8 Largely Forgotten West Indians In US Black History

The following article was published by New Americas Now on Feb. 8, 2017.

As the US continues to mark Black History Month, here are 8 West Indian black immigrants who made a significant contribution to black history in the United States, but who today remain largely forgotten.

1: Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael

Trinidad-born Stokely Carmichael, who later changed his name to Kwame Ture, was a prominent figure in the black US struggle for civil rights and in the global Pan-African movement. He migrated to the United States at age of 11 and became an activist while he attended Howard University. Ture later became active in the Black Power movement, first as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and later as the “Honorary Prime Minister” of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and finally as a leader of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP).

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Caribbean-American History: The Manhattan-based Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society

The following article was written by Jared MacCallister and published in the New York Daily News, Sept. 14, 2013.

AntBarbThe national flag flies proudly outside the Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society’s Harlem headquarters, purchased in 1964. Picture by Jared MacCallister.

Those who think Caribbean immigrants are newcomers to New York really need to think again. The 79-year-old Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society shatters that untruth.

The Manhattan-based organization will have its history and decades-long dedication to Caribbean culture and Harlem, and some of its artifacts, touted in “A Lighthouse in New York: Opening Reception; Panel Discussion,” a free exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd. (at W. 135th St.), from 6 p.m to 9 p.m., in Manhattan, on Sept. 27.

“Everything is going very, very well,” society spokeswoman Mona Wyre Manigo said of the exhibition, which reflects the trials and tribulations of Caribbean peoples — here and abroad — over the organization’s first 50 years of exsistence. “It’s going to be an exciting moment for Antigua and Barbuda. I’ve looked at the documents and every time I think about it, I get chills.”

For example, said Manigo, there are documents about an urgent meeting calling “all Caribbean people in Harlem” to support a letter to Britain, demanding that the head of colonial Antigua be removed from office for mistreating island residents. Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from Britain in 1981.

The donated materials also contain historic correspondence from institutions and individuals, such as Antigua Trades and Labour Union President V.C. Bird, before he became Antigua and Barbuda’s first prime minister.

Donated in 2011, the historic records provide a detailed glimpse into migration to New York and the life and pursuits of new arrvials. The records will later be available for researchers.

In 1934, James Roberts and 22 other Antiguan immigrants started the Antigua Progressive Society, which was incorporated the following year with the goals of promoting their culture, aiding members and their families in times of sickness and death, aiding their Caribbean homeland and encouraging “educational excellence” among youth.

The Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society was created through a 2010 bylaw change designed to incorporate Barbudian New Yorkers who were served by the now-defunct Barbuda Benevolent Society of America. The Barbuda group was established in 1915 and lasted 62 years.

Today, Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society members continue to work hard at maintining cultural — and many civic — commitments under a board of directors, including President M. Roz. Olatunji. The group meets monthly at society headquarters, the Antigua and Barbuda House on W. 122nd St. in Harlem.

In addition to aiding Antiguan and Barbudian nationals, the children in the Harlem and other projects, the group fulfills its civic responsibility by participating in the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, Central Harlem’s Community Board 10 and the 28th Precinct Community Council.

In October, the society will commemorate its birthday with a 79th Anniversary Celebration and Awards Banquet, “Honoring Our Past and Embracing Our Future.” The event will be held Oct. 19 in the faculty dining hall of the City College Of New York, 160 Covent Ave., from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Donation is $75 and proceeds will aid the organization’s building renovation fund.

Read more: NYDailyNews

Calypso and Caribbean Migration: Lara Putnam’s “Radical Moves”

The following review of Lara Putman’s Radical Moves was written by John Cline and published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, June 2, 2013.

