St Patrick’s Day Lecture 2018 “ Montserrat: Still Masquerading?”
St Patrick’s Day Lecture 2018 “Montserrat: Still Masquerading?”
(Observation of the 250th Anniversary of the Planned Rebellion
of 17th March 1768)
Claude E S Hogan Esq.
Montserrat Cultural Centre, Little Bay
Thursday, 15th March 2018, 1800hrs
By referencing and relying on our many Montserrat authors and contributors to culture in this presentation; I am using the occasion to pay homage to these noble and gifted men and women; especially at this the 250th Anniversary of Montserrat’s almost St Patrick’s Day Rebellion of 1768 observed in Montserrat as Hero’s Day. Let me also avail myself of this opportunity to thank the Caribbean authors consulted and my many good friends in the UK especially Dr Jonathan Skinner and Simon Ward. The effervescent Lenny Wade of ZJB-fame was the fact-checker of the music references in this presentation.
Resonation from the genes
To the Tourist, masquerading is a turbulent dance expression which can be as alarming as it is entertaining. To a young Montserratian or maybe most current day Montserratians, the masquerade dance is entertaining, nostalgic and resonates with a part of you that you cannot quite relate to or have not given pause to understand. I here suggest that this resonation that you feel has to do with a cultural language which has been genetically transferred to the Caribbean person, or a person formerly enslaved. When the masquerade drum sounds, your mind and body are instantaneously picking up messages that make you more stoic, stirs the freedom-fighter in you and hardens your resolve.
It generates in you, the Afro-Caribbean, the basis for something beyond resilient, that I have chosen with a colleague to call a tenacity that we inherited. Masquerading is from the Yoruba people of Africa.
Mask and Struggle for Identity
This presentation is a tapestry of masquerading as a mask adequately and sufficiently deployed by an oppressed or challenged Afro-Caribbean people to maintain degrees of self-worth, pride, self-esteem, virtual freedom and conquest over the bondages of slavery, colonialism and imperialism. What is being recognized is the sustenance of a Caribbean identity and armory with strong roots in Montserrat. A strength that is as vibrant today as it ever was.
Before we move on however, just a little background as to how we got here in this continued struggle and masquerading out of slavery and colonialism from the 17th century until now the 21st century. We are in this state of play because finally in 1834 it was agreed that “slavery was objectionable on moral, ethical and legal grounds.” In spite of making the slave trade criminal since 1562 the English state and elite investors made slavery happen because England’s wealth and health as a nation required the slave trade. The deep hurt, painful emotions and violent losses leave us all crying out for Justice for the descendants of enslaved Africans; and so far we can only offer ourselves reflections and notes of regret to soothe our soul; and as our safety-valves (Beckles 2013, p. 1 & 40). It is also the case that the Montserrat rebellion is significantly more than a national observation. Meaning, it is of regional and international importance because it is indisputable recorded history that “Montserrat proved to be the first of a series of conspiracies formed by organizations of Creoles” (Michael Mullins, Slave Resistance, p. 221). So let it be confirmed in your mind that acts of bravery; organized resistance, rebellion against evil and conquest is in the genetic make-up of Montserratians.
If you don’t remember anything else this evening, please remember that it is this intentional act of rebellion that gives international recognition “of an independent Montserratian national identity” which is being fostered today (Jonathan Skinner, Roehampton Thesis, 2006).
Once you get pass the Euro-American definition of masquerade as “an action or appearance that is mere disguise or outward show”; you hear the drums and you are triggered into a resonating dance or dance moves that bring your mind, body and soul into connection with the message such that later you can re-transmit that message without uttering a word. Sir Howard Fergus (History p. 240)
describes the “jumbie dance” similarly as a “therapeutic dance practiced to induce temporary spirit possession and divination” during which time messages are transmitted as in a theatre or play. Masquerading also produces a trance-like state which at its best is “high-context communication.” This enables communication not only across cultures, but can also wittily use other cultures as a conduit, “is indirect and often secretive” or cloaked (Gudykunst & Kim 1992, “Communicating With Strangers”, p.45).
