Over the past few weeks I have been engrossed in a project. I was asked to introduce and to review the newly released book by J. A. Roy Bodden, a man who has served our nation as a teacher, a parliamentarian, a Minister of Education and the president of our local university and who has served me as a mentor and a family friend.
It kept me up at night. I encourage every person who shares in the Cayman experience, the colonial experience, the experience of the fight for justice, the experience of the battle for identity, or simply the human experience to read this book. It tickled me with its brutally direct language and the depiction of the Caymanian sense of humor and it haunted me with its lament of values lost, land sold for three pounds an acre, and lives exploited.
I laboured to do justice to the book for the entire morning, chewing on how to present it and capture the flavour with authenticity. I wrote out and re-wrote my speech. Below is the final product with coloquialisms highlighted in the colours of the sea to be read in your head with a Caymanian accent. After being introduced by education and profession with names of institutions and letters behind my name, I stood up and said…
“Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce A Gathering of Old Men as an introduction to myself. You will know by now my name, where I went to school, what I studied and where I work. You may or may not know (and may or may not be offended by) the fact that I have never voted, and consider myself to be apolitical. I do business with people all over the world. I have lived in three major cities of the West. I am the child of a Caymanian woman and a Jamaican man. I hold a British passport. I hail from Bodden Town. And, as you may have guessed, I speak the Queen’s english.
That is who I am on paper.
In my granny’s hammock underneath her wild tam’rin tree in Bodden Town I am someone quite different. I am Ninik, eldest grandchild and daughter prized much like Pearly in How Pearly Lost Her False Teeth. My grandfather may well have sailed with Pompey and lived through the helpless exploitation of The Coincident. I am the Caymanian woman who in The Gathering Of Old Men Circa 1953 was predicted to live a life unprotected and demeaned by her countrymen in the coming – present – sale of our nation’s land and culture.
I, like Carolina in The Card Cutter, and probably every Caymanian woman my age, have lost a man to a “papaw-skinned, straight-haired woman” whose first language was not english.
Like The Advocate, Mr. Wilfred Agustus Conrad McFarlane, I sat my dinners at the Inns of Court in London, had regular Sunday drinks with Lord Justice Ward, and on returning home it was said of me that “You wouldn’t want to trust your money to that local lawyer”. Worse still, I was told by a complimentary expatriate co-worker that I am Cayman Royalty because I can read and write.
One grandfather would have climbed the main mast on the Lady Lucy in the hurricane seas on the Voyage to the Miskita Cays. He too was put to sea, much like the young Cleavey, at a tender age to support his newly widowed mother and siblings. My other grandfather was Theodore Brown, given a slave name but sent off at his death in a Nine Night much like the one held at The Passing of Theophilus Brown.
I have borne witness to the struggle to marry up. which usually means blond and blue eyed like Pearly’s match. In fact, an old woman in my district instructed me not to come home from University in England widdout a good white man.
This is who I am in my Granny’s hammock. Thank you Mr. Roy Bodden for re-introducing me to myself.
It has been easy for Caymanians of my generation to become disconnected and to remove ourselves from the Caymanian story. We are now citizens of the world. It has been easier to step away than deal with the hurt caused by the antics and the displays of ignorance and opulence and the corrupt and self-serving behaviours of representative after representative of the Queen and of the people. But it is only easy for people of my generation to do this because we have forgotten or we have never known WHO WE ARE.
This is the purpose of A Gathering of Old Men.
In preparing for this introduction I myself battled inwardly between the silent position of old Knowles who knew trouble was brewing with the Custus in The Death of Artimetra Johnson and McFarlane the fearles and undaunted Advocate. It has been a fight between the well-bred colonized position of polite timidity and the bold rage that simmers in one form or another in every. single. caymanian. of my generation. No exceptions. One side is gracious and forgiving, taking people as they come and playin fool to ketch wise but the other side quakes livid as new stories unfold around old themes of racism, colonialism, entitlement, corruption and plain ole badmind and wickedness.
In reading A Gathering of Old Men I was confronted with my responsibility. Registering to vote for instance. It is not for us to wait for wicked people to die bad. We have been doing this for generations – waiting for wicked people to die bad. It is our duty to steer the ship the best we can where we are now and to write the next chapter of stories with the naked frankness that Mr. Roy Bodden has employed in A Gathering of Old Men.
Thank you Mr. Bodden for stirring the salt-water in our blood and thank you for listening to my reflections.”
Poke me if you would like to know how to get hold of a copy of this book.