IN 1987, THE EMINENT ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST Richard K. Spottswood compiled an LP for Arhoolie Records titled Where Was Butler? It was subtitled “A Calypso Documentary from Trinidad,” and features many of the stars of the island’s music scene from the 1930s, including Attila the Hun and Growling Tiger. While this record has never been re-released on CD, nor is it available on iTunes, its 16 tracks constitute one of the most fascinating calypso collections ever produced. Long before Public Enemy’s Chuck D proclaimed his oft-repeated maxim that hip-hop is the “black CNN,” calypsonians from Trinidad were narrating the struggles experienced by the island’s oil field workers, led by one Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler. In addition to being a labor leader, the Grenada-born Butler was also a Spiritual Baptist preacher, a faith practice then outlawed in Trinidad due to anxieties provoked by its Pentecostal-like emphasis on shouting and physical “possession” by the Holy Spirit.

You Tube – “Where was Butler”, Raymond Quevedo -Atilla The Hun.

Butler is a major figure in Lara Putnam’s Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age, his life illustrating the core thesis of her book. In her conclusion, Putnam states that:

black-internationalist and anti-colonial movements that would shake the twentieth century were rooted in the experiences of ordinary men and women — not only the cosmopolitan streets of Harlem and Paris but also in the banana ports and dance halls of the tropical circum-Caribbean.

Radical Moves thus implicitly offers a corrective to conventional histories of African Diaspora. Paul Gilroy’s 1993 The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness stressed the international character of the literature and politics of African-descended peoples in the 20th century, and focused his attention on major figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and Richard Wright. In the ensuing years, scholars like Brent Hayes Edwards and Minkah Makalani have expanded on Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic,” focusing on metropolitan centers like New York, Paris, and London, filling in the details with somewhat lesser known individuals and organizations. These authors, like Gilroy, prefer to write about individuals with international profiles and concrete political movements, from Claude McKay to the African Blood Brotherhood in Harlem and from George Padmore to the International African Service Bureau in London. In Radical Moves, however, Putnam chooses to focus instead on “the forgotten editors of port-town newspapers and the many thousands of men and women who read their pages and debated the merits in rum shops and butcher store queues.” Within the historiography of the African Diaspora, this is a shift akin to that between the union-centric studies of the “Wisconsin School” of labor history and the opening up to the quotidian of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

For the full original report: Los Angeles Review of Books – Calypso and Caribbean Migration: Lara Putman’s “Radical Moves”

“Rituals of Power and Rebellion”

The following article appears in Repeating Islands, Feb. 10, 2013.

Hollis Liverpool just released his book, Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962), at the John S Donaldson, UTT?Port-of-Spain Campus, last Wednesday, as Michelle Loubon reports in this article for The Guardian.

Strumming his guitar, veteran calypsonian/University of T&T professor Hollis Liverpool sang snatches of his comrade Slinger Francisco’s classic Congo Man. The setting was a canefield. It was captured in black and white film during a presentation by retired Alaskan judge and honorary distinguished fellow Ray Funk at the launch of Liverpool’s Rituals of Power and Rebellion The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962). It took place at John S Donaldson, UTT Port-of-Spain Campus, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday.

A blurb in the UTT pamphlet said Liverpool had successfully managed to put into context the political, economic and cultural forces which inadvertently come together to create Carnival. It also noted that what appeared to be simply a musical bacchanal was in fact the struggle of the oppressed people to maintain their cultural identity in a land of foreign domination and class struggle. During the author’s oral abstract, Liverpool lamented he had to go to Michigan, USA, to do his PhD, owing to the paucity of research material on Carnival locally.

Asked about his magnum opus, Liverpool said, “Besides historical sources I used oral sources. I depended on calypsonians, masmen, writers, masqueraders and boismen. The people whom I interviewed the majority have gone to the great beyond.” Zeroing on the themes of Rituals and Rebellion, Liverpool added, “To a large extent many of the songs, events and masquerades in Carnival are rituals of rebellion. The kalinda and calypso are rituals. We show our resistance at Dimanche Gras. It is a ritual of rebellion. Even the steelband. The Chinese man who was beating pan to attract people to his church. It was the first time we saw pan being played. It is in the newspapers. J’Ouvert represents the real African traditions of the Carnival. It is what Dr Kim Johnson (senior research fellow) called the African impulse. The soucouyant, La Diablesse and cow horns, bats and devils are in J’Ouvert.”

