Processions and ceremonies, drums and pealing church bells, traditional African attire and reflections on the Caribbean’s African heritage: these are hallmarks of Emancipation Day, commemorated on 1 August across the Anglophone Caribbean. Under COVID-19 health regulations, many traditional Emancipation events have been cancelled or scaled back in 2020. But in a year when protests against racism and for social justice have surged around the world, Emancipation Day is more vitally significant than ever, for Caribbean people of all backgrounds. Public events may be reduced in scope, but local organisers will host virtual events, from lectures to performances, and 1 August is a day to reflect on our painful history, the resilience of African ancestors, today’s continued struggles against racism, and a better future for our region and the world. Upward and onward shall we go, in respect, love, and unity.
Art Under Lockdown
In many parts of the world, museums and art galleries — like other public cultural spaces — were early casualties of the COVID-19 shutdown. Hundreds of scheduled exhibitions were closed prematurely, or had their openings postponed, as galleries shut their doors in keeping with public health measures. And with curators and other staff now working from home, many institutions turned their efforts towards sharing artworks with audiences via the web, and even organising special quarantine-themed projects.
For the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, creativity under social distancing took the form of Art Under Lockdown, an online exhibition staged at the gallery’s website. “Intended to shine a light on the creativity of artists and members of the public who have turned to making art as a means of expression during the current COVID-19 pandemic,” Art Under Lockdown began with an open call. There were eighty-six submissions — from established professional artists represented in the NGCI’s permanent collection, as well as hobbyists as young as twelve years old — all accepted “in the spirit of inclusivity.”
Two-dimensional works unsurprisingly predominate. On the NGCI gallery website, you can scroll through thumbnail images, each accompanied by a concise artist’s statement, and zoom in to examine details. Some works evince anxiety, even dread. Others are playful — such as Wil Bignal’s minimalist photograph of a single roll of toilet paper, titled Pandemic Relief — but the prevailing theme is resilience, with many artists turning to the natural world, the reassuring beauty of their island landscape and its flora and fauna, for a sense of grounding in bewildering times.
Art Under Lockdown runs online until 31 August, 2020. Visit the exhibition at www.nationalgallery.org.ky/whats-on/exhibitions/art-under-lockdown
How to . . .
Write it down
Stuck at home social distancing, there’s no better time to start channelling your ideas, anxieties, and hopes by writing about them. Poet Shivanee Ramlochan suggests how to get started.
An English Country Garden journal, complete with a flimsy silver lock and key.
This was my first foray into the world of diary-keeping. I could not have been more than ten when my mother gave me the journal, along with a new hoard of novels. As a young girl with a boundless and intemperate imagination growing up in rural Trinidad, I was accustomed to living in the realm of Rudyard Kipling’s jungles, Jane Austen’s high society ballrooms, Gaston Leroux’s phantom-haunted Parisian opera houses. The advent of the diary meant something new: I learned that I, too, could make and inhabit my own worlds. I’d live for the quiet, rain-soaked evenings, having successfully completed or evaded chores and homework, when I could curl up with my diary, purple glitter pen tracing out what I didn’t know would one day, years into the future, form the bedrock of my very first poems to appear in the public arena.
I struggled, in my teenage years, with allowing myself to use writing as a way into my own heart. Now the world can feel even more confusing and stressful than it did then. We’ve spent months reconditioning our expectations of what it means to share closeness, to be intimate with ourselves and each other in a time of global health uncertainty. So many of us live very differently to how we’d imagined or were accustomed, out of necessity, caution, and perhaps even fear. Whether you have a pastel-coloured, orchid-trellised notebook, a serviceable legal pad, or the blinking cursor of your word processor, there’s good news. You have the tools you need to fight that fear, to struggle against your loneliness, to release your own words like light semaphores down the deep well of unknowing. If you’ve had a story, a poem, a letter to yourself languishing unwritten in your desires, now is the time to allow yourself that voice. Now is the time to permit yourself the life-saving, world-sustaining truth: that the creative voice you’ve most needed all this time may well be your own.
It can be scary, but you’re not alone. Allow yourself to start small. Every day, write one word, one thing, one truth for which you are grateful: within a week, you’ll have seven bright gems of inspiration from which more writing can bloom. Feeling physically stuck, pressed in by your living quarters? Visualise the place you want to write from, and settle yourself there; pull up a video or photo of the space to help get yourself situated. On any given day, you could be scribbling perched on the rocky outcropping that overlooks Bathsheba’s wild, exquisite coastline in east Barbados, or suspended over Guyana’s roaring Kaieteur Falls, cradled by lush, green forests. You can control your setting, despite its limitations: select your favourite music for your writing sessions; light a candle or some incense; prepare your preferred tea, coffee, or cocktail to sip as you reflect and unwind on the page. A simple Google search will yield countless creative prompts, if you feel yourself getting stuck, or frustrated.
