Bring the rope of Vincentian National Pride
All this week SEARCHLIGHT has been featuring on our website and social media platforms*, the progress being made by some of our young athletes who are training overseas.
Their performances stand as a tribute to themselves, their families, and indeed offer a powerful reminder to the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) that we write our future, we determine our own destinies. Their feats of athletic excellence give force to the central idea of the Vincentian experience: the capacity for greatness lies within us. We have, and have always had, the ability to make our world anew, the capacity to free ourselves from the historic burdens that have afflicted us.
These burdens we know. Slavery, racism, and colonialism carry extraordinary weight within the Vincentian and the broader Caribbean experience. That history cannot be un-made. We have been scarred, and those wounds have not all healed.
Our modern existence, however, provides little relief from the historic burdens. For every day we confront the continuing struggle to secure our economic future. On our radios, our streets, and social media, raucous and poisonous voices spew hate, deceit, and lies. These calls to chaos represent a continuing challenge to the legitimacy and stability of our political and social order.
Moreover, new barbarians have arisen bringing violence, murder, and mayhem into our lives. And some prophesy that our nation will descend into despair, decay, and the death of national pride.
In this they are wrong. For the history of SVG is also a history of triumph over extraordinary odds. The Garifuna defiance of British imperialism guaranteed that plantation slavery in St Vincent lasted a shorter time than anywhere else. We are the beneficiaries and protectors of the Garifuna legacy. It is therefore fitting that King Chatoyer holds pride of place as our first, and at this point, only officially designated National Hero.
In fact, the Vincentian heroic tradition long predates any such official designation. For in the 184 years since slavery ended, and the 39 years since we became Independent, Vincentians have forged a patriotism, a love of our home that is deep, lasting, and comforting. Becket understood this. In 1975 in Victoria Park he sang “Carnival History” and “California Girl,” the most powerful rendition of Vincentian patriotism that had ever been expressed in any form. Vincentians recognized this and crowned him Calypso Monarch. Then in 1977, he produced the magnificent, “St Vincent I Love You,” serenading our landscape and our seascape, our foodscape and our cultural space, as things of beauty, dignity, and value.
Becket, of course, is but one of our many calypsonians to have honed in on, and indeed helped to define, the contours of Vincentian national identity. Vibrating Skates and Rasum feature prominently as well. Our identity is a product of our history. Our patriotism comes from that same history. For whereas we revile the horrors of slavery, we revere our parents and grandparents who rose above that history to chart for us the vision of a future where we dream of creating a better world.
It is in our sporting traditions, however, that Vincentians have merged most powerfully our heroic traditions and our national identity. CLR James, perhaps the greatest of Caribbean intellectuals was the first to recognize the centrality of Caribbean sports to Caribbean identity. In his masterpiece ‘Beyond The Boundary’, he seized upon the relationship between cricket and Caribbean anti-colonial tradition to demonstrate that our battle for supremacy on the cricket field was a battle for the ownership by Caribbean people of our destiny beyond the field of play.
What the Trindadian born CLR James intuited as a scholar, the Vincentian born Guy Lowe lived as a soccer player. Guy Lowe is arguably the greatest footballer in the history of SVG. His speed and skill terrorised Caribbean defenders from Trinidad to Suriname. But the breathtaking skills of Pete Morris and the goal scoring prowess of Raultie Lowe made them equally worthy candidates for the same accolade. Together, they combined to make our football team of 1979 a legend in their own time. Hence in the year of our birth as an independent nation, it was our soccer players above all who gave us the greatest national joy.
This national joy was not new. Gloria Ballantyne and Peggy Ince-Hull, netball legends, understood this. Michael Findlay, a cricket legend, understood this as well. For in the 1960’s, when Vincentian cricketers, footballers, and netballers competed against their Caribbean counterparts and won, a jester by the name of Doree led crowds through the streets singing, “Bring the rope leh we hang Dominica, bring the rope.” Or Grenada. Or St Lucia. And we did so with the rope of Vincentian nationalism.
Our rope of patriotism is long, knotted, and impossible to disentangle. On this our 39th year of Independence, as our youngest athletes bring us great pride, it is time to remember the song, “Bring The Rope.”