Asked if he felt there was an improvement in the corpus of Carnival literature, Liverpool said, “I don’t know. But the book is going to be an addition to the archives. The book captures all the documentation and historical development of Carnival over time. “It is intended to impart knowledge on the complex nature of Carnival and the different people who have contributed to its development. To a large extent the Carnival defines our personality and our cultural identity.”

Tributes to Liverpool

While preparing to vie for the C2k13 calypso monarch crown Liverpool heard superlatives about his scholarship. His songs were Prodigal Son and Virginia’s Alzheimer. In the background, traditional mas characters like a moko jumbie and midnight robber milled around. Playing Midnight Robber was Damien Whiskey, a student in Liverpool’s MA in Carnival Arts class. Liverpool had pioneered it. Apart from being an academic, Liverpool has clinched the coveted crown eight times with gems like The Bandit Factory and The Mailman. Programme administrator Lana Allard chaired the proceedings in which each speaker wished him a ninth victory.

But the focus was on Liverpool’s book. Among those paying tribute to him were Funk; deputy chairman board of governors Kwais Mutema; Dr Ajamu Nymoba; Dr Fazal Ali, provost and president (acting); senior research fellow Dr Kim Johnson; and Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training Fazal Karim. Johnson made the salient point that while everyone celebrated US president Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Trinidadians had written history by electing its first black Prime Minister, the late historian Dr Eric Williams in 1962. “It was the end of colonial T&T. Chalkie’s book was about the elements and one crucial element was the voice of the people. The voice of the people was not heard,” said Johnson.

Mutema described Liverpool as a cultural icon and said we are fortunate to have him at the helm of the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs. “With a PhD in history and ethnomusicology and as the recipient of the prestigious Nicolas Guillen Life-Time Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature, Liverpool stands well qualified both academically as well as practically, to inform us all,” said Mutema.

Karim noted Liverpool’s study of Carnival is a “continuation of the work of academics who are now deceased like Tobago’s Dr JD Elder and Prof Errol Hill, as well as those who are still with us, like Prof Gordon Rohlehr and Dr Jeff Henry.” Apart from Karim, Liverpool made a special presentation to his friend/chairman of committee US Virgin Islands (St Thomas) Kenneth Blake.

For more info, contact UTT at 642-8888 or e-mail theacademy@utt.edu.tt

For the original report go to chalkdust-launches-rituals-power-and-rebellion

See also Calypsonian and WWI Professor Chalkdust launches “Rituals of Power and Rebellion” Repeating Islands.

Spirited tribute at the water’s edge

The following article, written by Donna Lamb, was published in Caribbean Life News, June 13, 2012.

Ceremony at water’s edge.
Photo by Donna Lamb

Sad and celebratory. Searing and uplifting. How can these words possibly go together? Last Sat., they could be experienced as one at the Annual Tribute to Our Ancestors of the Middle Passage, held each year on the Coney Island boardwalk in Brooklyn to honor the tens of millions of Africans who, after being kidnapped from their homelands, died during the voyage across the Atlantic – the Middle Passage – their bodies plunged into the ocean.

Why Coney Island? Because although that name is now synonymous with amusement park rides and games, Coney Island was once the site where slave ships pulled into harbor to sell their human cargo on the auction block.

Some of these human beings, most of them children, became the property of the City of New York (previously New Amsterdam) itself. As examination of their bones in the African Burial Ground show, they were literally worked to death building this city. Many others were “sold down the river” – shipped to the South where they suffered some of the worst cruelty known to man as their unpaid labor was exploited to create the wealth that built this nation. These were crimes against humanity for which the United States still owes reparations.

