMl' for 'how are you' is the most common form of
asking one's welfare.
As in U. P and Bihar, roti, bhit (rice), Kohra (pumpkin), dal
(lentils), bhaji, chantni or achar or kuchala are daily items of food and
karhi, dalpuri, khir, dahi, sohari and tarkari (vegetables) like aloo (Irish
potato), etc., are special dishes among Indians in Trinidad. Mustard oil
(sarso tel) and ghee are also used as cooking media in some affluent homes.
In 1958, the use of biscuit in place of chura (flake rice) and chana (gram)43
was said to be the cause of bowel trouble among Indians on the ships.
Things have changed a good deal since then and Chura is now available
only in some villages in South Trinidad, but chana continues to hold its
own. Old Indian sweets like laddu, jilebi (jalebi), khurma, gaza and gulab-
jamun sell in some markets and there are a few professional halwais
(makers of Indian sweets) of the old type.
Mashalas (spices) like hardi (turmeric, called saffron in Trinidad),
methi, dhania (coriander), long (cloves), elayachi (cardamom), dilchini,
mangarail, etc., are also sold in some markets. Utensils like lota (waterpot,
usually of brass), tharia (plate), bati (cup), chholani, oraka, kalasa, balti
(bucket), etc., are even now used, but gradually china crockery is taking
the place of brass utensils and in many homes some of these are needed
in rituals and ceremonies only. The chulha (earthen cooking furnace)
is in use on the occasion of bhandara (community feeding).
Words like aqua for match-makers, ojiha (Indian obeahman), praja
(for yajman, the patron of pandits usually called maharaj in Trinidad),
churail and bhut (ghost and spirit), kohabar (specially decorated room for
marriodcoiplo), marava (bamboo-made shade for wedding). lathi (stick) etc.,
can be heard in the rural areas, The sacred tulsi plant can be seen in many
Hindu homes and 'Hanumanchalisa' is read to ward off evils. Even bhaikh
or kanthi of Tulsi wood is worn in the neck by some Vaishnavas.
Older members of the Hindu families in Trinidad are still bound
by Indian tradition, spending their declining years on the study of Gita,
the Upanishads, etc. Religion as the predominant element in Indian culture
has been well-maintained.
The Indian tradition of sadhu and sanyasi is also continuing to
some extent. Even sadhuayins (lady sadhus) are known. Dr. Vincent
Tothill mentions that in 1930s he met a 'magnificent Hindu' yogi who
surprised him by some of his feats.44 One Kolahal Das (formerly Dayaram,
born in India around 1900 A.D.), a saint and mystic in Caroni, was a
well-known figure for his sidhana (meditation) and siddhi (spiritual achieve-
ment). However, a reformer like Raja Ramamohan Roy or Swami Vivekanan-
da, a mystic saint of the stature of Aurobindo or Ramakrishna or a great
sufi has not yet emerged among Trinidad Indians.
Dudh-bhai (brother because of sucking the same milk) and the
'bhai' (brother) relationship45 among people living in the same village
are the legacies from the Gangetic plain of North India. But the jahaji bhai
(brother on account of travelling on the same boat) was developed in the
Ramaleela which used to be the greatest festival in U. P in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century46 was enacted in Trinidad from
1890s, but now it is reduced to a rather unimportant place because Holi
(phagawa) and Diwali appeal more to the people used to carnival and
funfare than the enactment of old religious dramas, emphasising the
victory of the good over the evil.
Hindu food taboo is gradually being relaxed in Trinidad as in the
urban areas of India and the reverence to cow is not so deep as in the
rural areas of India, but eating of beef, pork and even chicken is still
repugnant to many. Among the Muslims the taboo on some meat and drinks
continues in some homes.
Modern Indian girls now prefer shortcut hair, shorter and tight-
fitting dress rather than the loose traditional ones. Exogamous marriages
are becoming common because marriage within a caste is not always possible.
Marriages are no longer performed at night according to an auspicious
lagna (planetary position). Sindoor (vermillion) is not used by married
Hindu women on the parting of their hair nor can missi on the teeth,
mehdi for colour on hand, gondana (tattoo-mark) on arm and ornaments
on nose7 ear, neck, hands and feet be seen here. The gotra (an exogamous
sect of the Brahmans) is now almost unknown among Hindus of Trinidad;
only a few older Brahmans can tell their gotra.48
The thrift and simple living of the older Indians a legacy from
their place of origin are also gradually disappearing under the impact
of westernization. The Churki (shikha or pigtail) and tilak (caste mark
on forehead) are also gone, as in Indian towns. But some of the sixteen
samskaras (sacraments) like those connected with birth (chhathi49 and
barahi) and death (abrahdha and pitritarpan are observed in many Hindu
homes. Even mundan (haircutting ceremony of a boy at the age of three
or five), the janeu or yajnopavita sacred thread initiation) and guru-
mukh (giving of the sacred mantra by the guru to the chela (disciple) are
Brahmans are even now among the Hindus Trinidad, like the
Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, the repositories of one of the oldest
language, Sanskrit, and of the sacred lore and literature. They have made
the conservation of Hindu religion possible. The Maulavis among the
Muslims have done the same. As the Slias. Sunnis and Bahais have their
religious heads, so the Sanatanis have their dlarmacharya, and Kabirpanthis
and Seunarinis their mahanthas. A Haji (one who has done a pilgrimage
to the sacred Macca and Medina) is as much respected as a Hindu who has
visited the sacred places of his religion in India.
Yoga, one of the six systems of salvation for the Hindus, with the
Yogasutras (aphorisms) of the ancient Indian thinker, Patanjali, is known
to some Indians in Trinidad. With the creation of a new interest the
West the Hathayoga (yoga of the force) a few centres have recently
been opened in Trinidad for imparting instructions this branch of
yogic exercises and even some non-Indians are benefited by the basic
Thus Indian heritage in Trinidad seems to have been largely retained
and some of the facets of Indian culture which had been swept away
by the flood of westernization or modernization are being revived. Some
Indian festivals are now part of Trinidad's way of life and few Indian
items of food have become national dishes.5 lThe followers of Hinduism
and Islam take pride in their traditional institutions and religious beliefs
as never before.51
Several factors seem to have contributed to this cultural persistence
and renaissance. First, the inner vitality of the Indian culture which
had evolved in the Indian sub-continent 'as a result of observation, study
and experiment52 and had survived innumerable challenges from foreign
invaders, stood in good stead for the Indian immigrants in Trinidad. Second-
ly, the idea of colonial emigration evolved by the Europeans in the nine-
teenth century was alien to the Indians who always wanted to maintain
their traditional society with its own ways and norms. Thirdly, no serious
attempt was ever made in Trinidad to integrate the Indians into the
already divided society: in fact, the Indians were treated as intruders in
the labour market and their language, religion, dress, food and values
were mocked at.
In the early days of indenture the Indians were looked upon as
transients, protected by the planters and the colonial government and
assaults on them by non-Indians was rather common. Later when their
number increased and they were encouraged to own land and develop
their villages, not a single non-Indian could be seen in these settlements.
Professional.or occupational segregation and an attitude of derision towards
them naturally created in the Indians a sense of exclusiveness which was
sometimes aggravated by some journalists, Government officers, planters
and even clergymen. The 'East Indian' could not be at par with the 'West
Indian' for the former had to carry a passport, was denied full citizenship
rights and modern education and was treated as a stranger, a 'heathen'
or 'barbarian' Even though the Indians, as agriculturists, had aided 'material-
ly in the development of the Colony' and contributed 'to the revenue as
taxpayers', lamented the Indian leader George Fitzpatrick in 1909, they were
'subjected to a special law which did not apply to West Indians and they
were punished as ordinary criminals for the breach of a civil contract'.53
Left to their fate, the Indians revived their traditional social stratifi-
cation, contented in their own small world, with no interest in national
affairs. They would, of course, tell their children in the evening tales from
their epics, inspiring them through the exploits of Rama of the Ramayana
or Krishna and the Pandavas of the Mahabharata.
By the time the indenture ended the Indians in Trinidad constituted
one-third of the population and a middle-class of intellectuals emerged to
lead them. Their socio-political and religious organizations became active
and in early 1920s they demanded a proportional representation for
their community in the Legislative Council. By 1930s they became more
vocal in airing their grievances. There was a separate club for Indians
called India Club in Port-of-Spain. The source of inspiration for Indians
in Trinidad was undoubtedly the nationalist movement in India, their
idols were Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and their national song
was 'Bande Mataram' (Hail Motherland of Bankim Chandra's Anand Math),
an Indian counterpart of La Merseillaise. The wealthy Indians visited India
from time to time and felt proud in meeting eminent personalities there.54
They also contributed generously to the Bengal Relief Fund in 1943 44.55
The enquiry into the condition of the Indians in Trinidad by Surgeon-
Major Comins in 1891, the Sanderson Committee in 1909, James McNeil
and Chimmanlal in 1913 and J. D. Tyson in 1939 on behalf of the Govern-
ment of India and later the visits of Diwan Bahadur Kesava Pillai, the
Indian Commissioner in 1922, Sir Kunwar Maharaj Singh, Indian Commis-
sioner in 1925, and some eminent Indians like Dr. D. P. Pandya and Pandit
Hridayanath Kunzru and some religious missionaries in early 1940s main-
tained a link between the Indians in Trinidad and their mother country.
The independence of India in 1947 and the inauguration of the
Republic of India in 1950 were celebrated with jubilation by the Indians
of Trinidad. Now that their mother country was free they would not suffer
from an inferiority complex. Soon new Indian youth and other organiza-
tions were set up, Hindu and Muslim schools started teaching Hindi,
Urdu and religion. The visits of Hindu and Muslim religious preachers and
artistes from the Indian sub-continent from time to time and the regular
exhibition of Indian films and Indian shows on the local radio and tele-
vision have led to an unusual Indian cultural revival. Indeed, in the post-
independence period Trinidad has given formal recognition to the Indian
cultural element in its society. Indian history and culture is taught on
the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, the
students of Caribbean studies write B. A. essays on Indian Culture in this
region, some of the Indian festivals are celebrated on the campus and
Hindi and Urdu are taught at various centres in the country. All these
indicate that the Indian heritage in Trinidad is maintained and it will
continue to exist in future.
J. C JHA.
1. Today the sub-continent comprises three nations the Indian Republic in the
middle and South, Pakistan in the North-West and Bangala Desh in the
2. The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Oxford, 1908, vol. XXIV, p. 132, see Map 7
in J. A. Weller, The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad, Puerto Rico, 1968. Out
of 2,447 who came to Trinidad in 1908, 1,248 were from Agra and 983 from
Oudh areas (Ibid. p. 125).
The North-Western Provinces, says B. B. Misra, "consisted of the districts
ceded by the Nawab of Oudh in 1775 and 1801 as well as those conquered
from the Marathas in 1803". The ceded districts comprised Gorakhpur, Allahabad,
Cawnpore, Farrukhabad, Etawah, Bareilly, and Moradabad. The districts of
Agra, Delhi, Aligarh and Saharanpur, including Meerut, were conquered by
the British from the Sindhia. a Maratha chief: The Indian Middle Classes: their
growth in Modem times, O.U.P., London, 1961, pp. 135 36.
3. Imperial Gazetteer, op. cit., vol. VIII, p. 171. See map 8 in Weller, op. c't.
Also see p. 125 (Ibid.): OUt of 2,447 who came to Trinidad in 1908 only 120
came from Bihar 107 from Shahabad. 41 from Patna. 25 from Darbhanga,
23 from Gaya and 19 from Saran.
4. Weller (op. cit., p. 1) is only partially correct when she says that they came
mainly from Bengal, the United Provinces, and Madras. Morton Class (East
Indians in Trinidad, New York, 1961, p. 9) is also partly correct in agreeing
with N. Gangulee (Indians in the Empire Overseas, London, 1947) that most
of them emigrated from Madras and the United Provinces, and then saying
that Calcutta is near the United Provinces.
5. At least four severe scarcities between 1855 and 1858 and ten major famines
and two severe scarcities occurred in India during the period 1858 1909:
Satis Chandra Ray, An Essay on the Economic Causes of Famines in India,
Calcutta, 1909, pp. 1 2.
6. W. H. Moreland, The Revenue Administration of the United Provinces, Allaha-
bad, 1911, p. 57.
7. Imperial Gazetteer of India, op. cit., vol. XXIV, p. 163.
8. Ibid. p. 164. See map 7 in Weller, op. cit.
9. Imperial Gazetteer, op. cit., vol. XXII, p. 190.
10. Report by Wood on his Visit to the West Indies and British Guiana, 1921 -
1922, London, 1922, p. 22.