We learnt that masquerading, and the like, occurred throughout our period of enslavement and this aligns with Pan African Teacher Chedmond Browne that the enslaved Montserratians and our Caribbean people remained in a constant state of rebellion throughout our 300-400 years of enslavement, forced servitude, apprenticeship and colonialism. Historian Sir Howard Fergus provides a further evidence to the masquerade as being engaged in mass communications when he observed that “like minstrels, they danced from house to house” obviously spreading experiences, messages or warnings. (Fergus 1994, History, p. 241).
Masquerading in the Context of Why?
The historical context is that masquerading played a significant role in the persistent rebellion against enslavement. The Afro-Caribbean/Montserratian people were prosperous and well-endowed before slavery. Our people survived enslavement and achieved through to post-emancipation due to masquerading.
The life struggles of our Caribbean black people can be observed in the emergence of a still colonial people of Montserrat; but are they still masquerading?
Masquerading with a Purpose
Masquerading is a Pan-Caribbean activity and is what I call a cross-cutting feature of a life of survival in our region. The rebellion of St Patrick’s Day 1768 occurred many times in other islands, but failed in Montserrat. My good friend Chedmond Browne says the plan was betrayed by an “Irish woman” as opposed to Dr Jonathan Skinner who identifies text saying a “free coloured” meaning a house slave; while Dr Clarice Barnes points also to “infiltration” of the planners by their white masters who used the intelligence to counter the rebellion. Sir Howard quotes Watkins as saying it was a “white seamstress, noted for drunkenness” (History, p.75). There is also anybody’s guess that black people talk a lot and they could have been over exuberant, boastful and too loud about their plans hence the plan could have been self-betrayed.
It was inconceivable for there to have been any “over-hearing” that swords or guns were going to be seized at a government house party when that could not have been the enslaved persons primary mode of communicating on such a delicate plot. The signal was supposed to be a ‘Fire in de Mountain’. This was top secret. A well planned mission. Were the enslaved persons drunk? Very unlikely.
Whichever story you choose to believe; I suspect that the art of proper masquerading was lost in those fateful hours that led to the demise of so many good men on St Patrick’s Day 1768.
Masquerades are described as “masked, dancing mummers in colourful costume” a tall head-gear, ribbons, small mirrors, bells and a masque. The head of the catholic church is also puppeteered by the headgear being in the shape of the Pope or Bishop’s miter you see it here on display. “The original dancers also used the hunters or cart whips to symbolically beat their estate masters in retaliation for their long oppression” (Fergus 1994, History, p.242)
Masquerading is a unifying force; a mysteriously powerful tool for resistance, therapy, growth and development far removed from the modern day reflections of the dance appreciated merely as entertainment for tourists and for moments of nostalgia. You will note that there is a deliberate attempt on my part to not use the word “slave” in reference to our people or as a noun, so we are speaking from an elevated perspective of a kidnapped, noble, brilliant, people of excellence masquerading to freedom using psychological manipulation. Masquerading is high-class, “high-context communication across” and using cultures. It is live African theatre inclusive of dance, drama, music and lyrics conveying messages of warning, survival tactics, transition arrangements and creating “safety valves”. This enabled our enslaved people to triumph over an oppressive class that has moved on from being “white people” orchestrated to “institutional racism” (Gudykunst & Kim 1992).
Institutional racism means that people of all races and ethnicity now revel in the enforcement of systems of law, economics and finance that thrive on keeping others poor, shackled and separated from even their “means of production”.
This mirrors the worst elements of capitalism and free market economics as slavery emerged to be, and many new players in today’s game sense that their “hands” (ability to engage in the economy) are tied or pre-chained. Actually, we have been moved out of chains into cages; and some people are so far from the door that they don’t even know they are in a neo-colonial cage. In 2018, we are therefore all called upon in this 21st century to leadership: in changing and adopting new systems of governance (ways of doing business); that reflect natural justice, fairness and equity. Any failure of the political classes to express this need for change fails the people they represent.
Masquerading our way to freedom and development
Why is masquerading even necessary? If you have read Sir Arthur Lewis “ the St Lucia Economics Nobel Laureate” you will discover that current day economists now praise and agree the other basics for economic development in any community include 6 soft capitals (not to be confused with food, shelter and water as the basics for life). These 6 fundamentals are:
(i) Education (“Studiation”);
(iv) Freedom (human choices);
(v) Security; and
A few comments on each for clarity in the Montserrat context:
(i) Education is not the opposite of what Montserratians call “studiation” (street wisdom). They both work together.