Ancestral Orchestra leads way to Atlantic Ocean.
Photo by Donna Lamb

This year’s tribute began with a libation ceremony performed by Mdut SeshrAnkh and Mut Nfrt Ka Raet. Following it was a drum invocation led by Guyanese Master Drummer Menes de Griot and Shanto New Generation, the Congo Square Drummers, joined by many others in the Ancestral Orchestra. During this invocation, carried out in all four directions, Grandmaster Kham chanted sacred recognition of the ancestors.

This Youtube video features some highlights of the 2011 Tribute to the Ancestors.

For the full original report: Spirited tribute at the water’s edge • Caribbean Life.

Trinidad Celebrates Indian Arrival Day

Indian arrival and survival

On May 30th annually in Trinidad and Tobago the arrival of Indians, as indentured laborers to the British-ruled  island in 1945, is commemorated. The following, written by Louis B Homer, was published in the Trinidad Express Newspaper, May 29, 2012.

ndian Arrival Day is not a celebration about the adverse working and social conditions experienced by early immigrants from India. Rather, it celebrates the overcoming of the difficult conditions they endured during indentureship and the establishment of a firm Indian presence in Trinidad and Tobago, says anthropologist Dr. Kumar Mahabir.

” It is a celebration of progress and achievements over the past 167 years since our ancestors left their homes in India and made Trinidad their new home.” says Mahabir chairman of the Indo Caribbean Cultural Association. He said, “The arrival of Indian immigrants into Trinidad was an historic journey that began in 1845 and ended in 1917, during which 143,939 Indian nationals arrived in Trinidad to work on the sugar cane, cacao and rubber estates” .

During the period of indenture the records show that of the total number that arrived 89 per cent were Hindus, 10 per cent Muslims and 0.04 per cent were Christians

“Although often referred to as indentured labourers, not all were labourers in the strict sense of the word,” says Mahabir. Many were trained artisans and craftsmen with skills in pottery, jewelry, tailoring, tattoo making and making sweets.

Their arrival in Trinidad was an economic venture, because in the early days of their arrival there was famine and other social problems in their country. The majority came through Calcutta and the united provinces of Bihar and Orissa, while a small number came from Madras.

Mahabir said, “Modern thinkers are of the view that Indian arrival should not be measured in terms of the numbers that arrived during the period of indenture (1845 – 1917), but the introduction into Trinidad of another strand of cultural and religious strain that have helped to strengthen and bond all races in Trinidad and Tobago.”

In addition to their skills and crafts Mahabir said, “They also brought plants and herbs of a religious nature, many of which are used today in the preparation of herbal medicine or religious practices.”

Some of the plants included the arahoo, ashook, bael, congolata, gainda, katahar, khus khus, madar, nem, peepar and camphor.

The camphor wood is currently used in cremation ceremonies. The leaf of the bael tree has religious significance. It represents the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.

Indian arrival brought Dewali, hosay, Ram Leela, Eid-ul-Fitr, Phagwa, and other cultural and religious observances.

They also brought different foods, fruits, musical instruments and above all their Holy books, the Koran and Bhagvad Gita.

The Koran and Bhagvad Gita have played major roles in the judicial system of the country. Followers of the Hindu and Moslem faiths feel more at home when they use these holy books as a medium to “speak the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Their contribution in the development of agriculture went beyond the cultivation of small crops. They had ventured bravely into cane farming in a lucrative way.

Former prime minister Dr Eric Williams in The History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago published in 1962 stated, “The Indian cane farmer in Trinidad, cultivating cane on a small plot of land which he had been allowed to buy in exchange for a return passage to India, represented a challenge in Trinidad to the traditional method of production, in the British sugar colonies in the West Indies. To that extent the indentured Indian immigrant, the last victim in the historical sense of the sugar plantation economy, constituted one of the most powerful social forces for the future in the struggle for the establishment of a proper social structure and modern industrial relations.”

Historically the inspiration for celebrating Indian Arrival Day was derived from the Indian Centenary Celebrations of May 1945 when a few members of the Indian Revival and Reform Association (IRRA) had approached the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Inc with the idea of hosting this event.

