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Wealth of gems in centenarians

Ricky Jordan

Wealth of gems in centenarians

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TWO CENTENARIANS, the oldest people in Barbados, have died – James Sisnett at 113 and Emily Clarke at 110.

These solid pillars of Barbadians history are gone.

I’ve heard people lament the closing of institutions and the like but nothing represents the passing of an era as forcibly as those who had actually lived in that era and bear the scars and smiles of it.

Furthermore, for a country of such small physical dimensions, few can gainsay that Barbados is a blessed place as it boasts on its shores some of the oldest individuals in the world.

My issue as I reflect on the passing of Sisnett and Clarke is that as a country we don’t really utilise the wisdom of these patriarchs and matriarchs by listening to their stories.

Either we can learn from their recollections or simply find a way to record their voices and physical expressions before they pass.

When a person of 100 years’ vintage leaves this mortal plain for the Great Beyond, he or she takes along a treasure trove of memories and experiences from a Barbados that was totally different from what we see today – an agricultural space where a telephone was a scarce sight, cars were mainly owned by white doctors, plantation owners and other members of the oligarchy, and pastimes comprised mainly outdoor games.

I have read so many stories and heard so many broadcasts when journalists cover the occasions of visits by the Governors General to our centenarians.

Yet, we have little material of them actually talking at length about their days attending school, how Bridgetown looked in the pre-World War II days, journeys across Barbados by train, visiting another country by boat, or working on the Panama Canal.

If my grandfather, Aubrey Jordan  were alive, he would be 117 years old. Born in December 1896, he died in December 1981 after having worked in Cuba and lived in Fisherpond, St Thomas where he raised five children, most of whom also emigrated for some years in search of a better life.

Instead of Cuba, though, they sought the cold climes of England.

Fortunately for my family and I, we were aware that my grandfather could speak Spanish fluently, that he gave his daughters Spanish names, that he was no-nonsense, handsome, hard-working, and revered white people.  

Little nuggets of information about Barbados and Cuba were always available from him.

In much the same way, the relatives of Sisnett, Clarke and other centenarians or those who are near their prestigious age are lucky to have such a treasure trove of information.

They have the golden opportunity to ask them some important questions about Barbados.

Such as: did Barbadians ever dance in the streets as their counterparts in Trinidad did?

How did Barbadians celebrate the end of the crop? How did the Landship  perform?

Also: Where were you during the 1937 riots? Can you remember any major fires?

How did people seem to feel about the West Indies gaining Test cricket status in 1928?

What did your grandparents or great-grands tell you about slavery?

What was the island’s main hospital like? Who were the popular midwives of the day?

How do you feel when you look at their progeny today?

Imagine the thoughts of these centenarians, many of whom are lucid, on a digital record or compiled in an e-book or movie, showing the rest of the world the sons and daughters of this blessed island that has produced more survivors than such a small space logically should.

Barbados – what a great place!

Missing issues

ON ANOTHER NOTE, when I survey, not the wondrous Cross, but a segment of songs local calypsonians have brought to Crop Over within the last decade, I must admit that Barbadians for the most part are extreme.

Years ago calypsonians used to mainly pinpoint the issues of the day, but were accused of singing too many parochial songs and were told that if they wanted to take the art form beyond these shores, they should choose universal topics that could appeal to a listener in Timbuktu.

They now sing about so many generalised and trite matters that I wonder whether they’ve been residing here or whether the memorable events which occurred in Barbados  – including developments with CLICO, Four Seasons and Al Barrack and the recent general election – had any impact on them.

One man sang about the Alexandra-Jeff Broomes saga last season, which tells me that most local calypsonians prefer the “safe” trend of compiling the year’s news headlines or singing about each other – and the recycled panel of judges simply loves it.

• Ricky Jordan is an Associate editor of THE NATION. Email [email protected]