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OFF CENTRE: Flag and t’ing – but no story!


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Flag and t’ing – but no story!

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Unless its citizens create a shared body of narratives, a tellingware that includes a nation’s diverse voices, the people of that land will have little power to imagine a common future for themselves. – Daniel Yashinsky
In the early morning breeze of a November day, the flag fluttered. Prominently positioned on the car. Proud ultramarine and gold with a broken trident.
The driver would probably have said he was a Bajan to de bone.
But his music was so loud. I could not hear myself shout “You mad?”
When he boomed out of my earshot and rudely into other people’s, I wondered what the flag meant to him. What Independence meant to him. And to the many who never seem to give a damn about the such violations of their nation fellows.
In the following hours and days, I encountered, amid all the supposed nationalistic show, many similar ironic contrasts.
I know that all countries have these kinds of ironies, but when they pervasively present themselves in a small, small, small country, by way of people who are deliberately and “proudly” displaying national colours and in the midst of month-long Independence celebrations, they must raise the eyebrows of the right-minded.
Clearly, we have not been soul-schooled in Independence.
After all, how are we nurturing that sense of affinity which opens the way to shared values, the bedrock of community and, yes, nation?
I don’ know if you notice what I notice: the absence of story, that potent contributor to a sense of togetherness? Where are the widely spread episodes of our people’s lives (whether fiction or non-fiction)? The poignant stories of family, neighbours, friends, heroes for mass assimilation?
The stuff of life that is so vibrantly captured in authentic story that has no pretensions to peddling causes or ideologies, but seeks only resonance and transport – the real realness of people, of our brotherliness, hardiness, hopefulness, fears, griefs, triumphs, failures, redemption, our multihued dynamic living – where are these in the “public square”?
People turn to songs.
But our “nation songs”? Don’ get me started!
Beautiful Barbados and I Love Barbados – songs that talk about sea and sand and such and are truly affecting – are not about us for us. They don’t capture us in our lived-out experiences.
And you know me and I’m A Bajan and its sundry frivolous ilk – we much betta dan dat!
Also in dat brew: every year the radio stations licking yuh down with The Pledge and Bim I Love You with their bizarre “patriotism” (you itemize an island-load of bad, don’t mention one good thing about Barbados, but you en leffing? – wuh you would have to be a poster child for punch-drunkenness, irrationality and mental disorientation – absolutely no boon to nationhood).
If you want to play those two songs because they are local, play them on April 1 – but don’t play them in November as “nation songs”.
Full to de brim with dotishness and editorial observations. The writers woulda do better to pen a song about people in the midst of living. So that we, the rest, could vicariously enter into others’ experiences and become kindred souls.
Why, once again, I on pun song? Well, in this I am not going to be weary in well doing, as The Bible says, so . . . it is because song is the only form we have with true mass appeal.
Look, those other people are always widely reflecting themselves – in film, in plays, in novels, in songs. And even though their songs don’t tell enough of their varied stories, too lopsidedly being songs of love – which should be sung, don’t get me wrong – and not enough about other authentic living experiences, they have other ubiquitous popular means of mirroring themselves in those other aspects of their lived-out lives. We don’t.
Your working out of Independence is shallow if you don’t inspire a sense of connectedness, of community, through storied depictions of yourself.
Independence/nationhood (of which community is a core facet) is not a November thing. It has to be nourished all year long.
And tellingware (to use Yashinsky’s term), narrative, storied reflection of yourselves is a vital nourisher of a sense of connection.
As important as are the various symbols of nationhood, and Barbadiana, NIFCA, Spirit Of The Nation and its attendant activities, the Independence Parade, and National Honours (and the related ceremony), they do not truly connect us, do not internalize the spirit and values of community.
A proven means is the entering into each other’s lives. Apart from the first-hand way, the best that humans have devised for doing that is through story.
But where are our stories – such tales that just might have made that noisy flag-flying man feel for us, his fellow countrymen?
I am not holding my breath on that one . . . but we still need our stories for nation-building.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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