Sir Howard Fergus in 1991 argued quite strenuously against much criticism, that we must include for “effective democracy ” an intelligent and knowledgeable electorate, but also an educated political directorate” (Fergus, History 1994, p.218). This thrust has become important for the entire Caribbean to the extent that the University of the West Indies (UWI) embarked in 2015 on a region-wide education grant scheme to increase the number of PhDs and Masters level students in our Caribbean (note correlation between level of education in a society and the level of unemployment and poverty).
(ii) On self-esteem – People from all walks of life ought to feel included and respected in development. We need in the main to be respectful (minority or majority) and be tolerant, especially of positive growth; and of the role of science and intellect.
(iii) Leadership – must be purposefully deployed to create growth and development. Leadership is a reflection of community action or inaction at the level of the 6 to 10 main influencers in a society (note that most of the masquerades only dance to the tune and direction they are given).
(iv) Freedom – this means that our intention in economic terms, is to increase the wealth of the people (includes education, housing, health + state resources etc) to allow them to have or exercise more choices. This includes the risk of engaging in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Still important in this the age of innovation.
(v) Security – this is the most important pillar required in Montserrat right now.
Security of the person has implications for self-esteem, freedom and proper education. I will say more on this later as the British has a huge role to play in managing security in a colonial/territorial situation but this does not mean that locally elected officials can abdicate their responsibility.
(vi) Identity – The fact that the enslaved people on Montserrat possessed the intellect and capability to organize the first in a series of acts to find freedom is testimony to their/our national identity. Our St Paddy’s Hero’s Day plot being an historic fact; and the legal arguments which followed in the UK and globally makes the Montserrat Hero’s day an international event and not just a cause for local jubilation.
The “prominent free [and] black anti-slavery activist ” [Montserratian] Equiano Olaudah” bought his freedom from slavery in Montserrat in 1766. By 1767, he was living in England and brought attention to the “Zong” massacre, which involved an insurance claim for 131 of 470 slaves deliberately dumped at sea for water rationing purposes (Beckles 2013, p 73). Our St Patrick’s revolt occurred in 1768.
If you review the history on these timelines alone there is sufficient evidence that in Montserrat we were a thinking, knowledgeable and aware ‘nation’ of people. We knew and pursued freedom and were champions for human rights. That is what grants us, Montserratians, our identity and a place of stature in the world, even though we never achieved political independence.
Achievement of Soft-capitals
So if you live in Montserrat today, no matter the big talks and major budget announcements for this that or the other (they call that the Capital Budget); the absence of self-esteem, freedom and identity results only in a parody/imitation of development. In a situation like that the donor has a licence to minimize his support to keep you barely alive and certainly not prosperous. Sounds familiar? Since we can never convince the donor other than by his own facts and figures, we need to masquerade with a purpose.
Meaning, we must find ingenuous ways to achieve a result that seems otherwise impossible. This approach is properly utilized as in the backdrop of our regional integration movement and the quest for reparations. You will note also that our territory’s indispensable contribution to development is not about money, but to the six (6) elements we call soft-capital.
Development cannot happen in the absence of: respect for science (education and information); self-esteem; leadership; freedom; security; and awareness or knowledge of your identity. One also has to read history by its international legal meaning in defining the world. Some reforms, conquest, revolution, and major over-throws of clearly heinous and shameful systems as slavery give you the most points towards an identity. “Do you know who you are?” or are we the people of Montserrat still searching? (Sinach, “I know who I Am”, Youtube).
Having established that fore-ground, essentially we’ll now look briefly at points and events: before; during; and in the post enslavement time spans relative to masquerading.
We should arrive at some conclusions that hopefully are provocative enough to rejuvenate a real conversation; that results in greater assertiveness (bold and confident) in our identity. Our main definition here is of rebellion: as “an act of armed resistance to an established government or leader.” For example, on 17th March 1768 in Montserrat “the authorities put down a rebellion by a landless, powerless and enslaved people on the island. Political Economists today would deem such a rebellion as justified and lawful (natural justice); especially when we include that there was “the lack of hope, hope that their lot will improve, and hope in the fact that they will be able to gain enough “power” to gain some control over their economic/political lives.”