11. The first estate to have a taziya procession was Philippine Estate near Couva.
See Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition, London, 1968, pp. 151 153. Also
see Correspondence respecting the Coolie disturbances in Trinidad at the
Mohurrum Festival, Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1885.
12. Gertrude Carmichael, The History of the West Indian Islands of Trinidad and
Tobago, 1948 1900, p. 274. Also Comins, Note on Emigration from India
to Trinidad, Diary, p. 27 and Collens, Guide to Trinidad, p. 237.
13. D. W. D. Comins, Notes on Emigration from India to Trinidad, Calcutta,
1893, p. 27.
14. This information is based on personal interviews. See Kewal Motwani, Manu
Dharma Sistra: a sociological and historical study, Madras, 1958: on Karma
pp. 50 52: on social groups, pp. 34 35 and 52 54: on moksha (salva-
tion of soul), p. 67, on the ashramas, pp. 57 62, on reincarnation, p. 49.
15. Guide to Trinidad, London, pp. 228 232.
16. Morton, S. E., John Morton of Trinidad, Toronto, 1916, p. 3: On 6th February,
1868, Morton saw a place of goat sacrifice in Trinidad: "a pole with a small
flag flying, a small altar of mud, and near it two stakes a few inches apart
driven firmly into the ground. Two small bars passed through these stakes,
one near the ground, the other a few inches up, forming a sort of yoke into
which the neck of the goat to be sacrificed is placed and its head severed with
one blow". The author of this paper has seen such stakes in the villages of
Bihar, U. P. and Bengal in the past, but now these are becoming more and more
17. Port of Spain Gazette, 27th Oct. 1897: An untoward incident during the cele-
bration of 1895 is also mentioned. In the rural areas of Bihar and U. P. the cele-
bration is even now called Diwari-amawas In some dialects of Hindi. Ghee
(clarified butter) and mustard oil are used in dlyas in some affluent homes.
18. See Klass, op. cit,, pp. 160 61.
19. See N. K. Bose, 'The Spring Festival of India', Culture and Society in India,
London, 1967, pp. 36 85.
20. Ibid. pp. 161 62, 192. Some Trinidad Hindus believe that Shiva-ratri
commemorates the drinking of poison by Shiva (Mahadeva); others say it
is his birthday. See Klass, op. cit. p. 171 and Niehoff, Arthur and Juanita,
East Indians in the West Indies, Milwaukee, 1960, p. 114.
21. Based on the author's personal observations of pujas of each sect of Hindus
in Trinidad. The followers of the Sanatan Dharma (eternal religion) form the
largest Indian religious group in Trinidad.
22. Among the early Trinidad Indian singers Phiramat, Imami, Deoki Singh, Badloo
Rai, Sultan Khan and Pahalwan Singh and among the later musicians Fakir
Mohammed, Ali Jan, Mohangir Gosine, Bel Begai, Demerara Maharaj, Dan
Bahadoorsingh and Yacoob may be mentioned.
23. Nand Kishore. Sam Dindyal and Seeram Maharaj were famous Sitar players
and Ramcharan Ostad, Dharam Gosine, Dukhia. Samuel and Mahamadalli good
24. W. H. and C. V. Wiser, Behind Mud Walls, 1930 1960, Berkeley, 2nd print,
1964, p. 11. Also see U. Arya, Ritual Songs and Folksongs of the Hindus of
Surinam, Leiden, 1968. pp. 8 -10.
25. Fakir Mohammed popularized Indar (Indra) Sabha dance in Trinidad in 1920s.
26. The story of this king of Uttar Pradesh who gave away his kingdom to keep
his promise was enacted by skilful actors of Trinidad.
27. Gopal Haldar, 'Studies in Bengali Language and Literature: The Legend of
Raja Gopichand', Indian Studies: Past and Present, Vol. V, no. 2, Jan. March.
1964, p. 135. The legend of Raja Gopichand is current all over Aryan-speaking
India. Probably it originated in Bengal and then spread to Bihar, U. P., the
Panjab, Rajasthan, Central India, Gujarat and Maherastra.
28. Harripersad Sampath and Sookdeo Ramakrishna of Penal contributed much to
Rahas (Ris) Mandal dance in 1950s and early 1960s.
29. The visit of famous singers like Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar,
Geeta Dutta and Rafi and dancers like Rama Gopal and Vyjanthimala from
India during the last decade and the exhibition of Hindi films have contributed
a good deal to this development. Patricia Rahim, the daughter of the famous
dancer, Champa Devi. is herself a good dancer and so is Rajkumar (Krishna)
trained in India.
30. M. N. Srinivas, Social Change in Modern India, p. 3. The word 'caste' is of
Portuguese origin, meaning race or breed. Exclusiveness as regards both marriage
and social intercourse made the caste system a peculiar form of social organiza-
tion, without any parallel in the modern world: L. S. S. O'Malley, Indian Caste
Customs, Cambridge, 1932, pp. 1 2. Also see Louis Dumont, 'Caste: A
Phenomenon of Social Structure or An Aspect of Indian Culture?', A. de Rouck
and J. Knight (ed.), Caste and Race: Comparative Approaches, London, 1967,
p. 28. Also Surajit Sinha, 'Caste in India: its essential pattern of socio-cultural
integration': The caste system may be defined as 'a hierarchy of endogamous
groups, organized in a characteristic hereditary division of labour', Ibid, p. 92.
Also see the classic work of J. H. Hutton, Caste in India: Its Nature, Functions
and Origins, O. U. P., London, reprint, 1969, pp. 46 91 for structure, pp.
92 110 for sanctions and pp. 111 132 for functions.
31. Collens, op. cit., p. 234. Also see Wood, op. cit., p. 149.
32. Weller, op. cit., p. 67.
33. See Srinivas, op. cit., p. 2.
34. Collens. op. cit., pp. 234 35.
35. A Government of India despatch of 3 May, 1877, said that the source of
recruitment in India was 'chiefly the labourers, dependent for their support
upon the cultivating classes': vide J. D. Tyson, op. cit. para. 25. Some of
these poor people had been 'lured' away from India by false promises and
in Trinidad they had to work as 'porters, cattle-drivers and milk-sellers': see
Charles William Day, Five Years' Residence in the West Indies, vol. II, London,
1852, p. 72. But as E. B. Underhill noted in 1862 (The West Indies, p. 51)
even in the early days of the indenture there were a few Gurus and Brahmans
among the Indians.
Ajoupa or 'trash house' was considered to be 'typical of poor rural East
Indian': Klass. op. cit. p. 45. The poor labourers of Agra region were not
expected to raise a structure like a Tajmahal or the Agra fort.
36. A letter to the Editor of the Port of Spain Gazette of 8th March. 1898,
suggested that the Ganja of East Indians should be taxed like spirits and other
36A. Op. cit., p. 22.
37. Klass, op. cit., p. 66.
38. Niehoff, Arthur and Juanita, op. cit., pp. 34 35. Donald Wood (op. cit.,
p. 276) says that the Indians did not like to eat hill paddy and 'in the new
villages' they 'took enthusiastically to the growing of wet rice'.
39. Ibid., p. 36: Vegetable or kitchen gardens are common among Indians.
40. See W. H. Wiser and C. V. Wiser, Behind Mud Walls, 1930 1960, Berkeley,
2nd ed., 1964, pp. 22 23. Also see Gazetteer of India, 1965, vol. I, Delhi,
p. 563 for caste panchayats.
41. See Radhakamal Mukerjee, The Foundations of Indian Economics, London,
1916, pp. 2 4.
42. See H. Calvert. The Wealth and Welfare of the Panjab, Lahore, 1922, pp. 37 -
43. The East Indian National Association (like its counterpart in India) was loyal
to the British Crown but, as its president R. J. Nanco said in April, 1898, it
would fight in a constitutional and peaceful way like the Indian National
Congress of India) for the protection of rights of 80,000 Indians in Trinidad:
Port of Spain Gazette, 8 and 10th April, 1898.
43. Public Record, London, C. O. 318/220, p. 78. On the ship the following provi-
sions were supplied: rice, dal, ghee, turmeric, onion, tobacco, chillies, saltfish,
blackpepper, mustard seed, garlic (lahsun), coriander seeds, chura, but (gram),
sugar, etc,. and sometimes goat meat: vide J. A. Weller, The East Indian
Indenture in Trinidad, Puerto Rico, 1968, p. 143.
44. Doctor's Office, London, 1939, pp. 105 and 107 8. The Port of Spain
Gazette (25th Aug. 1897) mentions a yajna 'in fulfilment of a vow' by a
shopkeeper in Tacarigua, conducted by a sadhu in pink robes with beads
hung round his neck, reading Hindu sacred books in Sanskrit.
45. Klass, op. cit., pp. 104 and 107.
46. Imperial Gazetteer of India, op. cit., vol. XXIV, p. 175.
47. Mantika, hasuli, lolak, nathia, and other North Indian ornaments are even
now known to people. For nose ornaments, the most popular name among
Trinidad Indians has been nath (nose ring) used in U. P., Bihar, Rajputana. etc.,
nathiya (used in Bihar and Sindh), nathni (in Rajputana, U. P. and Bihar), bulak
(U.P., Bihar, etc.), nak-besar (of U. P. and Bihar) and chhuchchhi (of Bihar).
See 'The Use of Nose Ornaments in India', Journal of the Asiatic Society of
Bengal, New Series, vol. XXIII, 1927, no. 3. Also see Morton, op. cit., p. 50:
An Indian shopkeeper's wife in Trinidad in 1868 had "seventeen bracelets
of silver and one of gold on each arm; these were mostly of solid metal, two
of them being very massive and of fine workmanship. Around her neck were
thirteen silver neck ornaments, mostly solid, some being as much as three-
quarters of an inch square in the front and tapering toward the back of the
48. See Hutton, op. cit., pp. 47, 55, 62 and 131. Also A. L. Basham, The Wonder
that was India, 1971, p. 140; The brahmans of the later Vedic period were
divided into exogamous sects (gotra), a system which was copied in part by
other classes and has survived to the present day"
49. On the worship of Goddess Shasthi (Chhathi) see the Gazetteer of India:
Indian Union, vol. 1, 1965, p. 587.
50. Many roadside roti shops can be seen.
51. Y. K. Malik, East Indians in Trinidad: A study in Minority Politics, London.
1971, p. 7.
52. The Cultural Heritage of India, R. K. Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta,
2nd edition, 1958, vol. 1, p. ix.
53. Sanderson Committee Report, Vol. III (papers laid before it), pp. 138 139.
FitLpatrick demanded an Indian representative in the Trinidad Council in
1909 and in 1912 he was the first Indian to be nominated to it.
54. M. J, Kirpalani, et al, The Indian Centenary Review of Trinidad, 1845 1945,
Port-of-Spain, 1945, pp. 141 169. Mahatma Gandhi sent a telegram of good
wishes to the Indian Centenary celebration in 1945. The birthday of Gandhi
and the death anniversary of Tagore used to be celebrated in Trinidad.
55. In 1897 98 the Indians of Trinidad under the leadership of Rev. Lal Behari
contributed to the Indian Famine Relief Fund. Recently they contributed to
the Bihar Famine Relief Fund in 1967 and to the Bangla Desh Refugee Fund
ODOMANKOMA KYEREMA SE ...
To read Edward Brathwaite's Masks without a knowledge of African
culture is, for the West Indian reader, a sufficiently rewarding experience:
it marks a new approach to the well-documented treatment of West Indian
identity and carries on from Rights of Passagel Brathwaite's successful
experimentation with rhythmic variation, thematic sequence, and the sus-
tained reverberation of word, image and idea in the neglected genre the
long poem. But a so much deeper appreciation of the work is possible
for the reader familiar with African life and values, particularly with
the history and culture of the Akan people of modern Ghana. The work
is steeped in allusions to, and in the philosophy of, the Akan way of
life. To realize this is to recognize that Brathwaite has achieved a density
of cultural reference here that parallels the rightly symbolic, religious and
traditional cultural expression of Africa.
There is historical justification for Brathwaite's use of Akan culture
as a backdrop for West Indian Literature. For it is the culture from which the
present black populations of Barbados and Jamaica, in particular, largely
originate: the Ashanti, Koromanti, Fanti and Ga. But the cultural unity
of Africa serves to make the Akan people here representative of all the
ancestral tribes of the African descendants in the Caribbean. Further to
that, the love of ceremony and order, the primal awareness of the changes
wrought by time, the apprehension of the other world, the problems posed
by war, death, new environment, the need to adapt, the nostalgia for the
past all these are basic to human experience, regardless of race. So
that the central issue of Masks, although rooted in an African context,
is by wider implication, a concern with issues, a cri de coeur, shared by
every ethnic group whose chance home is now the West Indies.
