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Honouring our heroes, connecting with history

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Let me add my two cents worth of congratulations to the winners of this year’s Carnival competitions, who received their prizes last Saturday at a ceremony hosted by the Carnival Development Corporation (CDC). Whatever the component of Carnival-mas, pan, kaiso or soca -it takes a huge amount of personal commitment and sacrifice to turn out the finished product, which makes our Festival the spectacle that it has become.{{more}} The pity is that, in terms of national development, we have still not yet got it right as regards how to deploy that rich diversity of skills and talent in other on-going productive areas. Too much of the talent displayed during the Carnival season is not harnessed in our long-term best interests.

The hospitality industry in particular seems unable to make the best use of the creative abilities of our Carnival artisans, and our tourism product is all the worse off because of it. Promoting and utilising home-grown talent as part of our entertainment package is far from what is possible and even in the midst of our touted “hottest Festival in the Caribbean”, we have a tendency to rely on non-national entertainers as the drawing cards. How can we strike the right balance between Carnival, Tourism and Culture?

One outstanding example of this failure on our part at linkage and integrated development was the late veteran band-leader, Edison “Sheggy” John. “Sheggy” is best known for his Band of the Year exploits and the quality of mas he produced, contributing greatly to the stature of our Carnival product. But he was much, much more than a ‘Carnival man’, having been an exceptionally talented artiste. Besides designer and mas-band leader, “Sheggy” was also a very fine artist in his own right, one of the best, though little recognised, that our country has produced. He also had great musical talent, being both a percussionist and singer of some repute. Somehow, between us all, we were never able to create the environment where “Sheggy” could employ his enormous talents, and be rewarded suitably, in the broader national interests.

The CDC must be praised for including tributes to the two deceased Carnival titans, Edison “Sheggy” John and Raymond “Sevens” Knights, as part of last Saturday’s package. Both passed away earlier this year, joining the pantheon of fallen heroes. The tributes read in their honour were well appreciated and very relevant, though in my opinion the one on “Sevens” did not sufficiently encapsulate his tremendous contribution. “Sevens” partnered the development of our Festival all the way from its modesty of half a century ago to the splendour of today. We tend to judge success by the number of Band of the Year or King/Queen of the Band titles won. There are not many among us who have appreciation for dedication and commitment such as that displayed by the less fashionable members of the Carnival-creating community – the likes of “Sevens”, “Moby” Dick, Louise Millington, “Karka” Jacobs and Junior Melbourne Constance.

Speaking of “Sevens” and “Sheggy”, brings me to a little-known connecting thread, (literally if you look at his physique). That is the still very-much-alive Sibert “Dove” Liverpool, a contemporary of both. Very few people know that ”Sheggy”, before he embarked on the recognized Carnival trail, via “Skully” Hunte and Bad Lads and Lasses, together with a few lifelong friends of his, such as the said “Dove”, Leroy ”Chico” Ellis of NAM fame,(yours truly being the least talented participant), had begun to develop creative plans for mas. The first ideas of bringing a Carnival band was formulated in the home of the treasured Doris Phills, in Lower Middle Street, Kingstown. “Dove” and “Sheggy” had played around wth some designs, the kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas being the subject. For one reason or another, the idea never came to fruition, but “Dove”, as bold as ever, was to try and bring his own band, “Demons of Siam”, only to be frustrated by local superstitions about a “Sons of Demons” band, from which it was rumoured the participants became blighted, including one, now deceased local character, ‘Larwood’. “Dove” took his talents to the “‘Boys on the Hill’, forming a link with “Sevens” and “Moby” that was to last many years.

We need to ensure that the memory of such outstanding talents is not confined to one-shot ceremonies. In May of this year, in the aftermath of the passing of “Sevens” Knights, SEARCHLIGHT had written the following, which deserves repetition:

“…Young people need to know the history of Carnival and the role that people like “Sevens” and “Sheggy” have played to develop the Festival….

“What about helping to place our Carnival and the unforgettable contributions of such veterans on the pedestal that they deserve to be? Not only would this give proper recognition to the life work of these cultural giants, it would also serve as a guide to posterity, a practical documentation of what Becket called our “Carnival History”, and also an important tourism promotion tool.”

That call, for a Carnival Hall of Fame, for appropriate recognition of those who have given so much to our country’s development, must not confined to Carnival alone. It can, and must go across the board to other facets of national life. It is in that context where we can best appreciate and recognize the work of our sports people as well, such as Rodway “Skinner” Fraser, the former national and Windwards fast bowler, as well as footballer of note, and later sports administrator, who was buried last week. Incidentally, that same Doris Phills’ residence helped to nurture the outstanding Fraser trio of Rodway, Dr. Adrian Fraser and the writer and playwright Godfrey “Bobby” Fraser, whose contribution has not yet been properly recognized.

Those missing connections continue to fracture our history and unimpeded progress as a country.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.