Poverty or austerity of all kind inevitably leads to rebellion. You will recall that the enslaved people were robbed of their self-esteem, dignity, identity, freedom, and material possessions, but resistance is part of the nature and nurturing of the African person. We were therefore masquerading before we got to their new world, which as you know was not new at all, because Africans were in the Caribbean/Americas before Columbus and any other European.
Africa as Home Sweet Home
In Jamaica 1967, Orlando Patterson wrote that the Montserrat masquerades were from ceremonies in West Africa concerned with invoking “ancestral spirits for assistance in agriculture.” From the Yoruba people masquerading also constitutes “ritual dance symbols of war, guardianship, and fertility” (Drewal Yoruba Ritual, 1992). Uprisings and Masquerading could also be “passive resistance” as we learnt of its historic development against apartheid in South Africa through the Oliver Tambo speeches in the mid-1960’s.
We also know from books like Roots that millions of Africans were kidnapped and survived torrid conditions in the holes of small boats across the Atlantic to the Caribbean; and that we were dealing with the wholesale destruction of highly organized kingdoms, palaces and tribal communities with order, government, security and their own religions. Essentially, we ended up here now as children of African Royal Families. I might be the kidnapped great, great, great, grandson of an Ebo, Pawpaw, or Ashante King (Beckles 2013, p. 38).
USVI Author James Smith records the deference to Queens in our culture, as reflected in the masquerade troupe, as true to African tradition. Both in the sense that the enslaved persons used the masquerading event to celebrate their own while pretending to entertain the master. The story is told of a true queen of her African tribal-nation bought in Demerara, Guyana (South America) and how everyone protected her from severe labor, served and revered her even while she like them was enslaved. It is also a grave injury when there is no queen show in Montserrat, simply because my conjecture is that deep in our psyche we recognize the need to celebrate our own socio-cultural distinctions as a way of raising our self-esteem. Imagine our enslaved fore-parents made this happen despite being in bondage; and left behind our vibrant culture that survived 400 years of denial. It’s 400 years because Montserrat continues to count as a colony, but there’s no real guilt over that. The victory is in how we masquerade our way forward as a people.
On the issue of masquerading and protesting being in our loins, Dr Clarice Barnes invited me to recall the story of Yaa Asantewaa (c. 1840 – 17 October 1921) who was queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire “now part of modern-day Ghana. In 1900 she led the Ashanti war known as the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa war, against British colonialism.
This after Yaa Asantewaa’s own son was exiled by the British (Seychelles in 1896); alongside the King of Asante Prempeh I and other members of the Asante government. The lady entered the front line of the battle when the British demanded the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Asante nation. At a secret meeting of the remaining members of the Asante government at Kumasi Yaa Asantewaa stood and addressed the members of the council with these now-famous words:
“No white man could have dared to speak to the Chief of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls on the battlefield.
Yaa Asantewaa was in fact chosen by a number of regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante fighting force. From March 1900, her rebellion laid siege to the fort at Kumasi where the British had sought refuge before overwhelming force quelled the rebellion. “On 1 January 1902 the British were finally able to accomplish what the Asante army had denied them for almost a century, and the Asante empire was made a protectorate of the British crown.
Yaa Asantewaa’s dream for an Asante free of British rule was realized on 6 March 1957, when the Asante protectorate gained independence as part of Ghana, the first African nation in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve this feat (Google, Golden Stool).” So the fight was already in us and transmitted to us genetically, but we had no arms, but we could still masquerade.
Making Masquerade of Slavery
Now our masquerades bear some dress resemblance to the St Kitts, Guadeluope, Belize and Jamaican jonkonnu, but the ritual dances and the musical ensemble in Montserrat are unique. Our “troupe contains from six to nine dancers and the captain is distinguished by a gold ring in the nose of his mask. Music is supplied by a fife, a kettle drum played with two sticks to give an infectious syncopating rhythm, a boom drum, a boom pipe which emits a boom sound and a shak-shak or maracas – this dance blends Europe and Africa with Caribbean colours. The folk religion and drum beat are African and Amerindian, but there are Westernized steps (French & English) in the quadrilles and polkas (Mills & Hendrickson, “Christmas Sports”, 1984, p52).