A few members of the IRRA merged with the Hindu Seva Sangh Inc to commemorate the celebration throughout the country. What began as a centenary celebration grew later into a national festival and in 1995 it became a national holiday.

Mahabir said, “After and during the period of indenture many places where Indian families settled were named after villages in India, for example Fyzabad, Coromandel, Piparo, Delhi, Madras, and Golconda.”

At St James a vibrant Muslim community emerged between 1858 and 1861 when nine ships carrying nearly 3,000 immigrants from Madras had arrived in Trinidad. Many were from south India where there was a large community of Tamils. At the end of their indenture they settled in Peru Estate, opposite St. James barracks where once per year they celebrated the Firepass festival. While the Firepass festival disappeared in the 1930’s, it was replaced with the Hosay celebrations.

Because of the involvement of the entire community in the Hosay festival the participants were allowed to enter Port of Spain by using Marine Square.

By 1910 the whole eastern section of Peru estate was almost settled by Indians. St James has a number of streets that reflect the early settlement of Indians. Calcutta, Delhi, Patna, Benares, Lucknow, Agra, Bengal, Nizam are some of the names.

Mahabir said the latest attempt to widen and deepen the celebration is a visit by members of the association to Tobago where some aspects of the celebration will be conducted.

For original report: Indian arrival and survival | Trinidad Express Newspaper | Featured News.

New York steel band pioneers to be honored

The following article was taken from Caribbean Life, May 16th, 2012.


Rudy King

Two surviving members from a three-piece steel band which appeared in the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers will be among the special lineup of individuals being honored at a Tribute to New York Steel Band Pioneers organized by the Trinidad & Tobago Folk Arts Institute, Sunday evening May 20. The gala event will be held at Tropical Paradise Ballroom, Brooklyn from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m.

Michael Alexander and Alfonso Marshall (whose name, after he subsequently became an actor, was changed to Austin Stoker) are the two surviving steelpan players from the 1954 production, which starred Pearl Bailey and was written by Truman Capote. The members of the history-making steel band unit were recruited from Trinidad by the noted Trinidad-born choreographer-director Geoffrey Holder, who was also in the House of Flowers cast.

The other honorees are Caldera Caraballo, Milton Gabriel, Edward George, Lennox Leverock, Roy Sangster and Kim Wong. Two well-known names associated with steel band activity in its early days here, Rudolph King and Conrad Mauge, will be honored posthumously. Among them, the steel band stalwarts selected for this recognition aggregated countless hours as leaders and players in the formative period of New York’s steel band culture, as they endeavored to introduce the new musical sound to American audiences. Their experiences ran the gamut from Caldera Caraballo’s touring with Harry Belafonte to Kim Wong’s collaborative projects with folk music icon Pete Seeger to Rudolph King’s sharing nightclub billing with calypso singer Mighty Charmer, prior to the latter becoming a household name in a different sphere as Louis Farrakan.

For original posting: Awards for New York steel band pioneers • Caribbean Life.

When steelband took London by storm

In the following articles, published in the Caribbean Beat Magazine (issue 113), Dr. Kim Johnson discusses the reception of TASPO, the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra and the importance of its 1951 tour to London, England.

Taspo gives its first performance at the South Bank Exhibition in 1951, under Lt Griffith. Photo: George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images

On July 26, 1951, some black men unloaded a pile of rusty steel drums in Southbank, London. It looked like junk. Garbage cans. The pedestrians milling around weren’t even curious. The men with the rusty cans sat with them on their laps and at a gesture swung into “Mambo Jambo”. By one newspaper account, “jaws dropped and eyes widened”.

This was the first modern steelband, and its impact still reverberates in Britain. As for its significance back home in Trinidad, nothing would ever be the same after the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (Taspo), neither musically nor even politically. Yet, a mere six years previously, the Legislative Council had prohibited the playing of “noisy instruments”, ie steelpans, in public.

“Fancy you having a musical evening and inviting these gentlemen of the steel band to provide the music for you!” Sir Courtney Hannays, KC, postulated to the council. “Fancy at any exhibition of the fine arts Trinidad represented by people who beat the steel drums!”

