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WORD VIEW – Bajan schizophrenia


Esther Phillips

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For reasons Nation columnist Harry Russell may not have intended, his piece entitled Crop-Over And Me (July 26) was to my mind a study in the use of language. And the beauty about language is the almost limitless landscape it invites us to explore.Mr Russell’s account of his Crop-Over experience is a humorous one. But what struck me was the wealth of paradoxes running as a kind of sub-text throughout the article. For me, this afforded tremendous insight into the schizophrenic entity called the Barbadian. This idea of the Bajan double-consciousness, if one might call it that, seems embedded in the images Mr Russell uses, one of the most telling being the “gyroscope”. This instrument, according to the Collins Dictionary, is defined thus: a heavy rotating wheel, the axis of which is free to turn in any direction and which can be set to rotate in any plane, independent of forces tending to change the position of the axis”. For those who did not read his article, and certainly within the context of Crop-Over, it is impossible not to guess that Mr Russell is here describing the “spectacular convulsions” of a hefty woman’s rear end as she “wines” her way to Spring Garden. What is also noteworthy is that this same woman just a short while ago had been “shuffling along with a modest gait.”This seemingly contradictory behaviour is one we all recognise as very Barbadian. How many times have observations been made about the staid, serious-faced, conservative, “stiff-waisted” Barbadians who become transformed into “wuk-up” machines at the first “ping” of a Crop-Over calypso.   Another interesting image with which Russell presents us is that of three teenage female revellers. While their upper body and legs remain still, the “middle area spins clockwise, counterclockwise, up and down”. What better illustration of the idea of motion in stasis, an entire philosophy in itself.   And how Barbadian as well. This picture speaks not only of our “wuk-up” skills but may also be a reflection of our overall resourcefulness. Surely for an island this size and with so small an economy, we should be at more of a standstill. The opposite so far is true. We seem able to move in whatever direction we need to in order to utilise what we have to maximum effect, all the while anchored to whatever values help to make us “stable” at least up to now.  Other entertaining complexities present themselves in the columnist’s use of language. For example, an elephant in a Barbadian setting is undoubtedly a phenomenon. What is even stranger, however, is that Mr Russell’s elephant neither snorts nor trumpets, but “snarls”. And why not, I suppose?Thank God for the mellifluous sound of the sea and gentle breezes. But the noise level in Barbados may too often be described as a kind of cosmic snarl concentrated in 166 square miles. The lady in question may have been unconsciously repeating a sound to which she has become more than accustomed.Other notable contrasts are evident when the out-of-control crowd and the law practically rub shoulders as do the orgiastic dancers and the Walk Holy Band. All in the same Crop-Over mix. The policeman finds himself caught like some tragic hero between action and inaction: “Rules prevent him from responding, crowd reaction prevents him from arresting.” Mr Russell does deplore the presence of the Walk Holy Band at such an event, but he should not forget the interesting paradox that is part of our Bajan tradition: in several villages and districts, the church and the rum shop with all that ensues therein, have existed in close proximity, and peacefully so from all appearances.In reflecting in all seriousness on the image of the gyroscope, one is aware that the wheel has been for centuries a symbol of innovation and creativity. Moreover, the qualities of the gyroscope include flexibility, independence and stability. I like to think that all the elements I have mentioned relative to this instrument represent the best of who we are as Barbadians. Schizophrenic we may be, but most will agree that we have managed the condition quite well – at least up to now.• Esther Phillips is an educator, poet, and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century. Email [email protected]

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