Masquerades also danced to folk songs which are “rooted in and created from Caribbean experience. ” The incorporation of European elements in this ritual dance, especially the instruments, was a means of making it acceptable to European planters.â€ Fergus further observes the slaves were “conscious of the loss in the compromise but accepted it in the interest of the survival of the art-ritual.” He also observes that the religious content of Masquerades was also “lost for the same reason” (Fergus 1994, History p. 242).
This presenter discovered further that our enslaved fore-parents were using the wholesome masquerade art as a mask, a disguise to educate, spread news of shared interest, warnings of dangers and was in many ways a highly developed form of mass communications in dance and song. Dr Eddie Donoghue of Tuitt’s Village supports the point that our secular folk songs were part and parcel of masquerading because these folk songs basically carried not only the news in lyrics, but in the “intensive and frenzied” behavior of the masquerades (Donoghue 2001, Montserrat Masquerade, p.40).
I also like Sir Howard Fergus’ description of our folk songs as “written largely in creole, they pulse with the raw realism of people’s lives and subliminal yearnings” for freedom and justice (Fergus 1994, History, p.242).
By the 1970’s the folk song had been divided away from the masquerade music and song by choral groups. That bit of preservation and celebratory work in Montserrat is credited to Dr James George Irish who history tells us “as UWI Resident Tutor founded the Emerald Community Singers who popularized these songs at home and on international stages.” Our primary school children continue to do a great job every year in the incorporation of folk songs in their annual Christmas concerts. Nothing thrills and elevates me more than seeing my 11-year old son Kyle singing and dancing away to a folk song.
Essentially, away from Massa folk songs danced to by the masquerades protested and waged war. This has filtered down to modern day calypsoes like that of Roland “King Kenzie” Johnson who “reminds us that there are still wrongs to be righted” as emotionally set out in his hit song “its The Black Man who feel the heat”. He lamented that the whole world was built on the back of the black man. The Jamaica reggaes are much more scorching in waging against everyday injustices. These are all modern day escape valves for the Caribbean people who are still existing at the fringes of a global economy they created.
So, the folk songs gave way in the Caribbean to the calypso as a principal form of expressing anger at poor social conditions and prodding uprisings against “Babylon” (Reggae in Jamaica). Our own Mighty Arrow, the Soca King of the World added the rather entertaining Soca version of Calypso as a global art-form, but Arrow was rooted as a conscious man with calypsoes which rang refrains warning Caribbean people to “Hold on to your Property and Will it for your Children”.
“Hold on to your Property” warned us against the perceived European desire to buy up our beaches and properties to steal control of our paradise islands. Arrow also lamented that “Montserrat [was a] strangers Paradise”.
Former Chief Minister/Premier Hon Dr John Alfred Osborne added that “the British can’t fool me”; underscoring the empowerment value of the safety valves or ritual themes passed down from Mother-Africa as the art and skill of masquerading. It’s now local folklore that Osborne himself epitomized masquerading as a game of wit and diplomacy especially in his engagements with the British; and in encouraging wealth creation among the people of Montserrat.
Masquerading is to conquer without appearing to be triumphant; to communicate conquest and victory; as especially good for the heart and the spirit. Hence the talk of “divinations and possessions by the dead” because even bodily contortions and hand gestures told a story. Masquerading can be entertaining in all its forms, use and application, but in the end it brings about serious business results (Drewal 1992, Yoruba Ritual). To put some more perspective to masquerading; let us look at a few examples of the transmittal of warnings, anecdotes of mockery, escapism, “rites of reversal”, and the use of the “ritual license”.
Story 1: Rites of Reversal
“Catholicism was opposed to the Anglican/Church of England in the islands although the Catholics were the majority in the population who fled from Cromwell. Both the African and Catholic rituals were considered idol worship. Secondly, the “Catholics considered the religious practices of the slaves to be paganism ” [and had it as] “its duty to convert the [enslaved] to Catholicism.”