Generally, however, attitudes shifted in the opposite direction. Steelbands blossomed in intelligence and beauty, seducing more and more Trinidadians, until in 1951, six years after Hannays derided the idea, the colony was represented at the Festival of Britain in London by Taspo.

Generally, however, attitudes shifted in the opposite direction. Steelbands blossomed in intelligence and beauty, seducing more and more Trinidadians, until in 1951, six years after Hannays derided the idea, the colony was represented at the Festival of Britain in London by Taspo.

It was the first band whose pans were all made from oil drums, and thus had a more consistent timbre. More important, all were tuned on the chromatic scale at concert pitch, which allowed them to harmonise with other conventional instruments. Taspo also introduced the idea of multiple drums, which allowed the three-bass and two-cello pans to play full scales in the bass range.

Yet the inspiration for Taspo didn’t come from Trinidad. On January 21, 1951, before the thought struck anyone here, the Guardian reported that: “Hell’s Gate Steel Band of Antigua is likely to represent the West Indian steel bands at the Festival of Britain which will be opened in London on May 3.”

By March the Trinidad & Tobago Steel Bands Association had decided to send a representative steelband to the festival. The government refused their request for $6,000, so the association decided to raise the money, and a team of the most gifted panmen was chosen.

This was at the height of the fighting years, when respectable society recoiled from the steelband movement in fear and loathing. “You think they would ever send a steelband to England with them set of hooligans in it?” sceptics told Tony Williams. “Boy, you’re only wasting your time.” But committees were established. Fundraising began. And the steelband movement, riven by warfare between bands, closed ranks. Bands held benefit performances all over the island: Fantasia and Mutineers in Princes Town, for instance, and La Lune in Moruga.

The musical director of the band was Lt Joseph Nathaniel Griffith, the steelband movement’s greatest unsung hero. Born 1906 in Barbados, he joined the police band at 14. He left Barbados in 1932 to play clarinet and sax with an American jazz band, but was soon in Martinique arranging for the Municipal Orchestra. In 1935 he took over the St Vincent Government Band and founded the St Vincent Philharmonic Orchestra. Then he led the Grenada Harmony Kings, before joining the Trinidad Police Band in 1938. He taught at the Tacarigua Orphanage and led its band, and conducted the Royal Victoria Institute’s orchestra.

In 1947 he was appointed bandmaster of the St Lucia Police Band, and there he was when he was asked to lead Taspo. “If I going to England with you, you can’t play any sort of wrong thing,” he warned the panmen. “You have to play real music.”

And he set about teaching them. He put numbers on the notes and wrote scores. He taught them a repertoire that included a waltz, a rhumba, a samba, light classics, a foxtrot, a bolero, calypsoes, mambos. He made them tune an alto (second) pan with 14 notes. He also insisted the bass have at least 14 notes. When told that they couldn’t fit, he replied, to everyone’s surprise, “Then use three drums.”

Griffith’s tutelage leavened the genius of men like Williams and Ellie Mannette, and they produced better pans than they ever had before. Williams invented the oil drum two-cello, and discovered the technique of tuning two tones in one note.

“‘Come down an afternoon when we practising,’ Ellie told us,” recalled Maifan Drayton, then in Invaders. “When we went we were shocked to see one man playing two pans. Boots was on bass, Sterling Betancourt was on guitar and Tony Williams on cello. We were mystified.”

The public was even more dazzled. After a concert at Globe cinema, the audience emptied its pockets into the pans. Now that Trinidad realised what a steelband could accomplish, even the elite and big businessmen supported them. Bermudez donated drums, Fitz Blackman offered uniforms, the Himalaya Club, the Little Carib Theatre and the Jaycees held fundraising dances. The tourist board and Sir Gerald Wight each offered $500. Governor Sir Hubert Rance’s aide-de-camp organised an auction: Winfield Scott bought a case of whisky and returned it to the auctioneer, who promptly sold it again.

