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Nigger yard vibration

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When a person says ‘’I come from SVG’’ or ‘’ I come from the US’’ she speaks with a certain pride and warmth, as if to say ‘’that is the special place that I connect with and is totally part of me’’.{{more}}

In last week’s SEARCHLIGHT, Randy Aberdeen wrote with a similar pride and passion that he is among those who ‘’Come from the motherland” – not from the “nigger yard’’.

What is this ‘’nigger yard’’?

60 or so years ago, Martin Carter from Guyana crafted this ballad that he entitled ‘’I come from the nigger yard’’. He did not speak of the nigger yard with warmth and pride. It was not a place of belonging, but a point of departure. Carter places himself as an alienated man, dominated and brutalized by ‘’things’’, scorning himself as torn like the skin from the back of slave’’, but he was also ‘’searching the dust for the trace of a root// or the mark of a leaf or the shape of a flower’’. And again, ‘’screaming with hunger, angry with life and man’’.

It was from that human subjugation that he emerged, not crawling or strolling, but ‘’leaping’’. And in 1950s Guyana, there was a scene of leaping out of and away from the British colonial and imperial rule, in company with other people who had been colonized, but whose ‘’different hearts beat out in unison the cry of freedom.”

In the 9th stanza, Carter writes: ‘’I take again my nigger life, my scorn/ and fling it in the face of those who hate me…’’

Carter’s nigger yard is really an emancipation anthem chanted for the black man. Another Guyanese writer, discussing the birth of the Guyanese working class, gives us a prose picture of the ‘’nigger yard’’, here is Walter Rodney speaking in 1978.

“Under slavery, the plantation was virtually the only unit within which people structured their lives, because the slaves lived on the plantation. They had a section assigned to them, which in the Caribbean and certainly in Guyana, was known as the ‘’nigger yard’’…

It is a place that people come from, not a place to which one goes.”

Rodney continues:

“When one lives in the ranges on the estate, first of all, one is totally at the mercy of the plantation… the only poles of reference when one lives in the nigger yard were the plantation field and factory on the one hand, and the big house of the plantation manager and the houses of the overseers on the other.”

That was the world… Speaking of Guyana, Dr Rodney said what the freed people did after emancipation. “Africans moved in order to develop independent villages”; further he explained that “a village was freedom. Living off (away from) the plantain was a qualitative aspect of freedom…in the villages they began to exercise what was totally impossible before, some political powers. The villages were self-governing units.”

Commenting on weakness in analyzing this village movement, Rodney asserts: “It is this movement, which was essentially a residential and in the cultural movement, which has been confused in the literature with the idea of withdrawal from plantain labour. Rodney joins with other historians like Douglas Hall on Jamaica, Sebastian on Trinidad, Woodville Marshall and Adrian Fraser for SVG, to present the new industrial relations which the free workers began to introduce, thus:‘’Now, after emancipation, there was an almost spontaneous process by which large numbers of black work force decided to organize themselves into independent jobbing gangs. The function of these gangs was to move the estate, trying to establish rates and wages that were more favourable than those that were being offered. That was their main concern. They now had and

began to put into practice an alternative vision.”What Martin Carter in his poetry, and Walter Rodney in his scholarship leave us with is the clear portrait of a people who moved ‘’from the nigger yard of yesterday’’ to a vibrant and militant struggle for a new post emancipation society.

The disgust and rage with which Randy Aberdeen turns to the Martin Carter poem ‘’I come from the nigger yard of yesterday’’ stem from the misuse of the poem in the ‘’Emancipation’’ lecture by Prime Minister Gonsalves. Dr Gonsalves proposes that all Vincentians have inherited (through colonization) the mantle of the enslaved African:

‘’…with scars upon my soul Wounds on my body, fury in my hands

To the world of tomorrow, I turn with my strength.’’

I think that Martin Carter and Randy Aberdeen and others could justly call for a critical review of Dr Gonsalves’ timely, informed, but flawed presentation on the end of slavery in SVG and our situation in 2012.

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