Above all else: practice kindness with yourself on the page. This is the beginning of a journey you deserve, and all your words are patiently waiting.
On the Field
Olympic dreams on pause
With the long-anticipated Tokyo Summer Olympics officially postponed to 2021, Sheldon Waithe learns how athletes from across the Caribbean are coping with a major change in career plans.
Only two world wars had ever stopped the modern Olympic Games. We can now add the COVID-19 pandemic to that list. It was inevitable — as various individual sports were forced to shut down globally — that the granddaddy of them all, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, would follow suit. Despite an initial wait-and-see approach, both the Games’ governing body and hosts Japan were forced to put safety first, as nations started to confirm their intentions to boycott the event in favour of their athletes’ safety. The final decision, when it came back in March, brought relief to competitors and coaches, who — despite training all their lives for July 2020 — now had confirmation of a postponement to 2021. Dreams were not cast aside, simply delayed.
Caribbean athletes now have to readjust plans of a lifetime, but the consensus is that such a deviation is miniscule compared to this unprecedented crisis. T&T swimmer Dylan Carter highlighted the incomparability of an Olympics versus a pandemic: “You have to be sensitive, as this has affected everyone in some way. I can’t say it’s not disappointing” — before seeing the silver lining of additional preparation time. “I think next year I will be even better.”
T&T’s multiple Olympic medal-winner Richard Thompson echoed his national teammate. “It was the right decision for the greater good of humanity. You have more time to work on your weaker areas and focus on the positive.” Jamaica’s reigning 100m and 200m Olympic champion Elaine Thompson Herah, eager to defend her titles, emphasised that continued preparation is simply part of her job: “We as athletes still have to keep training, no matter what.” With new Olympic dates still to be confirmed, that point rings truer than ever. As Thompson Herah’s fellow Jamaica Olympic champion Earl McLeod said, “I do believe that postponing the games to 2021 is the best solution for all athletes. We just have to stay motivated and keep aspiring.”
The experienced athletes know what they’re missing out on — but what of those that were in the process of qualifying for their first Olympics? Boxer Rufus Clement was on the cusp of confirming his place in the Grenada Olympic squad, after taking the novel approach of enabling his preparation via online funding. Then his qualifier was postponed. “I am putting all I got into this, since it has been a dream of mine, a one-time opportunity,” he explained. Eighteen-year-old Jamaican gymnast Danusia Francis took a view that emphasises the positivity of youth, even in these times of uncertainty. “It’s hard for me to think that I have to train for an entire extra year,” she said, “but it would be a massive shame to completely cancel it, so I welcome the decision to postpone.”
The region’s finest athletes will eventually have to press reset, but it’s the same for their global rivals. Whenever the Tokyo Games occur, they will be ready to provide much-needed joy for their nations, in the aftermath of the pandemic. But for now, they’ve pressed pause.
T&T’s vastly experienced shot putter Cleopatra Borel summed it up best. “Athletics is my life,” she said, “but actual lives matter most.”
All About . . .
Observing the stars is one of humankind’s oldest pastimes, as ancient legends about the constellations prove. And even in times of social distancing and COVID-19 self-isolation, the beauty and mystery of the night sky offer a sense of consolation. Social distancing has put stargazing parties on hold, but even if your vantage point is a window, you can still contemplate the wonders of the cosmos — and remember that beyond the twinkling clusters of stars, there are lots more objects deep in space, invisible to the naked eye.
Such as exoplanets: planetary bodies orbiting stars outside our solar system, more than four thousand of which have been discovered since the 2009 launch of the Kepler satellite. In 2015, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) began approving exoplanet names. Traditionally, the names of stars were derived from Greek, Latin, and Arabic, but in recent years names have been approved from more diverse cultures. As part of the IAU’s centenary celebrations in 2019, the organisation launched an initiative for each country in the world to name a designated exoplanet and its associated star through national competitions. Jo-Anne Ferreira, a linguist based at the University of the West Indies, chose the winning names for Trinidad and Tobago’s planet and star. Numerically identified as HD 96063b, and discovered in 2011, the exoplanet orbits a giant yellow star in the Leo constellation, 515 light years away from Earth. Now they are officially known as Ramajay (exoplanet) and Dingolay (star). Ferreira talks to Shelly-Ann Inniss about making her contribution to the atlas of the universe.
