March 27, 2023

Jamaican cultural commentator uses Twitter to draw attention to outstanding Caribbean accomplishments


March 24 is just one of the significant days in Caribbean culture that Wayne Chen points out

Originally published on Global Voices

Feature image created using Canva Pro elements.

Who knew that March 24 was a significant day in the Caribbean? Jamaican Twitter user and cultural commentator Wayne Chen did, at least insofar as several influential West Indians, were born on that day. Here’s a look at a few of them and their accomplishments.

Trevor Rhone

Trevor Rhone (24 Mar 1940 – 15 Sep 2009) #Jamaican playwright and filmmaker, born 83 years ago today. Co-wrote, with Perry Henzell, ‘The Harder They Come’. (1972). ‘Smile Orange’, ‘Old Story Time’, ‘Two Can Play’ are some of his best remembered plays.

— Wayne Chen (@wcchen) March 24, 2023

Perhaps the most well-known film to come out of the Caribbean is 1972’s “The Harder They Come,” which follows “country boy” Ivanhoe Martin, played by Jimmy Cliff, as he tries to make a life for himself in the capital city, Kingston. He is naïve, however, and Kingston is tough; his resourceful attempts to make a name for himself are repeatedly foiled, sometimes by circumstance, other times by unscrupulous opportunists who try to profit from his musical talent. Directed by Perry Henzell and co-written by Trevor Rhone, the movie’s soundtrack, which featured performances by Cliff and well as artists like The Melodians, Desmond Dekker, and Toots and the Maytals, has been credited with bringing reggae music to the world.

On what would have been Rhone’s 83rd birthday, Chen paid tribute to the playwright’s contributions, not only to the cinematic classic, but also through some of his other work, plays like “Smile Orange” (also made into a film), which takes a satirically acerbic view of the tourism industry, and which was staged region-wide to rave reviews and sold-out audiences. His classic “Old Story Time” meanwhile, which was staged for both regional and North American audiences, examined the conflicts and contradictions that postcolonial societies like the Caribbean face. Rhone died in 2009 of a heart attack at the age of 69, but he will always be remembered as an outstanding educator, thinker, and writer of stage and screen.

Wilson Harris

Wilson Harris (24 Mar 1921 – 8 Mar 2018), #Guyanese writer, born 102 years ago today in New Amsterdam, British Guiana. “One of the most original and innovative voices in postwar literature in English.” #Caribbean

— Wayne Chen (@wcchen) March 24, 2023

Guyanese author Wilson Harris was born on March 24, 1921, back when his country was known as British Guiana. A master of his craft, Harris was nothing if not innovative, describing his writing style as “quantum fiction.” He started off as a land surveyor, a job that exposed him to the many wonders of his country’s vast interior. He fostered a good relationship with the Indigenous people who lived there, and used the knowledge they shared with him as content in many of his novels, saying, “I look to create a kind of community that has a literacy of the imagination in it, that can unlock polarisations and fanaticisms that bedevil us.”

Harris’s best-known and perhaps most beloved books are the “Guyana Quartet,” the first of which, “Palace of the Peacock,” came out in 1960, and the last, “The Secret Ladder,” finishing up the set in 1963. All four books pushed the boundaries of mythology, time and space, and were so groundbreaking that they live on decades after their first publication. Most recently, Wilson’s “Palace of the Peacock” concept was given new life in the form of a moko jumbie band that made waves at Trinidad and Tobago’s 2019 Carnival.

Atilla the Hun

Atilla the Hun competed in the first Calypso King contest 1939; won title 1946 and 1947. First calypsonian to hold elected public office; Port of Spain City Council 1946 and Legislative Council 1950 representing St. George County East. #Calypso #Caribbean

— Wayne Chen (@wcchen) March 24, 2023

Not to be confused with the king of the Hunnic Empire, Raymond Quevedo, who was born on March 24, 1892, was a Trinidadian calypsonian better known by his sobriquet Atilla the Hun. Coming to prominence in the 1930s and 1940s, he is acknowledged, along with Rafael de Leon (Roaring Lion), as one of the pioneers who helped spread awareness of the calypso genre well beyond Trinidad and Tobago. In 1934, thanks to the efforts of these two calypso giants, U.S. audiences in New York heard and danced to calypso for the very first time. He competed in the first-ever calypso king contest in 1939, going on to win the coveted title in both 1946 and 1947.

Atilla was also the first calypsonian ever to hold public office, where he became known for being a defender of both the poor and of free speech. His contributions as an elder of the art form are still being acknowledged, often by other calypsonians, as in David Rudder’s ode to the genre, “Calypso Music“: “I say that I am the seed, I’m the seed of Atilla now … I’m like a Hun.” Atilla died on February 22, 1962, at the age of 69.

Erskine Sandiford

“Sandiford’s fiscal policies led to a decline in popular support…For this commitment and the eventual stabilization of the #Barbadian economy…he called for a 1994 general election two years before the constitutional mandate required” and lost to Owen Arthur, leader of the BLP.

— Wayne Chen (@wcchen) March 24, 2023

Born in 1937, Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford was a career politician who joined the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) as a young university graduate with a Master’s degree in economics and social studies. He worked his way up the party ranks, eventually serving as the fourth prime minister of Barbados from 1987 to 1994, but his departure from his leadership role was bumpy.

After several of his own party members voted in support of a no-confidence motion brought against him by the opposition, Sandiford called national elections two years before they were constitutionally due — and lost, as his stringent fiscal policies had been starting to turn public opinion against him. He remained in parliament as part of the opposition for five more years, after which he dedicated his time to teaching economics and Caribbean politics. He later became his country’s first resident ambassador in Beijing, China.

If you’re curious about more interesting tidbits about Caribbean leaders, artists and change-makers, follow Wayne Chen on Twitter.

Written by Janine Mendes-Franco

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