So for my hacked
heart, veins' mem-
ories, I wear this
past I borrowed; his-
behind my hollowed eyes;
on my wet back
tomorrow's sunlight dries;
welcome your brother now
my trapped curled tongue
"Korabra" p. 45
This essay will attempt two related things: to explore some of the
still living traditional values and linguistic resources in Ghanaian everyday
life with which Brathwaite as an evidently sensitive foreigner to Africa
could empathize enough to embrace into his perspective of art and life;
and to show some of the literary sources (both oral and scribal) Brathwaite
may have used in his poetic exposition of aspects of Akan thought and
ritual, both as far as subject matter and phraseology are concerned further,
his modifications of these sources, and their integration into his own central
concern with historical and cultural heritage, his private ideas on the bases
of national self-confidence, and his treatment of the human struggle for
physical and spiritual survival.
The motif of time's circularity, of life's eternal cycle is not a new
one in Brathwaite's trilogy.2 He had used it in Rights to lend a philosophical
rationale to the event of slavery While the physical and psychological
realities of slavery are treated there, Brathwaite at the same time succeeds
in giving the total experience an inevitability imposed by time and destiny:
have we walked
have we journeyed
to this place
to this meeting
in the soiled
"New World A-Comin" pp. 8/9
The theme is there again in Islands, imposing a tension tor the future between
the inevitable cycle of slavery in the West Indian experience and the
need for the West Indian to break loose from these shackles and to dictate
his own terms in life, to respond with originality and creativity to his
own history and environment.
In Masks though, the motif takes on a distinctly African dimen-
sion in its context. The circle represents wholeness, unity, harmony, eternity
and reincarnation to the African mind. This is, of course, a universal symbol;
what is African about it, in contrast at least to its Hellenic use, is that
the meaning of this and other symbols is still actively recognized in the
African community. Traditional artists still carve calabashes and fashion
bangles representing the snake with its tail in its mouth symbol of
continuity and renewal of life. The African group dance (unlike what
passes for African dance in West Indian night clubs) is based on the circle,
the ring. The circular representation of the sankofa bird3 is the symbol
of eternity in Akan culture, and therefore an emblem of its kings. The
fluid lines of the Adinkera symbols on Akan mourning cloth are really
adaptions of the circle. The same applies to the designs of much African
jewellery and wood sculpture. But all these are concrete expressions of
the African belief in reincarnation, the belief that existence includes the
living and visible world of humans, the spirits of the dead, and the un-
born. There is no finality to existence, then; so that a unity comprehends
Danquah4 discusses the philosophical implications of this type of
belief in his consideration of the three aspects of God: Onyame, Father;
Onyankopon, Ancestor; Odomankoma, Creator. Of them the Akan saying
He went far away;
He went long ago;
He went before any one came.
Which of them is the eldest?
Danquah p. 27
"Which is the beginning, which the end, and which the new or old? The
There, the Then and the Now-There, which of them is the eldest?"
"The solution is that in a Father-Ancestor-Creator you need not go
a-searching for the young, the aged, and the eldest, for a father cannot
be other than the continuous being of his son, looked at from the produc-
tion end, nor can a son be other than the continuous being of his father,
looked at from the produced end. The one's impotence is necessarily
conditioned by the other's limitation, and vice-versa." (Danquah p. 27)
With such a concept of life, then, "death is less than a negation of life."
ibidd. p. 156) Death, in fact, is not "the destructive opposite of life .. The
true contrast of death is birth, not life, and this is not merely a splitting
of hairs. The Akan call death owu; they call birth awo; but life they call
nkwa, an abstract concept with ekwa, new plantation, as a concrete ideal
of the same concept For the individual who lives for himself alone, death
is a tragic fact, an abominable factor, much to be detested, not for its
consequences, but in itself, a thing undesired for its own sake, a valueless
thing It is otherwise for the race-conscious individual. To him, death
is nothing but a stage in the consciousness of the race, the experience of
his kind. The primary fact with him is that within him is an inheritance,
the blood of his race, and from him must go that heritable treasure to
other descendants, the blood of his own body. For such, death, owu, is
only an aspect of birth, awo, an instrument of the total destiny, the
continuity of the kind, the permanence and persistence of the organic
whole which is the greatest good of endeavour." ibidd. pp. 156/7) In
the light of this, the Akan proverb "Odomankoma created Death, and Death
killed him" really means that Odomankoma, the Creator, is dead and yet
alive. Thus, "in the realm of Odomankoma, we see things as it were, with
the eye of the external, in their whole history, continuous, catholic,
purposive, rational. Odomankoma both dies and lives because he has
organic continuity. The characteristic nature of an organic being is the
creative urge to excel its own limitations and unfold into greater and
more articulate patterns ever fresh and (to us) novel or new lives." (Ibid.
The influence of this type of philosophy on Masks is seen in the
fact that the Adowa, danced mainly at the funerals of chiefs, is the
dance the new settlers perform as an expression of confidence before
they create a new society. (Masks p. 29) This philosophy is also behind
the words of the Asantehene (king of the Ashantis) when he declares
his right of life and death over his people, (Masks p. 29) for only the
king of an Ashanti state had the authority to pronounce death upon a
citizen. (Rattray (3) Chap. 26) It also helps explain the identification
of the river with the sea. It gives a philosophical basis to the fact that the
'I' of the poem keeps shifting as it did in Rights, from one person to another.
For the African 'I' is the voice of the collective experience. So the poet
subsumes all these personae into his personality because of the continuity
of the race the fact that the individual soul has regenerative spiritual
potential. Thus one can be, and is all these personalities, so the ancestor
is war-conqueror, slave, village elder or Nana; is at the same time, the
child unborn, representative of the society in the process of formation,
the social organism as foetus. As an indigenous Akan, Brathwaite addresses
the ancestor Nana Firimpong in his opening prayer. Later he himself,
the omowale,5 assumes the mask of the ancestor, the elder familiar with
the African landscape and psychology, who sorrows for the fate of his
children (the nation) and who asks, after the diaspora
Whose ancestor am I? "New Ships" p. 38
But the ancestor is also descendant; the father is the child.
This perception of the circular pattern in life is given religious ex-
pression by the African. Thus the poem virtually opens with the thrice
repeated awareness of the new farming year. The sacrifices to Nana Firim-
pong and Asase Yaa are given for the reason that
the year has come round
again "Prelude" pp. 4/5
In a similar vein, the Asantehene reiterates his capacity for inflicting death
"when the cycle is ripe" ("Golden Stool" p. 61).
The source of Brathwaite's terminology to expresses this idea appears to come
from similar phraseology in Rattray's translation of Akan sacrificial prayers:
"Kwesi Bosomtwe,6 today the year has come round." Rattray (1) p. 61
"Sky God, upon men lean and do not fall, Goddess of Earth,
Creature that rules the underworld, Leopard that possesses the forest,
Tano River, by your kindness the edges of the year have met (i.e., the year
has completed its circle), and we have brought all the shrines of the gods
to sprinkle them with water Rattray (1) p. 165
Time's movement is also suggested in the poem by the river. The poet
explicitly labels the Volta "time's river" But eventually, the White River
is the sea the river and its terminal are one and the same:
flocked to the Volta, darker
at Ada; and over we ferried
to the hard, sandy gold of Keta.
Here at last was the rager,
the growler, wet breather,
life-giver, white curly smoker,
time's river, rushing for-
ever: round pebbles, carved musical
shells; wet ropes in the tide,
tugging moon's motion "White River"
This is part of the antithesis contained in the line: "Time stopped where
its movement began" ("White River" p. 34) This echoes lines in Andrew
Amankwa Opoku's poem Afram, to which Brathwaite has publicly acknowl-
edged his debt.7 Opoku's poem is delivered by an 'I' who is obviously
the river, but who addresses the river and therefore can be said to be the
sunsum (personality, experience) of the river, confiding in its external form.
Compare Brathwaite's "Time's walking river is long ('Techiman' p. 32)
River, I am passing
Red River whose head lies in the mountains
I have pointed my face to the sea
I am from Kwaforoamoa of old
Odomankoma the Creator's time
I started not today
I walk on the way still
River, I am passing Afram p. 55 Voices
Later on, time's sacred river, passive observer at this moment, says
The monkey has espied from the tree tops what is approaching
The eagle has seen afar through the telescope.
Civilization and inventions ushering in calamity, but
River, I am passing
Afram p. 57 Voices
Again, historical change is given pictorial shape in
Once my course was canopied
And my steps were timed to the flutter of the leaves
Adum and mahagany and abako
Cover my waters with shade
For the elephant, the buffalo and bush cow
To drink and regale themselves
River, I am passing
River, I am passing
Today I go through wastes and arid savannah
Thanks to Tele Quashiec
He has brought the tree of wealth and national upheaval
Into the country
And clans no longer group together
But each individual scratches towards where money is
Afram p. 57 Voices
But its indifference to change is stated in
River, I am passing
When Adu Bofoo was marshalling Osee's hosts to Krepi,
I ferried him across
When he returned bringing the European captive
I gave him gifts of mudfish and drink of welcome
If Christianity will reach Oseekurom (Kumase)
It was through my help that Ramseyer crossed over
Afram p. 63 Voices
Despite this, the river is concerned with the future; it is, in fact, time itself:
I am going to make way for the generations that follow
When adults live too long
Children become stunted Afram p. 63 Voices
It is too, the river valleys of the Volta and Tano that one follows on the
north/south route through place-names in "Techiman" But this is not
merely geographical trimming. Just as the apparently geographical data
From the Akuapim ridge un-
rolled a new land. "White River" p. 33
tells of the Ashanti movement south till their encounter with the 'Ga lands',
the Tano and Volta run through the historical process outlined in the poems
on migrations in the sections called "Pathfinders".9 They flow southward
parallelling the human movement from Agades, Axum, Ougadougou, Chad
and Timbuctu and the "serial rise of the seven kingdoms"10:
and the bitter
in "Prelude" p. 3
Although both Afram and Masks contain allusions to the passage of a day,
they refer to a much wider time-span since the river symbolizes the
eternal honhom (essence) in the dimension of time. But for the reason
that this is not the sole theme of Masks, Brathwaite's identification of
the river with time is done by the use of more condensed references than
Opoku's work, by allusion to fords, and to the sea, and by reinforcing
all these with symbols of the pathway. And like Opoku he comes in his "time
stopped where its movement began" ("White River" p. 34) to the same
philosophical conclusion as Afram which states
I who go forth
Am the same that returns Afram p. 65 Voices
Another instance of correspondence between Opoku's work and Brath-
waite's is the relationship these poets establish between man and the
flowing water. Opoku's "asuo meresen" (River, I am passing) which Brath-
waite uses in "Bosompra", is not merely a natural fact, but a symbol of
man's immortal life, and at the same time, of his continuity.
I who go forth
Am the same that returns
River, I am passing
River, I am passing
I am going yonder to my origins.
When a trap relapses it reverts to its original position.
Afram p. 65 Voices
The concept behind this identification is African, not uniquely Opoku's
or Brathwaite's. Its basis is both the belief that powerful spirits inhabit
certain trees and lakes and stones, and that man's continuity lies in his
being a recreating soul for his family, his clan, his nation, his race and his
species. Afram speaks with an ancestral voice, an African ancestor, that
is, one who has undergone death and is yet alive. In addition, the River
Afram is eternal human experience.
It is likely that both these writers under discussion here have been
influenced in their philosophical considerations of the river and time by
lines from Akan oral poetry like these:
The stream crosses the path,
The path crosses the stream
Which of them is the elder?
The stream had its origin long long ago.
The stream had its origin from the Creator.
He created things.
Rattray (2) p. 143
The earth is the other natural element which Brathwaite explores
for philosophical benefit. His resource is the African concept of the earth
as sacred. His thematic focus is on the primal significance of Earth,
addressed on the Ntumpan (Talking Drums) on ceremonial occasions with
Spirit of Earth, sorrow is yours;
Spirit of Earth, woe is yours.
Earth, with its dust,
Earth, while I am yet alive,
It is upon you that I put my trust,
Earth, who receives my body.
Meyerowitz (2) p. 77
Earth when I am about to die, I depend on you.
When I am in life, I depend on you.
Earth that receives the body of the dead,
Good morning to you, Earth. Good morning, Great One.
