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When a friend dies

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On Friday last, we had gone to collect some potato vine for a potato and peanut project that we were working on, and I noticed that he was breathing hard. “Age” he said, “When you age that happens.” Two days later, my friend and comrade died. “Sallo”, Solomon Butler of Diamond Village did not just live his life. He engaged and invested purpose in his living. Forty or so years ago, he and others committed their efforts to give revolutionary service to this country, especially at the side of the poor and the working farmers and working people, to those who are robbed of the right to live fully and freely, and to those in bondage to demons in all forms.{{more}}

When a friend dies as quietly and as suddenly as Sallo did, you think of those he leaves behind, those who are hurting. When a friend dies in the midst of a conversation and an unfinished narration, it is like your thoughts butt up against a wall. When a friend dies and you have made important journeys together, you want to push on to the end of that trail, in a way to arrive at the destination you both had in mind. When a friend dies, you reflect on your own coming bus stop, and you hurry to get your things together, to alight decently. When a friend dies, you examine his/her footprints and the roadmap that guided his/her footsteps. I am going now to look for some of the footprints left on the path by my friend.

HIS FOOTPRINTS

When the organisation Diamonites was founded in the early 1970’s, Solomon Butler used to be custodian/manager of the gates and earnings at our concerts. On one occasion, he took to the stage to present a dance solo which he created. It was called “comess”. Although it was well received, he never went back on stage. He retired after one show, at the top of his game! In the Rural Transformation Collective (RTC) in Diamond he was in charge of “appropriate/ intermediate technology” related to production. Some of the items he helped and worked with were: food dryers, biogas digestion – using pig “manure” to generate methane gas for cooking, and small scale chalk and candle manufacture. I must mention a much need initiative which he coordinated, it was a Home Improvement Society for villagers. It worked like this. Persons would join the society, make regular payments, and the RTC with funding assistance, volunteer and paid labour, would do the home improvements one by one. The demand was too great however and after three homes were improved, those on the waiting list lost their patience and withdrew from the project. He also worked in the RTC with Winston “Timo” Cupid to build and operate a “Village to Village” mobile library and video road show. In 1980, after the crop damage caused by the hurricane, Solomon Butler, along with Philemon Allen and Wilfred Fergus, organised a tree crop nursery, to supply plants for farmers to replace trees lost due to the wind topplings.

INTELLECT AND

COMMITMENT

Sallo impressed me as what Antonio Gramsci termed an “organic and new intellectual”. He had a sharp critical grasp of issues and problems, and in discussions, his input brought together the important points on the table and pointed them in a helpful direction. He did not roam all over the place when he spoke, rather he took a position that was in favour of a liberative outcome. I like the way Earlene Horne described her intellectual development. She wrote: I was educated in Ignorance but re educated by experience, Solomon Butler too.

Gramsci explained that each class segment brings its own intellectuals to birth. They do not come from the universities, rather they come from the conscious and active members of the class.

Solomon Butler had occasion to join in discussion with professionals and administrators and workers in board rooms, central committee meetings, executive committees and other assemblies where he was a member. What he said, when he said it, and how he said it was generally appreciated. There was wisdom in his viewpoint.

Leaders and members of the Upper Room congregation know Solomon Butler as one of their visionary members. He was a critical instrument in getting their chapel built and his was a voice that from time to time drew their attention to gospel directions. Recently he had formed the intention to join his pastor in taking the gospel to the streets of SVG. The message was not made for walls, but for ears. That was his conviction. Whether in church, in COPCO, in fair trade, in ULP in PMC or on the block, Solomon Butler’s was a presence that was felt. But he died at home.

HOME BOY

When a fairly young Solomon Butler built his house, it was partly a resource centre, housing a library, office and workshop space. The Walter Rodney Centre had its home there. The family home became more dominant though as SallyAnn and their children claimed space, and then later, as the family with Audrey consolidated, a more mature home building discipline emerged. The family bible altar became a consistent feature. Joint parent enterprise followed and periodic family upsets became less and less a problem. The home without Sallo will certainly have its challenges, but his footprints remain and the home will endure with support of faith and friends. Go in Peace, my friend.

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