Hindu leader Bhadase Maraj donated generously. Edwin Lee Lum, a non-smoker, bought 2,000 cigarettes. Thus Taspo, and by extension the steelband movement, forged the multi-class alliance which was for the first time nationalist in scope.

Taspo’s first engagement was at the BBC, after which they performed at the Colonial Office, and at the festival. “A revolution in music reached London today, and experts predict it will sweep the country in a new craze,” reported an English paper. “Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra sat outside the Festival Concert Hall and tapped sweet, swingy music out of rusty pans still with steamer labels stuck to them after their trans-Atlantic voyage.

“Londoners, hearing a steelband for the first time, passed the verdict: ‘The music is sweet and liquid similar to the xylophone but not so harsh’.”

They rehearsed in the basement flat of musician, actor and singer Edric Connor. They got a two-week contract with the Savoy, after which they toured Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester. They performed with calypsonian Lord Kitchener, with Connor and with Boscoe Holder’s dance troupe. (Holder had actually been playing pan in London since the previous year.)

In late November Taspo returned to Paris for a two-week circus engagement and to catch the boat home. Betancourt, Bonaparte, Davidson, Haynes and Williams had plans to stay in England, but homesickness, an oncoming winter, and a fight between Bonaparte and Davidson changed that. Only Betancourt, with tears rolling down, returned to cold London, having found an Irishwoman there to keep him warm.Fifteen years later, Betancourt and two other panmen would transform the small, private Notting Hill garden party into what is now the largest public street festival in Europe. By then Trinidad & Tobago was an independent nation, able to boast of having created the century’s most important acoustic instrument.

TASPO members

Theo “Black James” Stephens, 17, Free French
Orman “Patsy” Haynes, 21, Casablanca
Winston “Spree” Simon, 24, Fascinators
Ellie Mannette, 22, Invaders
Belgrave Bonaparte, 19, Southern Symphony
Philmore “Boots” Davidson, 22, City Syncopaters
Sterling Betancourt, 21, Crossfire
Andrew “Pan” de la Bastide, 23, Hill 60
Dudley Smith, 24, Rising Sun
Anthony “Muffman” Williams, 20, North Stars
Granville Sealey, 24, Tripoli

(Sealey was later replaced by Carlton “Sonny” Roach from Sun Valley)

For the original post: When steelband took London by storm | Caribbean Beat Magazine.

New York Garifuna group honors a compatriot

The following article was written by Nelson A. King and published in Caribbean Life on Nov. 9, 2011.

The board of directors of the Bronx, N.Y.-based Garifuna Coalition, U.S.A, say they will honor Erline Williams-King, a former aide to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines New York Consul General, at its “Fourth Annual Yellow, White, Black Garifuna Settlement Day 2011” fundraising gala on Nov. 19.

Williams-King will be recognized for her “support of the renaissance of the Garifuna Heritage and Culture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, at The Eastwood Manor, 3371 Eastchester Rd., the Bronx.

The coalition said that although Williams-King was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (‘Yurumein,’ the ancestral homeland of the Garifuna people), she can be “classified as a Caribbean woman, having lived in Carriacou, Grenada, Barbados, Jamaica, Montserrat, Nevis and her homeland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Ms. Williams-King, a social worker by profession, has always been involved in community service and is very passionate about the welfare of her fellow brothers and sisters,” it said. “She has been a high school teacher, guidance counselor and mentor to many.

“Her record of humanitarian achievements is best highlighted by her involvement in many organizations and committees,” it added, stating that Williams-King, who was a founding member of Hearts and Hands for Nevis, Inc., worked “assiduously” to ensure that the goals and objectives of the organization were maintained.

Photo: Courtesy Bajun Sun Online.

Williams-King, who retired from her substantive position at the consulate, at the end of August, is also a very active member of the Brooklyn-based Caribbean-American Renal Failure Relief Fund Steering Committee, where she performs the duties of secretary.

This committee assists Vincentians who come to the United States seeking medical attention for renal failure.