The enslaved Africans were therefore venting their “alienation” or disgust when parading the Bishop’s Mitre (Eddie Donoghue 2001, p. 9). You can see in that milieu how the enslaved got themselves a permit or licence to masquerade a reversal as the power-elites were divided (English-Anglicans vs the Catholics).
Story 2: Ritual Licence / Escapism
“The whipping by the masquerade is a ritual licence. It was allowed, because it was “designed” to ease the “pent up emotions that were aimed symbolically at the masters, overseers, slave drivers” and the house-slaves who played watchmen and “sexual partners of their white owners” (Donoghue 2001, p. 12). In playing the role of the Master, the enslaved person remained alienated and was able to affirm his humanity to an extent” (Donoghue 2001, Montserrat Masquerade, p. 19). The enslaved thus toyed with the tolerance of the Master who could stop the play at any time and of course we know that this was restricted activity to a certain time of year, say end of the harvest or around the Christmas period in Montserrat. These periods were ably used to take advantage of the ritual licence to escape the reality of enslavement.
Story 3: Anecdotes of Mockery
“Can you imagine a greeting in song backed by masquerade drums in which the Master is serenaded thus?
The year has come round.
I have come to greet you,
To shower blessings on you.
Live long, live long, live long
Live to a good old age.
This coming from an enslaved group of men who are planning a deadly rebellion early the next morning. Clearly, a brave diplomatic overture and a classic case of mockery, which probably pleased the Master, but more so the enslaved person. These were Caribbean wide practices (see also the Johnkonu in Jamaica and the Bahamas; with a masquerade version in St Kitts and Guadeloupe).
Story 4: Warning
“Anne Marie Dewar’s version of a popular folk song warns of a sexual predator. It goes like this:
Bam chick-a-lay, a ‘chigga’ foot Maya,
Mudda sen’ me dung a riva fo’ waata’
Tell me le me no trouble nobody,
Dam neaga man com feel up me lala’.
A who ee’ be but chigga-foot Maya,
Dam neaga man come feel up me lala’,
In this folk song not only are we warned that Maya is a sexual predator, but he also suffered with a disease called chigger. This made the person walk quite crooked as “fleas inhabited sores in the feet” contracted probably from walking in a pig pen or such like. We knew that Africans knew how to avoid or manage chigger so we can assume that the “neaga man” was a “master” or slave-driver.
There’s a different version of this song that says Maya was the woman fundled and the neaga man was not named. Either way we come to this as one conclusion. Slave masters were sexual predators of the sick kind as they attacked women even by the river catching water.
Story 5: Resisting Injustice
All yuh leggo Nelly
All yuh leggo Nelly
Nelly food a go sour, A yuh leggo Nelly.
This particular piece spreads the word that the Master would lock-you-up just before your time for dinner to increase the harshness of the punishment. This resonates with the current day aversion to police “purposefully”on occasion locking up suspects in jail over the weekend. So now you understand why this is an affront to you although one cannot say that such detentions are in this age other than a coincidence. We can now speak out against such practices openly in Montserrat.
Story 6 -The Call to Answer in the Struggle
“Hypnotized by the fiery tempo to communicate the struggle as ritual” I share the view that the fierceness, extreme contortions and body movements driven by the masquerade drum music, especially quadrille number 5, intentionally creates an ecstasy and trans-like state that allows the masquerades to do a call and answer.
A call and answer is a folk music pattern in which the call allows the answer to provide the words descriptions and curse about the unsuspecting felon or master.
In the dance-form, while some are flinging the whip and their body; others are answering the whip with weird, vigorous out of body contortions. Depending on where or which plantation the masquerader is from you can read from their street theatre how deadly and brutal the master and his slave drivers were without a word being uttered. Masquerade was a “high-context” mass communication tool that accommodated many messages, which are somewhere in each quadrille even as innocent as some of them appear. Each choreographed step of these quadrilles carried meaning much like writing a piece of hidden music. The measure of each depends on the intensity, energy output and vigour of the masquerader. This is no ordinary dance. All of this happened despite “the deliberate efforts of the colonizer to suppress ruthlessly all things African”. They sought to destroy the cultural heart and soul of ” the African “but negro slaves out of Africa were [an] accomplished folk” (Mills and Hendrickson 1984, p. 5).
