R. Rose
February 17, 2006
Black cultural influences


Part II

In part I we began looking at the positive political and cultural influences of the Black Power movement here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Among such influences were those in the fields of calypso, pan and drumming. But naturally, there were many other spheres of influence as well. Take handicraft for instance. Not since the days of our early ancestors and the Callinago/Garifuna people had there been such a flowering of the talent of our craftspeople as we witnessed in the height of the “Black Power era”. Carving, leather-making and its related industries, bolts, sandals, bags, earrings, paintings, you name it and it was blossoming. {{more}}

The blocks of today, populated by gangs of idle youth, were dens of cultural activity in those days, in rural as well as urban communities.

This fitted in well with the style of dress, the manifestation of a “Black and Proud” people. Going natural was the order of the day and every effort, persuasion, example, and regrettable but true, ridicule and hostility, was employed to try and encourage brothers and sisters to be proud of their natural attractions. Sometimes there was abuse too, particularly directed against our sisters on the grounds that they “fried” their hair or painted their faces. But overall, objectionable as the methods of some of the over-enthusiastic were, the objectives were quite laudable. Black people began to get a sense of pride in themselves, never so openly exhibited since they were brought from the shores of Africa. With kaiso giants like Chalkdust, Stalin, Valentino and Duke with his immortal “Black is Beautiful”, strengthening the cultural influence, SVG and the Caribbean began expressing a new sense of being and awareness.

One lasting landmark of all this was in the renaming of people. Out went the names of the European slavemasters and there was an ushering in of the names of Africa. So powerful was this influence that there was a constant search for African names and no black organization worthy of its salt could avoid regular publication of African names. In fact it even brought about some conflict within the traditional churches with several priests (foreign mainly, but local as well) refusing to baptize children with African names. Ridiculous it may sound today, but it was reality at the time. This area of names is perhaps the most lasting aspect of the cultural influence of that period. The names which caused a stir in those days are today household, legal names of generations born since then.

All of these didn’t just drop out of the sky, they were reflections, manifestations of the growing consciousness of the “Young, Gifted and Black”. The preachings of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the exhortations of Malcolm X, the unflinching faith of Martin Luther King, the vision of the Albert Marryshows, Hugh Mulzacs and George Mc Intoshs were not lost on the generations of the sixties and seventies. There was a search for knowledge never before witnessed on our shores. Brothers and sisters shared and exchanged books, pamphlets, magazines, anything that could spread awareness and build consciousness. And there was no internet then, restricted access to telephone. Yet brothers who had dropped out of school could be seen struggling to read Faron, avidly soaked up autobiography of Malcolm X, gulped down the teachings of Brother Walter Rodney. Reading became not a task but a pleasure for many. It is another huge legacy of the times. Walter Rodney’s “Groundings with my brothers” was replicated in the Ghetto, blocks and villages throughout SVG. Yes, Black Power also taught us to read, to learn, to discern, to analyze, to question, to dream, to aspire, to struggle..

Another spin-off of all this was the growth of internationalism. As we read of the struggles of others, we began to appreciate the importance of solidarity, our eyes were opened to the oppression of others and it began to dawn on us that world-over, we, the People who are “darker than blue” were always the most disadvantaged. It helped not only to forge that pride in our race but also increased our outrage at injustice, at foreign domination and exploitation. The seeds of anti-colonialism planted long ago by our forefathers began to germinate in the fields of Black Power. They were to spring up in the clamour for independence in the late seventies, forcing a hesitant black middle-class which led the national political movement to move finally to formally end British control and move to Independence on October 27, 1979.