April 2010

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DCFA’s March to Caroni

When History is not foil

By Samantha S. P. Mitchell

Herein lies my dilemma: a student who loved History at secondary school but who saw no merit in pursuing it at the CSEC level or as a compulsory UWI Foundation course, suddenly finds herself practically at the edge of her seat, eyes fixed, ears attuned, body semi catatonic, totally enthralled by the spectacle that unfolds before her, replete with its historical precision, yet much more impressionable than that which could be gleaned within pages or groves of academe.

As I reminisce now on the Department of Creative and Festival Arts’ (DCFA) production of Zeno Obi Constance’s “March to Caroni,” I fully understand what Cicero meant when he said that “history is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.”

“March to Caroni” is not a production for the faint hearted or emotional. Its illumination of reality I believe, invokes memories for those in the audience whose lives were being re-enacted on stage, which perhaps only an omniscient critic could really put to paper. Pride must have mixed with pain as they anticipated every word, felt every cry and relived every fear, while at the same time recognizing that they had fought a good fight and laid the foundation for a more equitable society.

The re-enactment of the protest march round the UWI Campus was an exercise of creative genius on the part of the producers as no member of the audience could have left the production without having felt transposed into an era where he/she had clenched fists in solidarity while red, green and white flags wafted on the songs of battle cries. The significance of the stops at the ‘cathedral’, the bank and the ‘Country Club’ where the white ‘statues’—elite and gentle folk—held court respectively, could in no way detract from the richness of song, drum and word coming from the ‘Black Traditions in Art’ presented on the steps of the Daaga Auditorium.

As the march proceeded, the sadness of the death of members of NUFF and other protesters, the shooting of sugar workers and attempts at scaring the protesters through supernatural grotesque figurines, in no way broke the spirits of the marchers. The return to the Learning Resource Centre was a welcome respite for tired feet, but as one shared a mother’s and sister’s grief, the refrain that somebody would have to pay was indeed a catharsis and a catalyst that served to rejuvenate and galvanize the crowd into a Black Power Movement determined to rid the society of its many injustices.

Four decades have elapsed since the events of the seventies but sadly, Brother Valentino’s “Trini have a funny funny way of forgetting /Their history to them like it doh mean nothing” stress the importance of this indelible performance being viewed by a wider audience. A 1909 reflection from a resigned Chief Plenty Coup of the Crow Nation is perhaps timely here:

“The ground on which we stand is sacred ground. It is the dust and blood of our ancestors. On these plains the Great White Father at Washington sent his soldiers armed with long knives and rifles to slay the Indian. Many of them sleep on yonder hill where Pahaska White Chief of the Long Hair so bravely fought and fell. A few more passing suns will see us here no more, and our dust and bones will mingle with these same prairies. I see as in a vision the dying spark of our council fires, the ashes cold and white. I see no longer the curling smoke rising from our lodge poles. I hear no longer the songs of the women as they prepare the meal. The antelope have gone; the buffalo wallows are empty. Only the wail of the coyote is heard. The white man’s medicine is stronger than ours; his iron horse rushes over the buffalo trail. He talks to us through his whispering spirit [the telephone]. We are like birds with a broken wing. My heart is cold within me. My eyes are growing dim--I am old...” (In Our Own Words, 1999).

The efforts of Makandal Daaga, George Weekes, Khafra Kambon et al, should not die with the antelopes of their generation. DCFA’s 2010 production imparts to its audience the history of a period spanning almost a decade, in the space of less than three hours. That is an accomplishment worthy of commendation! The students assume their roles with the professionalism and temerity that this production demands, and the infusion of popular calypsos, poetry, dress and personalities of the period, all combine to create a palatable historical production which warrants a second visit (just remember to walk with comfortable shoes!).

“Trini have a funny way of forgetting/Their history to them like it doh mean nothing”…

-Samantha Mitchell is an English Language Instructor in the English Language Foundation Programme, Dept. of Liberal Arts, UWI.