So essentially the enslaved used the Masquerade to provide education as information and drama; maintained their self-esteem through mockery; demonstrated leadership and exercised freedom using the ritual licences granted as a safety valve or assumed because there’s a power vacuum; and so promoted their own security and identity. Today most Montserratians cannot or could not build proper homes, educate their children or acquire technology to make work or farming easier or more productive in the absence of self-esteem and freedom; including freedom of expression underpinned by leadership and security. Are we masquerading with a purpose or just dancing to the drum music of life? Is it entertainment without the positive results that are expected as a natural outcome of masquerading?
In Anthony Leask’s “Men of Montserrat” 2016, it is highlighted in the context of human losses from World Wars I and II:
Our past throws light on whom and what we are, while also providing insights and direction for the future, including what we should not repeat (Men of Montserrat 2016, p.0).
I think there are also things we should repeat, like constantly rebelling against colonialism in all its forms by whatever lawful means necessary. This usually means that we educate ourselves and our children and create or re-create systems that have helped other small developing islands with “special and differential needs” not only to survive, but to succeed.
The single most important ingredient however is masquerading, a team effort deploying wit, creativity, agility and skill; especially because we all know to what ends we are masquerading. If we are happy with resonating to the drum beat only as music and entertainment; then let’s find ways and means to let those who see more and want more out of life to get along with their education and careers. We can do this in Montserrat by insulating our aspiring young people from the vicissitudes of life around them (those things they say about bad-minded, jealousy and envy etc. that I should not repeat at this historical lecture event).
The Euro-centric records present comparable primitive descriptions of Africans to justify denying them their recognition as humans. One description is as follows:
The natives here have neither religion nor law binding them to humanity, good behaviour or honesty. They frequently for their grandeur sacrifice an innocent man, that is a person they have no crime to charge, “neither have they any knowledge of liberty and property. Besides the blacks are naturally such rogues and bred up with such roguish principles that what they can get by force or deceit and can defend themselves from those they robb [sic], they reckon it as honestly their own, as if they paid for it. (Beckles 2013, Britain’s Black Debt, p. 57).
The UK has good practices in providing people and community security to allow development to happen. It behoves me therefore to call on the British Government our Administering Power, to move safeguarding to beyond child “anti-sexualization”, illegal marijuana and the like, to dealing with social uplifting behaviours. They should help us build and restore systems of governance that rely on merit, fairness and equity; monitor and create rules to prevent their “aid agents of good” or Technical Cooperation Officers (TCs) from being accused of accessing local political systems to achieve their own agendas or state capture (the local health services being outsourced to others). It constitutes, some believe, a dereliction of duty on the part of the UK Government to leave the good intentions of Aid in a British Overseas Territory to the outcome of forces created by them and still thriving as colonialism (Beckles 2013, “Britain’s Black Debt). Meaningful engagement with local government to the end of a genuinely sustainable and resilient re-development of our home, our island, is the minimum we should expect and accept.
The history of wealth being drained from Montserrat/the Caribbean runs from slavery until today. To Europe, we lost all outputs and wealth from successful plantation commodity exports (sugar, cotton, lime) up to the 1940s; our people were forced to migrate in the 50s and 60s to industrialize and build the Kingdom; Tourism and Financial Services in the 1970s & 80s was crippled by false policy harping, highlighted in the credit card case, Antigua and Barbuda’s WTO case won against the United States of America; and beneficial ownership transparency, which they now conclude breeds more harm than good. Many Montserratians continue to be encouraged by UK Immigration and Home Office policies to choose the UK for residency over post-volcano Montserrat although most can never be absorbed into UK culture, even with their best efforts at education and upskilling, due to institutional racism (a finding of the British Court system). In the meantime, 99% are still holding-on in the false hope that they shall overcome (Hogan, UWI Borders 2002, “Seeking Refuge in the Mother Country”).