Nketia (2) p. 20 Voices
It is the earth which Brathwaite uses throughout his trilogy as a source
of psychological and ethnic confidence. This personal and social security,
Brathwaite sees, comes when a people are "grounded" to use the words
of his "Note" p. ix of Islands. And this is why Brathwaite extols African
dance by the use of pregnant words like "leaven" "beat" "drum"
of the drum, beat
the dark leaven
of the dungeon
ground where buds are wrapped
ed round dancing roots. "Prelude" p. 4
The grounded dance is therefore primal worship to the matrix of life,
and itself the final resting-place of the human body Thus
salt crackles at root lips, bursts like a fist
and beats out this
prayer: "Prelude" p. 4
The transmission of elemental power from Mother Earth to the human
body and mind imparts "certainties" and limitless potentialities for future
But slow -
ly our daring un-
curls the mute
whisper and twist
stones of inertia;
rise in the darkness;
and we dance
on the firm
no longer harms
us; birds echo
what the earth
learns; and the earth
with its mud, fat
and stones, burns
in the tun-
of our hot
of song. "Adowa" p. 30
So Masks virtually begins with invocations. Nana Firimpong himself,
like the poet with his masks, is more than one persona. Nana means "literal-
ly begetter, root, seed, producer. The patriarch of the family is nana,
the Paramount Chief of the State is nana, male or female." (Danquah p. 22)
Furthermore the Akan call God Onayme or "Nana Nyankopon" ("grand-
father 'Nyame who alone is the Great One") ancestor of the first Akan,
the primordial ancestor, or of all ancestors in one supreme idea, head
and cause of the family, who are his grandchildren. In its highest form,
he is the Final Ancestor, the Creator, the Creator of the First Progenitor,
who made all diverse Akans of one blood, the True High-God.
"This Nyame lives in the social group and operates as the beneficent
ancestor through his representative or exemplar. the head or chief of the
family, the judge, hero prince of the ancestor's people, the opanyin
or elder who, living in the manner of Nyame, is called a Nana, grandfather,
in his life or death, the ideal of the beneficent life of the group.
The invocations to ancestor Nana Firimpong, and Asase Yaa (the
Earth Goddess) are made to secure prosperity and well-being for the land.
Just as in Rights, Brathwaite has faithfully reproduced the primal interests
of tribal peoples in their prayers, for "food, drink, prosperity, and in-
crease those things which are needed for the sustenance of life and
the continuity of the tribe." (Busia p. 204)
So grant, God
that this house will stand
the four winds
the seasons' alterations
the explorations of the worm.
A clear release from thieves,
from robbers and from those that plot
and poison while they dip
into our dish.
Grant, too, warm fires, good
wives and grateful children. Rights p. 6
Yaa is the name given to a female child born on Thursday, so that
Asase's special day of worship is Thursday "Even now" says Rattray in
Ashanti, published 1923. "the Ashanti farmer will not till or break
the soil on this day, while only some thirty years ago infringement of
this rule was punished by death
"To this day, when the month round which the farmer
commences to till his land Ihis wife (or perhaps his sister) will cook eto
(mashed plantain yani). This, together with fowl, is taken the
land where cultivation is to be commenced. The stands upon the
land and wrings off tie neck of his offering, allowing the blood to drip
upon the eto and upon the earth, and speaks as follows:
Grandfather So-and-So, you (once) came and hoed here and
then you left (it) to me. You also Ear th, Ya. on whose soil I am going to
hoe, the yearly cycle has comc ioulnd and I going to cultivate; when
I work let a fruitful year come upon me, do not let the knife cut me, do
not let a tree break and fall upon me, do not let a snake bite me."
Rattray(1) p. 215.
once you were here
hoed the earth
and left it for me
green rich ready
with yam shoots, the
tuberous smooth of cassava;
take the blood of the fowl
take the eto, mashed plantain,
that my women have cooked
and be happy
may you rest
for the year has come round
You, Mother of Earth,
on whose soil
I have placed my tools
on whose soil
I will hoe
I will work
the year has come round
thristy mouth of the dust
is ready for water
and be happy
may you rest
for the year has come round
And may the year
this year of all years
beyond the fruit of your labour:
shoots faithful to lip
juice to stem
leaves to green;
and may the knife
or the cut-
lass not cut
me; roots blunt,
drifting in harm
to the crops;
raise their red
above the blades
of our labour. "Prelude" pp. 4/6
There are enough verbal echoes between these two extracts to conclude
that Brathwaite fashioned poetry out of Rattray's anthropological data.
He has introduced echoes of the Anglican communion in "take the blood
of the fowl/drink"; he has elaborated on descriptions of the farmer's
crops and on the destructive natural agents they are exposed to, and
has converted biological fact to poetic beauty in the cyclic interaction
of: "shoots faithful to tip/juice to stem/leaves to green. He has em-
bellished the piece with rhythmic repetition:
and be happy
may you rest. "Prelude" pp. 4/5
on whose soil
I have placed my tools
on whose soil
I will work
I will hoc ibid p. 4
And may the year
this year of all years ibid. p. 5
He has focused on the meaningful morphology of "harm-attan"; "cut-lass",
and inserted an ambiguity in the use of "blades" where leaf blades and
cutlass blades are both intended.
Sacrificial rites are part of the invocation to Earth, for achievement
and prosperity involve pain and sacrifice. In the same way, it is at the
point of "The Making of the Drum" that the process of painful creation,
the self-sacrifice of the artist, is exemplified.
First the goat
must be killed
and the skin
stretched. "Making of the Drum" p. 7
It is the same sacrificial animal "horned with our sin" who "chews time"
impersonally like the river:
goats doze in the road-
tryoing the years
with their chew-
ing impersonal stares. "Korabra" p. 47
The goat, imbued with a transcendent quality like the river, bears the spiritual
burden of man. The wood of the tree for the barrel of the drum:
will be bent,
will be solemnly bent, belly
rounded with fire, wound-
ed with tools
that will shape you.
You will bleed,
The percussion sticks are
heat-hard as stone
toneless as a bone. ibid. p. 9
The calabash tree is imperceptibly gnawed away by rats, a sign of mortality
and impermanence. Yet even after all this, God, whose voice is the drum,
"is dumb" But hope is as endemic to man's condition as is error, torture,
sterility, and death: the drum will speak, when "the gong-gong leads/ it."
In truth, it is the gong-gong which gives the rhythmic sequence for the
Atumpan to start:
kon kon kon kon
kun kun kun kun "Atumpan" p. 11
This format is also recalled in the rather concealed allusion to the playing
surface of the drama in the image of concentric circles in water:
throw pebbles in the rout-
ed pools of silence "Prelude" p. 3
The reason for this order is that
walk us through the humble
dead to meet
blind drum. "Making of the Drum" p. 10
This refers to the fact that the metal percussion sequence has an inter-
pretation: "Asamanfo, monko, monko", a plea to the spirits of the de-
parted good to leave the drum and not hinder the performance of the
drummer. "After that the drummer announces himself, and at the close
he says either 'I am learning, let me succeed', or 'I am addressing you,
and you will understand.' He then goes on to address various parts of the
drum, stick and the rattle on the drum and says to each one in turn:
'I am learning, let me succeed.'
"He then proceeds to address the following, one by one: The Earth,
God, the cock, the witch, the court crier, the executioner, all past drummers
and lastly the god Tano." "Talking drums have a function to perform
in dance situations in giving directions to dancers, in using drum
language as the basis of musical rhythms, expression of musical feeling,
and so on. They also have a function to perform on ritual and ceremonial
occasions. Besides being used for making announcements, they are also
important vehicles of traditional poetry the unwritten literature of
proverbs, personal poetry and what is sometimes described as 'Drum
History' The drummer does not need to rely on his own resources,
though he must have a good memory, fluency, knowledge of procedure
and the knack of drumming the right thing at the right moment." "The
full text of the 'Awakening' may be played at about 4 a.m. on a day on
which the Adae festival is to be celebrated, hence its title. The drummer
plays it alone without an audience, though he knows that the Chief and
other people will hear him and will be enjoying his poetry." (Nketia (2)
p. 18 Voices) Some verses from the Awakening as translated in Nketia's
article are as follows:
Spirit of the departed, hence, hence, hence, hence.
Akyeampon, the tall one, very very tall.
Slowly and patiently I get on my feet.
Slowly and patiently I get on my feet.
Opoku the Fair one, I have bestirred myself.
1 am about to play on the talking drums.
Talking drums, if you have been away.
I am calling you; they say come.
I am learning; let me succeed.
Wood of the drum, Tweneboa Akwa.
Wood of the drum, Tweneboa Kodua.
Wood of the drum, Kodua Tweneduro.
Cedar Wood, if you have been away,
I am calling you; they say come.
I am learning; let me succeed.
Drum pegs knocked in by drummers,
Drum pegs, if you have been away,
I am calling you; they say come.
I am learning; let me succeed.
Elephant, Kotomirefi, that frees Kotoko,
Elephant of Kotoko that swallows other Elephants,
Elephant if you have been away,
I am calling you; they say come.
He that saw your birth
Never apprehended your beginning.
He that knew of your formation
Never saw how you were born.
Shall we go forward? We .shall find men fighting.
Shall we press on? We shall find men fleeing
Ampasakyi, drum string of the bark of Obofunu,
Obofunu, the last born,
Drum string, if you have been away,
I am calling you; they say come.
I am learning; let me succeed
Drum stick of Ofema wood,
Curved drum stick,
Drum stick of Ofema wood,
If you have been away,
I am calling you; they say come.
I am learning; let me succeed.
Some iron rattles are drum snares.
Some iron snare-rattles are boisterous.
Snare-rattle, if you have been away,
I am calling you; they say come.
I am learning; let me succeed.
Nketia (2) pp. 119/20
In his "Making of the Drum" Brathwaite has written a variation on the
Anyaneanyane, the Awakening. The animal whose hide provides the drum
surface is, in his poem, not the elephant, but the goat, and he begins
therefore with a praise-poem to the goat instead. He elaborates upon the
ofema, of which bare mention was made in the original; has introduced
the calabash, and writes a life-history of that tree as well as of the ofema.11
He ends with the gong-gong as a cue for "Atumpan" But before he lets
God speak through the drum, he establishes quite firmly the connection
between God and the earth. The God is "grounded" and speaks from
"underground" Of the goat he says:
we have killed
you to make a thin
voice that will reach
further than hope
further than heaven, that will
reach deep down to our gods where the thin
light cannot leak, where our stretched
hearts cannot leap. "Making of the Drum" p. 7
Of the drum wood:
Here in this silence
we hear the wounds
of the forest;
we hear the sounds
of the rivers;
vowels of reed-
of the continent. ibid. p. 8
And of the calabash tree:
Blind underground the rat's
dark saw-teeth bleed
the wet root, snap
its slow long drag of time,
its grit, its flavour; turn
the ripe leaves sour. ibid. pp. 9/10
By this half-explicit suggestion, Brathwaite gives his own personal inter-
pretation to the Anyaneanyane, a significance which is already contained
in African religious belief, but which Brathwaite wishes to emphasize here
through imagery. Yet even while reinterpreting African ideas for his own
purposes, he still relies strongly on the statements contained in African
oral poetry as when he says in "Barrel of the Drum":
For this we choose wood
of the tweneduru tree:
hard duru wood
with the hollow blood
that makes a womb. ibid. p. 8
This is an echo of the drum piece which speaks of the sacredness of the
If the odum tree claims to be a deity, it deserves death.
If the odan tree claims to be a deity, it tells a lie.
With what do we carve drums?
We carve drums with tweneboa. Nketia (1) p. 5
"Atumpan" is a variation of another drum-piece. This time, is the
"Drum History of Mampoii" as found in Rattray (1). The piece is repro-
duced here with its tonal marks: high -and low \ Two ntumpan are used:
the one, male, with a low resonance; the other, the high-pitched female.
Kon, kbn, kon, kon,
Kun, kun, kun, kun,
Od6omnkma 'Kye'rema se,
Okb babi a,
Wa rnia ne-h6 mend s6, (06)
Ak6k6 b6n anopa,
Ak6k6 tua bbn,
Nhfma, hima, himi.
Ye re ky'er w6,
Nso w6 be hu,
Ye rk kyere w6,
Nso w6 be hu.
Kun, kun, kun, kun,
(Spirit of) Funtumia Akore,
(Spirit of) Cedar tree, Akore.
Of Cedar tree, Kodia,
Of Kodia, the Cedar tree,
The divine Drummer announces that,
Had he gone elsewhere (in sleep),
He now has made himself to arise;
(As) the fowl crowed in the early dawn,
(As) the fowl uprose and crowed,
Very early, very early, very early.
We are addressing you,
And you will understand.
We are addressing you,
And you will understand.