Williams-King – the youngest and last daughter of the late, former St. Vincent and the Grenadines Governor General Henry Williams – is also a vibrant member of the Brooklyn-based umbrella Vincentian group, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO)

“Ms. Williams-King has a penchant for all things cultural, and she is always willing to learn about the many cultural practices of different countries and peoples,” the Garifuna Coalition said.

“She enjoys the dancing, singing and cuisine of the various countries, and never misses an opportunity to be involved and to learn,” it added.

The group said Williams-King first became aware of the Garifunas when she migrated to the United States, and has since embraced their culture.

Williams-King enjoys singing and has been featured in many concerts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Barbados and the United States.

She is currently a member of The Roy Prescod Chorale and her church choir, at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, both in Brooklyn.

“The Garifuna Coalition Inc. is an organization that I have always held in high esteem,” Williams-King told Caribbean Life.

“When I became aware of its existence, and after attending some of their functions, I realized that they were a people with a mission. I was totally fascinated with their commitment and how resolute they were to ensure that they kept their culture alive, in their language, cuisine and practices, from the elders to the youth,” she added.

“To be honored by this organization, for which I have the greatest respect and admiration, is truly humbling,” Williams-King continued.

“I deem it a privilege to be associated with this organization and to be even considered for this recognition,” she said.

In recent years, the local Garifuna group, COSAGO and former U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth John were among St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ groups and individuals honored by the Garifuna Coalition, U.S.A. Inc.

For original report: New York Garifuna group honors a compatriot • Caribbean Life.

First People’s fight to protect history, culture

Remembering our ancestors

The following article was published in the Trinidad Guardian on Oct. 20, 2011. It honors Hierreyma, one of the leaders of the native peoples, and the battles they waged against the colonialists in early 17th century Trinidad.

Amerindians parade on the streets of Arima. Photos: Edison Boodoosingh

After the founding of St Joseph in 1592, Spanish settlements were pretty much limited to four valleys in the western Northern Range. East Trinidad was the home of the Nepuyo nation, whose active resistance effectively limited Spanish attempts to control and settle North Trinidad. Their best known leader was Hierreyma, who continually harassed Spanish settlements from his base in Arima. In February 1636 he and his people visited the Dutch in Tobago. He proposed an alliance between their 80-100 white musketeers and his 400 warriors, to drive the Spanish out of Trinidad. He offered as hostages all his women and children and old men. But the Dutch did not take up the offer.

In late June 1636, a new Spanish governor arrived. By October he had destroyed one Dutch fort in the Nepuyo country of Punta Galera, and another in the Aruac country of Moruga. In early 1637 he captured the Dutch fort in Tobago, increasing his total number of prisoners to nearly 100: Dutch, French, and African slaves. He sent the son of the Dutch owner to Santo Thome on the Orinoco to await ransom, and the European prisoners to Margarita to await shipment home. Here, as food was short, 41 of them were secretly strangled and buried on the beach. In late July the Dutch factor of Essequibo, assisted by Caribs, Aruacs and Warao from the mainland, sacked Santo Thome, and freed the owner’s son.

Then, it was St Joseph’s turn. Early in the morning of October 14, 1637, 20 pirogues with Dutch soldiers and great numbers of Carib, Aruac, and Warao, arrived at the mouth of the Caroni to meet up with Hierreyma and some 600 Trinidad Nepuyo and Aruac. Guided by two Trinidad encomienda Indigenous, one called Andres, captured during the sack of Santo Tome, they overpowered the watchman. They all attacked St Joseph three-quarters of an hour before daybreak.  The townspeople were powerless to prevent them from burning the town and the church. The African slaves also assisted in the burning.

For a while in Trinidad Hierreyma and his people were free from the Spanish.Today as we remember and celebrate this great ancestor, who fought tirelessly for his land and his people, let us make a commitment to continue to fight to protect our history and culture.

For original post: First People’s fight to protect history, culture | The Trinidad Guardian.