Here in Montserrat, people on the street will tell you we lost our Marine vessel to an exuberant Police Commissioner who practically sold it to himself; our lands they rumour have been grabbed-up by British FCO and DFID technicians. We therefore need to vet the “agents of good” for authenticity and genuine care for the development work they are called to do. I place these burdens at the feet of the British because their systems fostered these vices from enslavement to the colonial practices still alive and persisting in Montserrat today (Hogan, UWI Borders 2003, “Seeking Refuge in the Mother Country”).
Still Masquerading? Summary and Conclusions
Montserratians and the people on Montserrat continue to masquerade for survival; although more of us need to understand that we are indeed masquerading;
and that we need to masquerade with the purpose of securing economic growth and development. “We are [not] doing it for fun”, the anti-thesis of one popular local calypso by “Contagious” (2006). The residents of Montserrat need to play their part to enable their own good.
Local leaders and influencers/caucus members should agree on national unity terms for sharing the political power that shapes society; help promote and foster self-esteem; be tolerant of the educated; respect free speech and the differences among us; and recognize that there is minimum prosperity in pursuing and enforcing a path of “studiation” (results in dumbing down intellect and science-based facts) versus education, especially when both are needed.
Finally, in trade terms we have neither sugar, cotton, lime or pepper, perhaps marijuana upcoming; but we do need to increase import substitution plus export something else to improve our local finances in order to leverage self-determination. It is predicted that the current and next generation of growth in the Caribbean will see us exporting identity (basically culture) and innovations from our old ways of life rejuvenated to help the world survive climate-change in tune with nature. Current studies suggest that we are already in a time span when innovation creates growth and development even of computer APPS.
So while global consultants tell you to stop niche-farming, which you already know is part of the trade model for survival; and promote manufacturing and cheap energy, which we always needed but were denied for a long time now; the Anglo-American trans-national companies are looking into nature; and our culture; to find the old, resilient ways of our life to be reproduced and sold as innovation.
You can only deal with such forces by deploying the artistry and wit of the masquerade; not by wallowing in the shames of the past and threatening protest in London by lobby or political war. Development will happen by force or through co-operation and agreement. Let me remind us that around 1562, Queen Elizabeth I (the First) was herself against the slave trade and issued commands against “this criminal conduct by English slave traders”, but it still prospered for 300 years to the detriment of at least 20-million Africans (Beckles 2013, p. 37).
I have gathered that some of the great works of arts in European museums were actually stolen or taken from Africa. Montserrat already has a fair share of intellectual property being held at the Smithsonian, in the British Isles, and Kew Gardens, London. The Waitt Institute found in their under-sea study (2015) an abundance of unique sponges that I’m told may or could produce astonishing post research and testing results. I also take this opportunity to applaud the establishment and work of the Montserrat Arts Council (MAC); the Montserrat National Trust (MNT); and the Montserrat Fisheries Association. We need to protect these institutions/organizations with all our might. This will require leadership at all levels not pandering to public opinion.
These local organizations are engaged with friends of Montserrat and international partners to securing Montserrat’s assets of value for investments in tourism and to enable innovation to grow our country. They are producing real science-based results that could stand the test of time and support local decision making as a pragmatic exercise (more of the brain and less reliance on the heart).
We have many other good pillars and institutions in Montserrat and most of the ingredients to make development happen once we work on those 6 core areas of soft capital. These include good leadership that engenders self-esteem/pride and affirmation of identity.
We can therefore do innovation our ourselves. So you should tell your children, to tell your children’s children that the game is on. Do it the masquerade way. Use our codes, our stories, our Caribbean-life experiences to send the messages; to communicate across cultures as empowering.
If our Caribbean people are masquerading for growth and development to happen, they need to sharpen their brain tools or risk being betrayed again leaving our children to ponder over the next 250 years, who leaked the plot? Are the people on Montserrat still masquerading? Can you? Will you? Do our leaders or influencers masquerade? Do the people here on this island see the need to still masquerade in accordance with our Montserrat/Caribbean identity as a resilient and tenacious people?
To properly complete this evening’s lecture, I hope you can now add your own contributions, questions, stories or anecdotes of masquerading: mockery, escapism, “rites of reversal”, accommodation and examples of “ritual license”.
Thank you for hearing me.
Â© 2018 by Claude E S Hogan (firstname.lastname@example.org)