Rattray (1) p. 266
Compare Brathwaite's English version:
Spirit of the Cedar
Spirit of the Cedar Tree
Odomankoma 'Kyerema says
The Great Drummer of Odomankoma says
The Great Drummer of Odomankoma says
that he has come from sleep
that he has come from sleep
and is arising
and is arising
like akoko the cock
like akoko the cock
who crows in the morning
who crows in the morning
we are addressing you
ye re kyere wo ...
let us succeed
may we succeed. "Atumpan" pp. 11/12
Brathwaite's is a free translation of Rattray's version. For instance, he
interprets Nso wo be hu (You will understand) as "listen" and introduces
the supplication "let us succeed", a prayer of hope repeated in Brath-
waite's own "Awakening", the final poem of Masks, where he uses the
image of the cock crowing in the early dawn as the symbol of the awaken-
ing consciousness of the Caribbean peoples:
And as the cock
now cries in the early dawn
so slowly slowly
ever so slowly
I will rise
and stand on my feet
ever so slowly
I will rise
and stand on my feet.
Like akoko the cock
like akoko the cock
in the early dawn
akoko bon 'nopa
akoko tua bon
I am learning
let me succeed
I am learning
let me succeed "Awakening" pp. 73/4
In fact, the poet really uses phrases from both of the possible ritual
conclusions to the Anyaneanyane: "I am learning, let me succeed" and "I
am addressing you, and you will understand." (cf. Nketia (2) above) Brath-
waite's deliberate repetition of phrases within the piece itself tends to
slow down the pace, adding dignity to it and creating an impression of
effort and slow growth.
Traditionally, this sort of formulaic message is beaten out on the
talking drums by the 'Creator's drummer' (Odomankoma 'Kyerema). "He
is in the enviable position of being able to call the chief and his ancestors
on the drums without a preceding nana (grandsire).12 He could be mild-
ly unpleasant to the chief on the drums and go scot free. He is closest
to the spirit of the ancestor chiefs whom he addresses. On the approach
of the Akwasidae festival, for example, he recounts the names of the an-
cestor chiefs one by one, praising each one, mentioning his accomplish-
ments, his origin or place of domicile and so on.
"The Creator's Drummer is close to Nature. In accordance with
the world-view held by the Akan, he conjures up the spirit of creation
from whom the components of his drums were obtained and calls upon
the Supreme Being, on all the lesser gods, witches, ancestor drummers
and so on capable of interfering with his work or his well-being. This
exorcism is embodied in libations poured on occasions of performance
or in the ritual observed on the acquisition of a new drum and in the
text of the drum prelude called the Awakening' The drummer of the
talking drums calls himself the Creator's Drummer because as he says on
his talking drums, he is among the first important people to be created:
When the Creator created things,
When the Manifold Creator created things,
What did he create?
He created the Court Crier.
He created the Drummer.
He created the Principal State Executioner."
Nketia (1) p. 154
Indeed, Danquah points out that the kyerema is the symbol of knowledge.
He "is not, as in other orchestras, merely the 'big noise' man. The Ntumpan
drummer is both poet and historian. His mind is a store-house of the
tribe's traditional knowledge. He could not play a single bar on the
Ntumpan or Talking Drums unless he knew what the 'talking' was about,
playing the appropriate stanza on the appropriate occasion, or for the
appropriate person. The kyerema is from childhood trained in the poetry
and lore of the people, and there is not a knowledge (sic.) of nature
or of man which is beyond his comprehension as the language of the
talking drums testifies. He is therefore the Akan symbol of knowledge,
Heaven's Second Creation." (Danquah pp. 72/3) Danquah actually trans-
literates a slightly differing version of the last drum stanza from its
literal meaning to its abstract:
He created the Thing,
He created the Thing.
What did he create?
He created Order,
He created Knowledge,
He created Death,
As its quintessence. Danquah p. 70
Odomankoma means the infinitely manifold Being, and also the
Creator, for one of his strong names is 'Borebore' (the Hewer-Out or Carver);
but Odomankoma is one of three aspects of God together with Onyame
and Nyankopon. Danquah disagrees with Rattray and other anthropologists
who call Onyame the Sky-god. He advances that Onyame means the
Shining One. Onyame is the "ultimate, irreducible Godhead" the "Deity
of pervasive divinity." (Danquah p. 42) The only sign of worship of Onyame
is the Nyame dua, literally God's tree, "the forked post to be found in
most courtyards, on which is placed a pot or bowl containing a stone-
axe, and some offerings to Onyame In many cases the vessel contains
a stone-axe, water, certain herbs, and some offering to the spirits. People
sprinkle themselves with the water to be guarded against evil spirits The
Onyame dua planted at the threshold of many Kings' houses is a sign
that they stand under the protection of God." (Danquah p. 163, from
Christaller, Dictionary of the Twi Language p. 357). This is the tree to
which Brathwaite refers in:
falling before the
Nazarene's cross. "Korabra" p. 47
with, of course, the implied comparison, but not equation, between Nyame's
tree and the tree of Golgotha. Onyame is also Hearing or Understanding
"who first conveyed the intelligence to the Great Ananse, i.e. Nyankopon,
who, in turn, conveyed it to Odomankoma, who thereupon created the
Thing." (Danquah p. 128) The following piece which discusses the pro-
cess is played both on the talking drums and the speaking horns:
Who gave word,
Who gave word,
Who gave word?
Who gave the word to Hearing,
For Hearing to have told Ananse,
For Ananse to have told Odomankoma,
To have made the Thing? Danquah p. 44
That Onyame means the Shining One, probably the Sun, seems
quite plausible from the fact that red and gold are the colours symbolic
of Onyame and of the sun the male element in society. Silver, on the
other hand, is symbolic of the moon and womanhood, (cf. p. 59 Masks)
and is the metal from which the Queen Mothers of the Ashanti states
fashion their jewellery and insignia.13 "Gold, symbol of the kra of Nyame,
the eternal spirit of the sun, is still regarded as sacred. Like the kra of
Nyame, gold is believed to be 'life-giving' (Meyeorwitz (2) p. 197)
"Imperishable and everlasting," it was "therefore the ideal medium to
retain the 'life' of the decaying bodies of the deceased kings and queen-
mothers, and was lavishly used on the corpses and later on the skeletons.
The deceased kings were addressed as 'Givers of pure gold', an allusion
to the belief that now their kras had joined Nyame's they were able to
confer 'life' and prosperity upon their people." ibidd) The counterpane
and sheets on which the king slept "were of yellow silk or brocade,
embroidered with gold, symbolic of the sun. His mattress and pillow were
stuffed with gold dust that would renew his strength during the night.
"All the king's ornaments, eating utensils and ceremonial instru-
ments were of gold, the metal of the sun. On New Year's day in the
evening he appeared as the risen sun on the horizon, his hair and his
naked body powdered with gold-dust adhering to grease, wearing a
cloth woven of hammered gold thread and his whole person covered
with gold ornaments.
"After death the king's kra was represented in the Chapel of the
Stools by a large nugget of gold. His stool, the shrine of his kra, was
covered with sheet gold and its five columns were filled with gold dust.
When the Chapel was closed and the stools lay on their sides so that no
evil spirit could sit on them, they were covered with a large yellow cloth,
heavily embroidered with gold. The king's coffin was encased in gold
on which symbols of heaven were embossed, and his person was covered
with gold ornaments." (Meyerowitz (1) p. 89) Owing to the "magical
life-giving quality" of gold, it "was formerly used extensively in the
ritual connected with kingship and the state; and at Bono-Mansu and
Takyiman14 also in connection with the gods Ntowa and Tano." (Meyerowitz
(2) p. 197) "As a god, Ntowa is symbolized by a piece of gold, which
emphasizes his solar aspect; as a goddess, by the red bodom bead the
magic life-giving bead the colour of blood." ibidd. p. 156) "From the end
of the 15th century onwards," the Ashantis "bartered gold in the central
forest for bota and bodom beads. These beads (were) the first currency,
earlier than the nnaboo, the iron currency." ibidd. p. 207) Later, gold
dust and gold weights were used in trade, but "only as much as was
absolutely necessary for the well-being and prosperity of the state came
into circulation as money; the greater part was hoarded by the state, the
clans, and the individual families, as kra sika, 'soul's gold' ibidd. 197)
It is this part of the cultural and economic background of the Ashanti
kingdom which prompted the lines about the Asantehene:
bota beads, bodom beads
his prosperity; red,
I am wealthy, my wealth
safe from termites; "Tutu" p. 57.
will not rust,
silver grow dimmer,
diminish, show thinner;
but the ivory altars,
tables of horn,
with the day,
white finish glow
black "Kumasi" p. 54
Why did our gold, the sun's
sunsum, safe against termites, crack
under the white gun
of plunder "Sunsum" p. 66
The symbolism of gold is also seen in the importance of theccentral
symbol of the Ashanti nation, the Golden Stool. As a central symbol among
the Akan, a stool is a miniature replica of the cosmos, its three com-
ponent parts symbolizing from the bottom up, the platform of earth,
the sun as centre, and the slightly crescent moon forming the seat. When
an elder dies the stool on which he sat is kept as a shrine over which
libations are poured since the stool now contains the elder's sunsum.
This is why the stool is preferred to the omowale on his return. It is a
mark of his spiritual ties with the motherland, not merely an item of
You who have come
back a stranger
after three hundred years
Here is a stool for
you; sit; do
you remember? "New Ships" p. 37
my stool, tilted sideways, for -
gets slowly the slow press-
ing shape of my presence:
the termites' dark teeth, three
hundred years working,
have patiently ruined my art. "Sunsum" p. 67
The sole Golden Stool is the sunsum of the Ashanti nation, which
Uncle Tom had remembered in Rights:
Atumpan talking and the harvest branch -
es, all the tribes of Ashanti dreaming the dream
of Tutu, Anokye and the Golden Stool, built
in Heaven for our nation by the work
of lightning and the brilliant adze
Rights p. 12
"The full title of the Golden Stool is Sika 'Gua Kofi (the Friday's Golden
Stool) as it was on a Friday that the Stool is supposed to have come into
being." (Rattray (1) p. 288 note 2) The story of its origin and significance
is told by Rattray in these words: "The fourth known King of Ashanti
was Osai Tutu,16 and the first king to make the Ashanti a great people,
and this he achieved by means of the power of 'the Golden Stool,' which
came into being in his reign in the following manner. At this timeCoomas-
sie was subject to Denkyira whose king at this time was Ntim Gyakari
This king had a clansman called Agyei Frimpon, better known as Okomof-
Anothci (i.e. Anotchi, the priest.) This man is stated to have seduced
one of the King's wives and to have fled for his life to the Obi country.
Here he made a study of 'fetish' medicine and became the greatest
'fetish' man the Ashanti have ever had. Anotchi returned to Ashanti,
proceeding to Juaben, where at this time one Akrasi was on the Stool.
Anotchi informed him that he had as special mission from Onyame to
make the Ashanti into a great and powerful nation.
"Osai Tutu was informed, and a great gathering was held in Coomassie
in the presence of the King and the Queen Mother Anotchi, in the
presence of a hugh multitude, with the help of his supernatural power,
is stated to have brought down from the sky, in a black cloud, and amid
rumblings, and in air thick with white dust, a wooden stool with three
supports and partly covered with gold.
"This stool did not fall to earth but alighted slowly upon Osai Tutu's
knees Anotchi told Osai Tutu and all the people that this stool con-
tained the sunsum (soul or spirit) of the Ashanti nation, and that their
power, their health, their bravery, their welfare were in this stool. To empha-
size this fact he caused the King and every Ashanti chief and all the Queen
Mothers to take a few hairs from the head and pubes, and a piece of the nail
from the forefinger.16 These were made into a powder and mixed with
'medicine', and some was drunk and some poured or smeared on the
stool. Anotchi told the Ashanti that if this stool was taken or destroyed,
then, just as a man sickens and dies whose sunsum during life has wandered
away or has been injured by some other sunsum, so would the Ashanti
nation weaken and lose its vitality and power.
"This stool was never to be sat upon. It was not the ordinary stool
ol everyday or even ceremonial use. On very great occasions, and if its power
were to be invoked, the King of Ashanti would just make pretence to sit
upon it three times, and would then seat himself upon his stool, resting
his arm upon the Golden Stool.
"When it was taken to Bantama17 once a year it was conveyed under
its own umbrellas and surrounded by its attendants who in number and
adornments surpassed those of the King who followed it.
"It was during Osai Tutu's reign that Coomassie threw off the yoke
of Denkyira (Rattray (1) pp. 288/90).
