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    March 23

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BHM: Bajan Stick licking


Added 24 February 2015


DBSS Sticklicking and Martial Arts School has revived the art of sticklicking in Barbados. (FP)

NationNews.com continues celebration of Black History Month, with another article written by a student from the visual and performing arts division of the Barbados Community College. All students in that section are required to take a course in Caribbean Cultures.

BAJAN STICK LICKIN’ is a stick fighting martial art that has its roots from Africa, where two participants used fire hardened wooden sticks, varying in length as weapons and carrying out fighting techniques.

This art most likely came to Barbados during the 16th century, when the Europeans brought slaves to the Americas i.e. The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. 

This paper will deal with the origins and the development of Bajan Stick Lickin’ and make an analytical assessment of the ways in which the history of such origins shaped and formed what we know as stick licking today.

From the dawn of time, the martial way has been infused into the ethnic identity of many cultures. One erroneous global thought is the idea that China was or is the only country with such a complex and advanced martial science.

However, Africa was the cradle of its birth, according to historians and pictorial records found in the Egyptian hieroglyphics of Beni Hasan (Baqt III, Tomb No. 15) (P. E. Newberry, 1893: 47, 48)

There was also a stick fighting system in Egypt called Tahtib. The oldest remnants of Tahtib could’ve been found in the archeological site of Abusir (c. 2500 BC).

This discovery clearly debunks the myth that stick fighting systems were an amalgamation of African stick fighting and European fencing. In that in European thought most complex systems and disciplines developed formed in Africa were thought to have some influences from Europe. These sticking fighting traditions were passed down as a sticking fighting dance form called Tahtib.

These stick fighting arts spread throughout all of Africa, being transformed into unique styles in each country that it settled (These are the various places and names of the stick fighting arts: Dambe – Nigeria, Niger and Chad; Nguni – South Africa; Nuba – Sudan; and Surma – Ethiopia).

The earliest reference of stick fighting in the Caribbean was from a lithograph [1] done in Dominica, 1779 by an Italian artist, Agostino Brunias. (Mottley, 2014:11). In the image you could see two persons in the middle and gathered around them are other stick fighters and watchers; some who are willing to fight and others that are old and experienced observing and watching over the fight.

Sticking fighting started to spread across the region with each having its own name. In Guadeloupe the name it was given was mayole, while in Haiti and Trinidad there was a similar name kalinda and kalenda respectively (Guyana – Setu; Carricou – Bois) and finally, our art form Bajan Stick Lickin.

During the African Diaspora, many Africans brought their cultures, traditions and even their own style of combat with them to the archipelago. As one can see from above, Africa was filled with many different forms and knowing that before their long transatlantic journey they were separated, one can deduce that after their arrival here in the Barbados there was an evolution of each art form.  

Another point was the fact that even between the Americas there was migration be it legal or illegal, masters or runaways.

Stick Licking in Barbados probably also had influences from English and Indian influences seeing that both of these countries had long histories of stick fighting traditions. However, my belief was that the influence could not have been that great, since there wasn’t a great amount of interaction and interbreeding of ethnicities in Barbados as compared to Trinidad, Guyana or other neighbouring countries.

In the Chill Magazine Jul-Sep 2006 Edition, Elombe Mottley talks about the aggressiveness of Bajan Stick lickers throughout the years. Bajans migrated to other West Indian countries such as Trinidad and Guyana and had very intimidating reputations as masterful sticklickers; fighting in many stickfighting gangs and the underground scene.

In Trinidad ‘badjohns’ was a term used for Bajans due to our fearless and aggressive behaviour. Bajans were also at the forefront in many revolts which occurred across the Caribbean such as the Bussa Revolt and the Virgin Islands Revolt of 1878.

The Bajan Stick Licking art form seemed to be one that was feared and distinctive from the other neighbouring islands art forms, even receiving praise from a famous Dominican Calypsonian, saying:

‘he was going to be as bad as a Bajan stickfighter’ (Chill 2006:28). 

There was also the Grenadian Calypsonian who settled in Trinidad, Small Island Pride, writing lyrics such as:

            ‘I like a Bajan in the 18 century

            And with my stick in my waist’

Both references are clear signs of the ruthless stereotype that hovered over the aura of Bajan Stick Licking.


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