Have you made a wish upon Dingolay?
No, I haven’t yet!
Did you actually dingolay when you heard the news?
I was and still am blown away. I started to ramajay as I sang along to the late Mighty Shadow’s song “Dingolay”. I definitely dingolayed a little at the ceremony when I first saw my beautiful telescope [the competition prize].
How did you choose the names?
My inspiration was man’s best friend. While visiting my mum, I met a dog called Dingolay O’Connor, and I thought, how perfect — Dingolay! Trinbagonians dance! Ramajay was the next step — Trinbagonians sing! Actually, once I settled on those two, I didn’t look any further. In terms of the campaign rules, they fit perfectly into the category of “long-standing cultural, historical . . . significance.” They both fall under the theme of our national creative genius and joie de vivre. And, of course, they are “not identical to, or too similar to, an existing name of an astronomical object.”
So, to dingolay is to dance, and ramajay means sing or extemporise on the steelpan. Do the names have other meanings?
I found out after I chose them that dingolay is a fascinating word and may have two origins — a possible convergence of Kongo and French. It is also the name of a tassa hand drawn directly from dholak rhythms. I would call that a true Trinbagonian word. Ramajay is a particularly beautiful poetic verb describing the chirping or warbling of a bird. It’s from a French word, ramager (same pronunciation except for the <r>, as in [ˈramaˌʒe]), now rare and archaic. We’ve preserved it here and catapulted it to the stars.
What other names did you consider?
I was mulling over the rules and wondered where I could start, given our huge national vocabulary and wealth of place names from so many different origins. We have over 12,200 words, as documented in Lise Winer’s Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad and Tobago. We know of ten recorded Amerindian languages which coexisted in Trinidad and Tobago. Here in T&T, Patois has made us linguistically and culturally who we are. Like their speakers, Creoles have never really been accorded the respect both speakers and languages deserve, and they have certainly never named exoworlds, as far as we know. It’s time for our peoples and languages to take our rightful place.
For more information about the IAU’s Name Exoworlds project, and the names chosen by other Caribbean countries, visit www.nameexoworlds.iau.org
When the last print issue of Caribbean Beat appeared in March, we had no idea that most of the upcoming events we highlighted for readers — from Jamaica Carnival to music and food festivals to Easter celebrations — would soon be cancelled or postponed, as the COVID-19 pandemic extended its reach to the Caribbean. Disruption has been the story of 2020 thus far, and many of the Caribbean’s favourite public events have had to rethink their timing or format.
The positive side? COVID-19 has forced organisers, performers, and artists to become even more innovative, as they venture into the realm of virtual events. Instagram Live, Facebook, and other social media platforms have become the new hot venues, as we enjoy live performances perched in front of our screens, from the comfort of home — sometimes in our pyjamas.
The “new normal” of social distancing and mask-wearing is a condition we’ll have to live with for some time yet, but when the worst of the pandemic is behind us and public activity can resume, the Caribbean’s amazing calendar of festivals and festivities will be waiting to greet us. So here are a dozen headline Caribbean events, one for each month of the year, for motivation and inspiration as we look ahead to the days when COVID-19 is a memory.
Three Kings’ Day, Puerto Rico
The traditional end of the Christmas season — parties, parades, and food
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
There’s a reason they call it “the greatest show on earth”
Antigua Sailing Week
Sailing fanatics from around the world converge in Antigua’s sheltered waters
Easter Rodeo, Lethem, Guyana
Cowboy action in the Rupununi Savannah
St Lucia Jazz Festival
Top musicians gather for the Caribbean’s most popular jazz event
St Kitts Music Festival
When you can’t get enough of that rhythm . . .
Carnival, Santiago de Cuba
A showcase for the best of Cuban music, with roots going back centuries
Barbados Crop Over
Chip your way to bliss in the Grand Kadooment parade
Labour Day Carnival, Brooklyn
New York City’s Caribbean community celebrates a vibrant heritage
World Creole Music Festival, Dominica
The sweet sounds of the Caribbean’s Creole heritage take the stage
Divali, Guyana, Suriname, and T&T
The Hindu festival of light and prosperity is a time for sharing
Year-end festivities in Nassau are a rush in every sense