"The basis of the Ashanti confederation was military but, in spite
of external successes, the available data support the view that even at
the height of her military glory Ashanti was not a stable nation intern-
ally, for the chiefdoms of the confederation were jealous of their regional
autonomy. What held them together was their allegiance to the Golden
Stool which was the religious symbol of their unity. The strength of the
union rested on military power as well as on religious belief." (Busia
pp. 190/1) Brathwaite recalls the historical rise of Kumasi and its feuds
with its neighboring kingdoms Mampong, Berekum, Akyem, Denkyira
and Juaben in "Kumasi" and suggests these in "The Golden Stool"
He at the same time implies the political corruption and breakdown of
traditional order in modern Ghana in an initial image reminiscent of those
which eloquently glut Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born:
My people, that is the condition of our country today:
it is sick at heart, to its bitter clay.
We cannot heal it or hold it together from curses,
because we do not believe in it.
Like fighting cocks hungry for corn,
the highest crowded perches,
we are destroying our great nation.
Mampong says his shrines sit
heavier upon the snake,
time's coiled misfortune, than those at Berekum;
the Akyems will not care their own sum-
an; it is the same at Juaben;
their drums beat late on in the night, tall
reeds of coward's darkness:
hena beka, hena beka, hena beka hyen!
'Behind our wall, who dares to touch,
who dares to touch, who dares to touch us now!
My people cannot collect tribute.
Gole"Golden Stool" pp. 58/9
A sunman is a talisman; it "protects the wearer and guards him against
harm, or assists him to gain his personal ends, and functions effectively
or not, according to the care given it." (Busia p. 195) 'Hena beka, hena
beka, hena beka hyen' is the drum-signal made by one of the component
bands of the Akan armies. There were over two dozen such bands in
an army, each having its own symbolic motto to avoid collision with
others on the field, to provide encouragement to its members and to
taunt the enemy. (Reindorf p. 112) 'Asante Kotoko' in "Kumasi" is
a war-cry of the Ashantis meaning that the Ashanti nation is as in-
vincible as the porcupine who replaces its quills as it shoots them forth:
As thousands of soldiers are killed, thousands replace them. But when the
confederation was at peace, it basked in its greatness and the fear it
instilled in its opponents:
city of gold,
paved with silver,
tables of horn,
pray that the morn-
ing brings love;
led with rain; the west
of eager tipped wings. "Kumasi" p. 55
"Wings" probably refers to arrows, and therefore to war.
As the Golden Stool is the nation's sunsum, the Asantehene's per-
son is the visible soul (kra) of the nation. For this reason the king must
never stumble. Should he do so in procession a slave was immediately
sacrificed on the spot to absolve the nation of an error which the king's
fall had signified. So that besides considerations of dignity, the Asantehene
had perforce to walk slowly for spiritual reasons. When carried in the
palanquin, his bearers too had to tread carefully.
And slowly slowly
ever so slowly
see how he slowly
comes to his feet
every ever so slowly
take care not to stumble
you of the palanquin. "Tutu" p. 56
The reiterations of "slowly slowly" in the final poem of the book there-
fore indicate that in the West Indian process of learning and achievement,
one must go, not brashly like Gros Jean, not naively like Mi Jean, but
carefully, wisely and surely, like Ti Jean in Derek Walcott's play named
after the three brothers. This is again reminiscent of the foetus image,
the bolom, that Brathwaite himself uses extensively in Islands and which
Walcott also incorporates into Ti Jean and His Brothers as a symbol of
tortured growth and eventual liberation.
To return to the Akan symbolism which Brathwaite explores in
Masks, we note that on religious festivals the king clothed himself like
a priest, in white calico, since "white is a substitute for silver and as such
is symbolic of the moon and conveys purity and peace. (Meyerowitz
see the bright symbols he's clothed himself in:
gold, that the sun may continue to shine
bringing wealth and warmth to the nation;
mirrors of brass to confound the blind
darkness; calico cloth to keep us sin.
ibid. p. 56
And the Asantehene, like all the other hene (chiefs), must never let his
feet touch the ground "for in the earth the dead are buried and death
may defile the life-giving powers of his kra. In fact death was taboo for
the king. (Meyerowitz (1) p. 217):
feet that never once had known
the ground, jumped from their palanquins
and ran. "Golden Stool" p. 59
In procession, someone walked behind the king carrying a pair of sandals
should the one he wore split.
As the nation's soul, the Asantehene goes through the annual ceremony
of washing the nation's soul, that is, himself, in the River Tano. This cere-
mony takes place during the Odwira or Yam festival and is a rite symbolic
of the cleansing of the community. The kra is different from the sunsum.
In the development of spiritual concepts among the Akan as traced by
Meyerowitz, the "kra and sunsum came to be regarded as complementary
parts of a whole. The kra now represents not only life and life-giving
power, but also the immortal soul, the unconscious pysche, the id of
psycho-analysts, as opposed to the sunsum, the ego, the mortal soul,
consciousness of self, personality (Meyerowitz (1) p. 60) The child
inherits its kra from its father.18 This spirit is the ntoro, while to its
mother the child owes its blood (mogya), so that the child owes its
"veins' memories" not to its father's family but to its mother's clan or
abusua. This concept of heredity is what Brathwaite refers to in the lines:
Let me without
blood, my father's
holy kra, traverse
paths where yet
the new dead
cannot know that
time was evil. "Korabra" p. 45
In these lines, Brathwaite expresses a wish to enter the world of the dead
ancestral slaves and experience in reverse the journey that brought them
to Elmina, the Portuguese slave fort at Cape Coast "white stone/stalking
the sun-/light." In this reincarnation experience he comes from the sea
into the "dungeon ground" and into the land of the Fantis, Akwapims
and Ashantis, and he sees the pattern of social and economic life shattered
by the slave trade. Appropriately enough, the imagined experience is re-
counted the poem called "Korabra" which signifies reincarnation and
is the name given to certain funeral dirges of the Akan. (Nketia (I) p. 36.)
Brathwaite also speaks of the occurrence of ritual death in Ashanti.
Immediately after the descent of the Golden Stool, he deals with the
practice of human sacrifice as a means of ensuring the preservation of
the tribe. Tempels in his Bantu Philosophy tackles the African's reasons
behind the detection of witches and their ostracism or elimination. Evil
must be cleansed from the social fabric to maintain the purity and the
prosperity of the group. If evil resides consciously or unconsciously in
an individual, that individual must be destoryed. If a crime has been
committed by an individual, it is a stain on the clan and the nation and must
be publicly absolved. This is the rationale behind murder which on a purely
physical level is brutish and inhuman to the African. (Rattray (3) Chap. 26)
But the execution of slaves or of select individuals for spiritual reasons
was sanctioned by the society. War captives and traitors were beheaded,
and those who had committed adultery with the king's wives. For some
religious occasions, a slave or slaves were killed, or a particularly virtuous
person. At the death of the Asantehene, his wives sacrificed themselves
to accompany his kra to the otherworld. Official mourners killed at
random to express their grief. The reason for this was that "the death
of an Akan king was regarded as one of the greatest misfortunes which
could befall a state, for it was believed that once the king had died
chaos must prevail, because the order of the universe, embodied in the
king's person, was destroyed by his death. (Meyerowitz (1) p. 186)
Brathwaite suggests the ritual nature of these deaths in the lines:
For the tribe's
sake, the priests cried:
die. Let the tongues,
lips' labials rot "Golden Stool" p. 60
Parallel to this, for the third reason given for the bases of Ashanti power
and prosperity, is the Asantehene's spiritual power, recorded in this state-
For I am the life of my people.
Like the cock
I produce shocks
like the hen
I bear eggs when
the cycle is ripe: white
salt, tasteless soul
body, red yolk
where the meaty heart
And when the cycle is ripe
I, giver of life to my people,
crack open the skull, skill
of shell, care-
fully carved craft
of bones, and I kill.19 "Golden Stool" p. 61
Brathwaite's refusal to comment on this practice, his understanding of
the spiritual motive behind the act, recalls the pragmatism of the drum
stanza already quoted which states:
When the Creator created things,
When the Manifold Creator created things,
What did he create?
He created the Court Crier.
He created the Drummer.
He created the Principal State Executioner.
Death is again the theme when Brathwaite writes "Tano" but it is
a death unto life, the death that comes from parting, and is probably, in
sentiment, a reflection on Brathwaite's own sense of deprivation on leaving
Ghana, his mentor for seven years. But the poet contains a personal
and ethnic sense of sorrow in formal traditional terms in parts 1 and 2
of the piece. Brathwaite's writing is based upon the sense of omni-
present death recognized by the Akan people when in their oral poetry
they sing the expressive and repetitive "Damirifa due" out of a personal
and, at the same time, universal sense of loss and leave-taking. The theme
is present at the end of the Anyaneanyane when the drummer plays:
Slowly and patiently 1 get on my feet.
Slowly and patiently I get on my feet.
Ta Kofi, noble one,
Ta Kofi, noble one,
The drummer of the Talking Drums says he is kneeling before you
He prays you, he is about to drum on the Talking Drums.
When he drums, let his drumming be smooth and steady.
Do not let him falter.
I am learning,l let me succeed.
Nketia (2) p. 23 Voices
But the Anyaneanyane is not the only source for this particular poem. An
even more direct influence upon "Tano" is the traditional funeral dirge
to Mother Tano, Onyame's eldest child:
O Amankwatia, whom does death overlook?
I am an orphan, and when I recall the death of my father,
water from my eyes falls upon me.
When I recall the death of my mother, water from my
eyes falls upon me.
We walk, we walk, O Mother Tano,
Until now we walk and it will soon be night.
It is because of the sorrow of death that we walk
(i.e. to the burial ground).
Meyerowitz (2) p. 137
The Tano is subject of several traditional poems. One occurs almost at
the end of the Awakening, just as Brathwaite's invocation of aid to the
Tano comes near the conclusion of Masks.
Konkon Tano, Birefi Tano,
Asubirekete, the ubiquitous river,
River-god of the King of Ashanti,
Noble River, noble and gracious one,
When we are about to go to war,
We break the news to you. Nketia (2) p. 23 Voices
Brathwaite's version of the latter shows his heavy reliance on the repetition
of oral poetry to capture the style and simple sincere expression typical
of folk poetry all over the world. But he does not use the motif of'walking'
only to imply a movement towards death, but also an entry into the
dark womb of the future, an extrication from the dilemma of identity
for all the recently arrived peoples in the New World.
Both Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana and Samuel Asein of Nigeria have
done well to point to the African matrix of Brathwaite's work. I do not
wish to claim that Brathwaite's poetry originates exclusively from this
source, or to deny Rohehr's point about Eliot's influence on Brathwaite,
but to show his strikingly strong debt to African thought and poetry,
particularly in Masks. But this African element is present throughout the
whole trilogy. Asein points to Brathwaite's general use of "praise poetry,
the lament, the dirge, incantatory verse, the curse and abuse" (Asein p. 15)
and the African significance of his use of 'I' In Rights, there is an overt
debt in the invocation on p. 6 and in the reference to Africa on p. 12,
but Africa is the matrix too of the strong rhythmic quality of his verse
and the free-wheeling jazz form of Brathwaite's hyphenated and comma-
less lines, the deliberate contravention of Western poetic norms, not to
mention the obvious similarity to jazz of the train piece on p. 32. The
West Indian dialect sections too contain much that in grammar, idiom,
onomatopeia, rhythm and intonation harks back to African languages. In
Islands, the Technical resemblance to jazz is still present. And the esoteric
thrice-repeated lines Asein notes (pp. 32 3) is reinforced by the frequent
surrealism of the verse and by the insistence on the possession rituals of
Afro-Caribbean religious practices and carnival. The section "Eating the
Dead" is another allusion to African custom, to the gravest of oath-
takings in which participants drink 'medicine' in which symbols of a
god have been washed. This oath incurs for its breaking the penalty of
dishonourable death, so that a desperate threat and fervent promise are
contained in the lines:
But I can show
you what it means to eat
your god, drink his explosions of power
and from the slow sinking mud of your plunder, grow.
Islands p. 65
But the Akan concepts, ritual and phrases in Masks make this poem the
most African of the three. Moreover, Brathwaite's exploitation of African
motifs and background in Masks gains definition and clarity by his con-
centration on that of one culture within the African mosaic. "By theme,
idiom and rhythm," Aidoo says, Brathwaite "shows what excellence can
emerge from an honest awareness and utilisation of one's inheritance
He has done what other black writers have done, or tried, or should try,
to do but never succeeded so well. This includes everyone from Cesaire
and Senghor to the contemporary young crop. I refer to, first, acceptance
of Africa our shame, our glories, past and present, not in defence or
aggression, but quietly, as being us and all that is us, and that it is out of
this that anything meaningful can come, including 'our contribution to a
universal culture.' "This is the awareness of the reality contained in his
lines." (Aidoo p. 1099 West Africa) Further on, specifying the passage:
God of the path-
God of the
God of all part-
ing, we greet you. "Masks" n. 43
she comments: "The words are English but everything else here is naked
Akan. Indeed his totally skilful use of the one African language he under-
stands, Akan, in combination with English, makes some of us ashamedly
envious and jealous." ibidd.) In fact, Brathwaite's use of traditional themes,
motifs and language reminds one of the poetry of the Ghanaian. I feel
that Brathwaite excels Awoonor in the artistic restructuring of modern
literature out of the resources of African oral poetry a mastery as much
connected with Brathwaite's exploitation of a dense mosaic of symbols, and
his creative experimentation with English and Akan word morphology, no
less than with his grasp of the well-springs of African philosophy, and his
ability to interweave symbol, word, rhythm and concept in a sustained
artistic work. Brathwaite has spanned the Middle Passage through his verse,
and has integrated both African and West Indian history and concerns. His
themes and language and rhythms are equally those of Africa and of the
Caribbean. Passages like the following four demonstrate Brathwaite's
linguistic allegiance to both worlds' The first carries echoes of Shakes-
peare, Yeats, Eliot and Dylan Thomas; the second uses the antiphonic
responses and natural images and terse language of African speech well
captured in Achebe's early novels: the third utilizes the mnemonic
quality of much African and other folk poetry; the fourth has the
effects of grief and consolation found in the psalter-
1. And I return,
walking these burnt-
out streets, brain limp-
ing pain, masked
in this wood, straw
and thorns, seek-
ing the dirt of the com-
pound where my mother
buried the thin breed-
ing worm that grew
from my heart
to her sorrow. "Sunsum" p. 65
2. Chiefs and people of the Asantehene
let all be well
All is well
Chiefs and people of the Asantehene
let all be well
We are listening.
When the worm's
knife cuts the
throat of a three,
what will happen?
It will die
When a cancer has eaten the guts
of a man, what will surely happen?
He will die
"Golden Stool" p. 58
3. I travelled to a distant town
I could not find my mother
I could not find my father
I could not hear the drum "New Ships" p. 38
4. My Lord, all this time since we left
Walata, you have led these people. Are you not
I am very tired, Munia. My head
aches, my feet
are weary; sometimes
the light seems to sing before my face.
My blood cries out for rest.
"Volta" p. 20
As such, Masks is both an African poem (at once modern and traditional)
and a West Indian one. The uniqueness of the poet's achievement lies in
his deep knowledge and understanding of African culture culled both from
written sources and from first hand experience. I speak of Brathwaite's
own observation of Ghanaian life because the wealth of his allusions to
data which I have gathered from written sources may lead one to imply that
he was not only literary but also anthropological in his use of African culture.
In the first place, the literature I have used is in large part merely a
documentation of aspects of everyday life which Brathwaite had witnessed,
not only visually, but orally, aurally, and tangibly. It is important to
emphasize here that the vigour and variety of African traditional culture,
at least in West Africa, is still such that the interested West Indian can be
confounded by what appears to him the unbelievably rich texture of
African custom. This is not because the West Indies, as a totality, has
not evinced a similar cultural complexity, but because West Indian ex-
perience is fragmented along lines of class, colour, ethnicity, and education
in a way that African life, for the vast majority of any single tribe, is
not (yet). And in addition to this compartmentalization of West Indian
experience, each cultural entity has throughout its history in the region
been eroded by numerous factors, among them the cultural recondition-
ing needed to qualify for new class status in a community where social
mobility is comparatively high; increasing urbanization, continuous migra-
tion, geographical proximity to a strong culture-export area such as
North America, and the steady submergence of traditional lore and art
by mass media and mass production. But given an alternative environment
where native modes of thought and ceremony are so fundamental to the
total functioning of that society, it is hardly possible for one who had not
experienced such a culture to be so faithful to its framework, nor to be
so selective in his use of aspects of its ritual and oral poetry. Had he
wanted, Brathwaite had a much more extensive resource at his disposal,
but then he would very probably have rewritten anthropology at the ex-
pense of poetry. Rather, it is clear that he has not simply relied on books
for his sources, but on those features of Akan life that caught his interest
and fascination, that furthermore could be refashioned by his own poetic
imagination, and too, which accorded with the poetic exigencies of the
poem he wanted to create. Asein's statement on the issue can be repeated
here with reason. "His intimate knowledge of the spiritual basis of African
social organization is evident in the graphic representations of religious
situations; relying on specific invocations of certain gods and deities;
reenacting rituals and simulating sacrificial rites without losing the poetic
vigour of his lines. In spite of his leaning toward the anthropological,
he is first and foremost a poet." (Asein p. 16) The fact that Brathwaite
deals with concrete fact: West Indian history and society in Rights;
the Caribbean its socio-political morass, its religious responses in Islands,
should not obscure the poetic validity of his verse. He uses these media
to make public his own spiritual values and his private views on his
society, subjecting them to the transforming power of his verse.
Masks is not an exercise in anthropological exposition, but a series
of meditations on life, and on the painful nature of history, for as time
unfolds human hope and effort are both fulfilled and betrayed. It is not
strange that this should be the poem's central theme, considering that
these are concerns which have been present in Brathwaite's work from
the time of his first publication. "Shadow Suite" published in 1950 when
Brathwaite was still a 6th former, already exhibits the poet's peculiar
verbal inventiveness and phrasal conciseness. The shadowy figures in the
paradoxical drama of futility and positivity who attempt to define both
the human and particularly the West Indian condition, bear a strong
resemblance to the shadows who inhabit Eliot's Waste Land. There is
also much in theme that links the two poems. For one, Brathwaite leans
heavily on Eliot's concept of time. Whereas the circularity of historical
evolution subtly informs Brathwaite's perspective of slavery in Rights
and harmoniously blends into the texture of African philosophy out
of which Masks is born, Brathwaite, at the stage of "Shadow Suite"
employs it far more obviously, in a manner which suggests the attractive-
ness more intellectual than felt of the concept. He had clearly
not yet achieved that maturer unified response of thought and feeling
when one's perspective of life is automatically conditioned by concepts
now accepted as axiomatic. It is not then surprising that the young
Brathwaite overtly outlines his intellectual perception of the shadow suite
in the poem's very second stanza and with the distinct Eliotesque verbal
and conceptual echoes:
Know that here you will see
Only what you have already seen
What you hear
Is only what you have already heard
For life is an eternal pattern
Woven only into different mottoes -
"Shadow Suite" Bim 3:12
But the difference in emphasis between the two poems is that where
Eliot sees Europe as a land fallen from reclaimable grace, recalled through
literary allusion, for Brathwaite, the "Antilles without tradition" is in a
painful stage of becoming because it has little in its history to provide
it with a forward impetus. As such the focus here is on the painfully slow
evolutionary process, an evolution, treated here with less hope of materializ-
ing than in Islands, but similarly tinged with images of despondency
and despair. So
"The substance of our first act
Will be shadows, and the strife with shadows.
Heavier the interval than the consummation
All things prepare the event. Watch."
The islands are without light and scripture.
Across the grey-skinned water
The voice of preparation
Dashes its bitter gospel on the spray chipped rock.
There is no shadow even in the heat of day
And darkness, darkness on the face of inter-island waters.
The islands isolated
Separated by the air-mail letter-form or cable
Or the radio-telephone.
The isolated islands
Exchange only adventurous sea-coconuts
But the poet translates his ambivalent attitudes towards this social, economic
and historical stasis into a vision of the "shadow-dance" -
The dance of negative and positive
Dance of light and darkness
And with further despair towards the close of the work admits that
Behind these shadow-dancers
Are crying voices
And the lamentation of the funeral dance.
But the poet seeks to maintain an even keel between hope and despair,
the visions of redemption and of death. For the poem closes with an
affirmative reply to a refrain-like prayer repeated throughout the poem,
"What is Thy answer, Lord" -
Heavy now the interval
And Thy answer Lord
But even before the close, Brathwaite had used a series of striking images,
both static and kinaesthetic, which betray this desire to achieve a healthy
balance of perspective. He speaks of
Dung and death
On the dyawning pavement.
We would do well to compare this simultaneous vision of death, decay,
and dawn with the overall tone of each of the books of his later trilogy,
so well heralded by the central theme in the "Prelude" of Rights:
in their own
resurrect butter -
dance in the noon
of a morning.
dragged in now
But the poet envisions creativity, imaged through the silica which "glitters"
with hope.20 Constructive energy follows logically and naturally upon
this and there comes the urge to "build now/the new/villages." At this
juncture, the irresistible cycle of hope, effort and decay is communicated
in the antithetical sequence of "but's"
But populations of flies
arise from the cattle
towns: blood sucking
Rights pp. 3/4
nibble and ulcer:
backed swarms bringing
silence, the slender
proboscis of rot.
In the hot
dead bodies settle
given up to the blanket
that covers and warms
from the heat of the final
But across the
dried out gut of the river-
The trees are
burns the dream
of a fountain,
garden of odours,
soft alleyways. Ibid. pp. 4 6
So the villages are rebuilt,.the familiar process is repeated;
But square frames
rots, smooth mortar
too remains mortal,
trapped in its own salt,
its unstable foundations of water. Ibid, p. 6
And despite the hopeful prayer for life and permanence, it is fire this
time, not the tsetse fly, that brings the fated destruction.
Now in Masks, writing against the background of one particular
culture, Brathwaite reflects in his verse upon the universals of change,
human fears and hopes, the futility of human effort towards perfection
and wholeness, and man's concern with survival in the face of inevitable
and pervasive death. Lines like the following echo those of the medieval
'Ubi sunt?' Latin and Anglo-Saxon poems:
Where are the dancers,
the flutes' reed voices
cut from the river, the songs
achievement of cymbals? "Ougadougou" p. 17
The next are highly reminiscent of the tone, wording and setting of
Khayyam's Rubaiyat and Shelley's Ozymandias and serve to continue
a persistent theme of death and decay and the omni-presence of nature's
And what wealth here, what
riches, when the gold returns
to dust, the walls
we raised return again
to dust; and what sharp winds,
teeth'd with the desert's sand,
rise in the sun's dry
brilliance where our mosques
mock ignorance, mock pride,
burn in the crackled blaze of time,
return again to whispers, dust.
"Timbuctu" p. 19
Man realizes that only by investing a person or an object with spiritual
dimension can he expect to make closer contact with the intangible and
elusive ideals such as eternity, health and perfection. That is why, for
instance, kra sika is "safe against termites" (pp. 57, 66). But, in collusion
with physical nature is man's own natural propensity to error. Whereas
the poet can find no seminal answer to the cause for the erosion of African
values by Western economic needs ("Sunsum" p. 67), he lets El Hassan
give generalized reasons for the decay of empires: "Our empire/fell through
weakened thoughts, through/quarrelling." ("Volta" p. 20) Besides, man
has let politics, religious differences and martial strength wreak havoc
on the stability of societies and kingdoms. The section "Pathfinders" is
as much about Africa's glorious past as it is about man's inhumanity and
blindness. For this reason, Brathwaite sets up antitheses in the poem.
With the wholeness of vision permitted by a sense of continuity, positives
are continually counterbalanced by their negation. "Mmenson", which
sounds the call for the parade of history, sums it up this way: "recount
now the gains and the losses." (p. 15) Rohlehr remarks on the irony in the
recurrent juxtaposition of arrival and departure (private correspondence),
creation and disintegration (Rohlehr (1) p. 188) in the poem. As we have
seen, it is the dance of death that Brathwaite arranges to be performed
at the birth of a new settlement. And just when the Guinea slave is
pictured in his dungeon at Elmina, his shackles "buds" round his
his feet, Brathwaite makes him celebrate the dance; just when the slave is
about to be shipped off to a life of rootlessness in the New World as
described in Rights, just then the poet recreates the relative certainties
of an agricultural existence in the prayer to the Earth and the ancestor.
But permanence is non-existent, certainties are short-lived as we see in
"Pathfinders" In contrast to the stasis of a settled life is the dynamism
of migration, accompanied by the instinctive need to recreate following
each abortive social and political experience. But despite the disintegration
implied in migration, it taxes human endurance and breeds creativity
("Forest" "Adowa"), one of the positives with which Brathwaite would
like to credit Africa's 'motherless' children in the New World. (cf. Rights,
The tension between wholeness and disintegration starts off the
poem. The cosmos is a creative force but it harbours dichotomies; on
the one hand, unity of experience, social framework, art; on the other,
war and bitterness. ("Prelude" p. 3) Jealousy and pillage were and are
endemic to African societies, like all others. The seeds of division were
fratricidally at work there even before the momentous cataclysm which
"Pathfinders" prepares us for in "Return" "Crossing the River", and
"Arrival": the confrontation of two worlds motivated by very different
impulses. Now, Benin is sacked not by other Africans, but by the British,
and the white man's materialism and his slave economy infect and shatter
the religious foundations of African cohesion within the very tribe itself.
The supreme product of this dichotomy in African civilization is,
for the West Indian, the slave. In chains, he is symbol of the divisive
forces of his society; as an artist, like the poet himself and the blind
fisherman in Islands, he represents the integrative "certainties" of his
tribal life. He, like the contradiction of good and evil in his society,
expresses his grief in dance, just as Brathwaite celebrates his poem of
sorrow as a "song" Man's instinct then, is towards the positive. This
ancestral slave, like so many slaves after him, seeks an expression of his
suffering in life, assertion and wholeness: under his feet the "dungeon
ground" is "dark leaven" So his memory turns to the land, to tradition
and to religion. It is significant that the three poems of this section
"Libation" all end on a note of prayer and bated expectation. The
emotion here is one of hope, a word which recurs time and time again
throughout the entire work. The very first poem, "Prelude" closes with
a prayer for survival that
raise their red
above the blades
of our labour "Prelude" pp. 5/6
These are some of the universal themes one can glean from the poem
behind Brathwaite's obvious concern with West Indian historical experience,
and his exploitation of the practices of an African society. The latter he
uses to lend his work concreteness of reference. In addition, he gives
density to its texture by employing the traditional symbols and motifs
of that culture: gold, flowing water, invocation, sacrifice, the drum, the
stool, the identification of the drummer with the cock and with dawn and
therefore with creativity and renewal of life. Poised in Masks halfway
between the stance of the oral formulaic poet and that of the modern
poet of Western tradition, Brathwaite can have recourse to conventional
poems and devices while at the same marrying them to the products of
his own creative imagination. His exploitation of imagery in this poem:
of darkness, light and sight; of soil and stone surfaces; of heat and cold,
movement through time and space, and of music, are but one means by
which he writes engage poetry with an eye for the aesthetic. The earth
is frequently mentioned to infer the "grounded" nature of African life
and belief; it is also a symbol of death, being the nest of the corrosive
agents rats and termites. But by probing the "dark roots" (p. 29),
by tunnelling underground, one gains entrance to dimensions of truth;
for the earth equally sustains life as harbours death and decay. This is
why underground is dark with the darkness of the womb and of the tomb,
and why the drum and the musical instruments which accompany it
speak of dawn and life ("Atumpan") out of earth-wisdom and death,
certainty and mystery ("The Making of the Drum"), and why the kyerema
is the symbol of knowledge. For birth and death are not opposites in
Akan thought, but differing manifestations of reality and time's con-
tinuity. "Death is only an aspect of birth." (Danquah p. 156) With this in
mind, the lines
the dark was silence, still
the dark was home. "Forest" p. 25
suggest a unity between darkness, silence and home; the latter in the
sense of both the grave and the house for the living, in a poem where
settlement connotes rebirth. Furthermore, recognition of the dark and
of death occurs at the same time as the birth of new communities takes
place. This is not irony, but an instance of the poet's awareness of the
duality and contradiction inherent in each event in life experience. In
the same way, the imagery of exploratory movement outwards which
predominates in Pathfinders is complemented by imagery of linear move-
ment inwards, towards the soul's centre of watery Chad, the "womb'd
heaven" (p. 29) of the forest. And psycho-physical movement inwards is
further underscored by images of downward motion which are then
counterbalanced by images of upward thrust and hope and resurrection.
In the light of this, the river, the sea, the pathway and the forest, the hoe
and gravel, tree root, growing plant, the voice raised in cry, shout or song
are all symbols of the journey through history, through life, and even,
of the journey into self. But the physical symbols of historical and personal
experience are not in fact as attractive as the descriptions with which
the poet sometimes clothes them, so that by contrast, the path is always
dark (pp. 25, 73), the sea's salt scorches the eye (p. 51), the river's walking
never ceases (p. 32), the stone is painful to the sole (p. 67), the gravel
hides the heritage of birth (p. 65), to enter the forest is to embark on
"the pistil journey into moistened gloom. (p. 25) These are all part
of the natural environment from which man cannot escape. He in fact
longs for these symbols of hardship and danger, perhaps unconscious of
what they will bring. Crowds flock to the Volta; El Hassan, rugged man
of the desert, dreams of Naderina. He is lured to the forest by
the sound of silver run-
ning with the clink of water
as if a river were flowing
soft and always south from here. "Volta" p. 22
But these clinks foreshadow the chains of slavery.
Probably inspired by scenes of nomadic life around the shores of
Lake Chad, Brathwaite uses this circumstance to universalize man's eternal
quest and longing. Man seeks the "soul of the world."
no peace in this world
till the soul
knows this dark water's
world. "Chad" p. 18
But winds of war and restlessness are born there. So man never knows
the soul of peace.
in his dark rest-
less haste; search-
ing for hope; seek-
ing his fate
far from the shores
of this lake. ibid.
Hope mocks the pathway and man's longing:
I have longed for
markets again, for parks
where my people may walk,
for homes where they may sleep,
for lively arenas
where they may drum and dance.
Like all of you I have loved
these things, like you
I have wanted these things.
But I have not found them yet.
I have not found them yet. "Volta" pp. 20/1
This disillusionment leads man to another prayer for survival and protection:
Can you hide me now
from the path's hope-
less dazzles, halts,
meetings, leaves' sudden
betrayal of silence, the sun's
long slant sloping
to danger? "Bosompra" p. 51
For there is no limit to suffering. To the native African, the sea was the
utmost limit of life's possibilities and dangers; for the slave and his descend-
ants who had perforce to "point (their) face to the ships", white salt
of the sea at their feet, it is the islands of the New World which represent
a new dimension of suffering and creativity. This is the irony of the lines:
This was at last the last;
this was the limit of motion;
time stopped where its movement began;
horizons returned inaccessible.
Here at last was the limit. "White River" p. 34
Ever since that supposition was proved wrong, the difference between
the continental African and the slave descendant is the sum of their familiarity
with each other's landscape and culture. The omowale therefore finds
"a new world of discovered here" in Africa. He who offered food and
drink to his ancestor now returns to have food proffered him with the
question: "Do you remember?" A near amnesia21 separates the slave
descendant from his ancestral ways, for whereas the ancient migrations
had allowed the emigrants to wilfully "forget" old gods ("Forest" p. 26)
and refashion new ones more in harmony with their environment, the
slave's journey across the Middle Passage had meant a forced alienation
from the past and tradition. For the former, there was still continuity
between the old way of life and the new; as the poem shows, for example,
polytheism persisted, if only with new gods. ("Forest" p. 28, "Adowa"
p. 29) On the other hand, one justification of the slave trade by Europe
was that it would help erase what the West considered the undesirable
ways and ideas of Africa and create a tabula rasa for European tastes and
beliefs. That this aim was not completely achieved is one part of the story
of Islands; but its near-effectiveness has ensured that "creation has
burned to a spider L' (Islands p. 5).
Given this history of "pisstilence", of Europe's attempts at suffoca-
tion of the cultural expression of other ethnic groups now equally indigenous
to the West Indies, Brathwaite, the omowale, gains new inspiration from
his journey to one of the ancestral homes. He leams both of Africa's
past and its present. But this is a searing and frightening experience a
probing into self, and a reintegration with old gods, values and customs
which form for him a source of consolation for his wounded psyche and
a new inspiration for his creative energies.
MAUREEN WARNER LEWIS
1. Hereafter referred to as Rights.
2. In fact, as is shown later in this essay, this is a concern which dates from
Brathwaite's very first publication.
3. Sankofa means 'that which turns back to seize again' (Meyerowitz (1) p. 91)
and is represented with its tail in its beak.
4. In the text, a book or article is referred to by its author.
5. This term is slightly out of place in a discussion centered around Akan culture.
The word is Yoruba and is commonly in use to refer to an African descendant
not native to Africa who returns to the continent. It means literally "child
(who has) come home".
6. A sacred lake among the Ashantis. It is considered as having come into existence
on a Sunday, hence the title 'Kwesi'.
7. In a lecture on Masks in a course on African Literature jointly sponsored by
the African Studies Association of the West Indies and the Extra-Mural De-
partment of the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. 15 May, '71.
8. The man who introduced the cocoa plant into Ghana (then the Gold Coast).
9. This north/south migration is a simplification of a much more complex pattern
of human movement, not only from the desert, but also from the south north-
wards, and from the eastern and western areas of the south coast.
10. Brathwaite's words in the lecture referred to above.
11. The fact that Brathwaite talks of a goat-skin drum and of the calabash tree
indicates that he is referring here not to the making of an African drum, but
a West Indian one. Ghanians use the elephant skin for the top of the Atumpan,
and the African calabash bears on a vine, not a tree. It is in the West Indies
that the shac-shac gourd comes from a tree. This is another example, then, of
the poet's use of Akan ritual and poetry for his personal purposes. It is interest-
ing to note too that although the poetry has apparently been lost, the cere-
monial implied in the addresses made to various parts of the drum is parallelled
in the Caribbean by the consecration services held for drums before their initial
use in sacred celebrations. An extended description of such a consecration is
given in Herskovits pp. 276 8.
12. Rather obscurely expressed. Nana is a term of reverence which prefaces a
personal name. The kyerema has the liberty of omitting the polite address -
nana when calling the name of his king or the names of his own ancestors.
13. This is a concept similar to that of the Fon of Dahomey who in their twin
creative principle Mawu-Lisa associate the deity Mawu with feminity and the
moon. while Lisa represents the sun, the day and maleness. Brathwaite recalls
the creative nature of these two heavenly bodies when he speaks of the earth
as being brought forth:
of heaven ... "Prelude" p. 3
14. Also spelt 'Techiman'.
15. He ruled in the 18th century, it is believed.
16. In a note to this, (Rattray (1) note 4 pp. 289 90) the significance of this
action is explained: "In the event of a person dying far from home, and it being
impossible to remove the body for burial, some hair and nail parings are taken
and brought home to convey the sunsum of the deceased to look after the
persons of its ntero who are still alive."
17. The Royal Mausoleum of the Ashantis.
18. This seems to be the most commonly held idea on the matter, but there are
slight variations, cf. Busia p. 197, who quotes an informant saying that the
father gives his sunsum to his child, while its kra comes from God. For some,
however, the line between the kra and the sunsum is very thin.
19. Rohlehr uses this passage as an example of the degeneration of the divinity
of kings into the egomania of political leaders (private correspondence, cf. also
a variation of this opinion in Rohlehr (1) pp. 185/6). This in itself I think a
reasonable commentary, but viewing it against the background of African
thought. I would like to emphasize here that the Akan king did have the right
of life and death over his subjects and that a statement such as this accords
faithfully with the Akan concept of the king's spiritual power.
20. Brathwaite pointed out the significance of this image in a University of the
West Indies Department of English seminar held at Mona in April, 1971.
21. Derek Walcott uses the term "amnesiac blow" in his poem "Laventville" in
Ama Ata Aidoo
Ayi Kwei Armah
Samuel Omo Asein
Brathwaite Edward Brathwaite
K. A. Busia
J. B. Danquah
T. S. Eliot
M. J. Herskovits
Things Fall Apart 1958
Arrow of God 1964
"Akan and English" West Africa
Sep. 21, 1968, p. 1099
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet
"The concept of form a study of
some ancestral elements in Brath-
waite's trilogy" African Studies As-
sociation of the West Indies Bull.
Dec. 4, 1971.pp. 9- 38
In Messages: poems from Ghana
ed. Awoonor and Adali-Mortty 1971
Review article on Masks Bim 12:
47, pp. 209- 211.
"Shadow Suite" Bim 3:12 June,
1950, pp. 325 329.
Rights of Passage 1967
"The Ashanti" in African Worlds
ed. Daryll Forde 1954, pp. 190-
Akan Doctrine of God 1944
"The poetry of Edward Brathwaite"
Jamaica Journal Sept. 1968, pp.
The Waste Land 1922.
"Emerging image the poetry of
Edward Brathwaite" Critical Quart-
erly 12:2 pp. 187 192.
"The Fon of Dahomey" in African
Worlds op. cit. pp. 210 234.
Life in a Haitan Valley Double-
day Anchor, 1971,(c) 1937.