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September - December,  2005

 Canute Emmanuel Calliste, 1914- 2005

The following is taken from a work-in-progress. I will like to hear from anyone who knew King Canute.
Please contact me at:Bigdrum@justice.com

..Stories of Flying Africans punctuated the childhood of Avey Johnson, the African-American protagonist in Paule Marshall's 1983 novel "Praisesong for the Widow". These stories were told by an aunt, who took the young Avey to a place called Ibo Landing where one such flight famously began.

Many years later, Avey would revisit these childhood stories in a series of dreams that occured while she was doing a Caribbean cruise ( an annual ritual) with two girlfriends. The dreams seemed to have induced physical and psychic illness and as a result Avey Johnson decided to cut-short her trip and return to the United States .In fact, Avey abandoned the cruise when her boat stopped at Grenada.  But before she left Grenada for the States, Avey ran into a Legba -like Big Drum adept
( he even walked with a limp) named Lebert Joseph. Lebert, a Kayak who ran a "grog shop"- Rock Haven Bar- on the "mainland", invited Avey to accompany him to Carriacou where he was going to celebrate an annual Big Drum event; Avey accepted after some initial hesitation. The trip to Carriacou, aboard the Emmanuel C,was harrowing experience that in some small way put Avey in mind of what her African ancestors might have suffered during the infernal Crossing.  Avey was sick throughout.

She landed in Carriacou and was immediately put in the care of Lebert's daughter, Rosalie Parvey, who gave Avey a bath ( introducing the visitor to the cultic use of water) 'nointed her and brought her into a new spiritual life. Avey eventually went back to Grenada , where she caught a flight back to the United States.

During the course of one of his conversations with Avey, Lebert Joseph disclosed that he was "Chamba": "I's a Chamba! From my father's side of the family", he said. Assuming that all black people were aware of their specific ethnic identities, Lebert turned to Avey and asked: " What is your nation?" Is you Arada? Cromanti maybe?" Yarriba?  Moko?" Is you a Manding like my mother, maybe?" Avey was African-American; African nationhood as conceived in Lebert's Carriacou meant nothing to her. And this came as a great shock to a man who lived on a small island where every one knew his / her ethnic origins. In Carriacou one is Arada (Rada), Banda, Chamba, Congo, Cromanti, Manding, Moko (Ibibio), Temne or Ibo(Igbo).

These nations form the Big drum, the central rite of Carriacouan society. Big Drum is a community of communities; a concept of African nationhood. It is worth nothing that this sense of nationhood was forged in ceremonies for the dead.
Sterling Stuckley points to this fact in his 1987 book, Slave Culture: Stuckey writes:  The burial ground provided an ideal setting, under the conditions of enslavement , for Africans from different ethnic groups to relate to one another, to find shared religious values that must have been an enormous source of satisfaction as they struggled to prevent their number from being smaller as a result of ethnic allegiances.

The constituent nations of the Carriacou Big Drum come from the Guinea Coast and West Central Africa, the regions that provided nearly all of the twelve million Africans who were extracted from their homes and brought to the Americas to work as slave labourers.  The Arada (Radas) got their name from Allada, the ancient capital of  Dahomey (Benin), the cradle of Vodou .The Aradas very probably drawn  mostly from Aja, Fon and Nago (Yoruba) communities of Dahomey.  The Banda people constitute roughly 30 per cent of the population of the Central African Republic. What the Haitians call "Banda drumming" is
known in Grenada. Banda style drumming is/was practiced only in the Paradise area by masqueraders who call themselves juju (apache)warriors.

Chamba people are found in Nigeria and Cameroon.

Congo (Kongo) was a generic name for Africans who were exported from Congo (Zaire) and Angola. The Kongo groups included Bakongo, Mbata, Mbamba and Mondongo. Some Congos came to the Americas with knowledge of Catholic Christianity, which was brought to West Central Africa by the Portuguese during the latter years of the fifteenth century.
In the Congo Catholic missionaries and priests found it necessary to acknowledge as Christian the mani Kongo cult of the named dead.

Manding (Mandingue) came mainly from the Upper Guinea region , modern day Senegal and Gambia. Some Manding people were Muslims and it might be worth looking to see whether they and other Muslims have left Islamic  footprints on the Big Drum. The word saraka is derived from the Arabic "sadaka".


The Moko came for southeastern Nigeria. Perhaps these people gave us the term Moko jumbie (nzambi), Moko spirit or god.

The Cromanti come first in the ritual order of the Big Drum. The word "Coromanti" is derived from Cormantine, the name of a major slave port  in the Gold Coast, now known as Ghana.The Coromantis were Akan peoples, the bearers of the Anansi stories.

The Temne come from the country now known as Sierra Leone.

The Ibos came mainly from southeastern Nigeria. Ibos were also known as Calabars, and this was because they were shipped from the Niger Delta port of Calabar. Ibo figure prominently in the stories of flying Africans The thought of Ibos- flying or otherwise- reminds this writer of "Canute" Emmanuel Caliste, the Carriacou artist and artisan whoclaimed an Ibo ancestry. How did Canute know that he was Ibo? Did he just choose to be Ibo? And if he did choose, was he at all influenced by the
stories of flying Ibos? Having been born in 1914, Canute would definitely have heard stories upon stories about Iboes and other Africans who flew back to Africa. But was flight a euphemism for suicide? It is believed that there was a high
incidence of suicide among the Ibos. Commenting on this phenomenon the noted American anthropologist Melville Herskovits has this to say:  Their [the Ibos] despondency, noted in many parts of the New World, and a tradition of suicide as a way out of difficulties has often been remarked , as, for example in Haiti where the old saying "IBOS pend' cor' a yo-- The ibos hang themselves is still current".

Suicide was certaily a way of hastening the return to Africa.

Young Canute would also have heard the story of the Ibo king,  "King Jaja", who came to Grenada on June 8, 1888. Jaja was in fact "sentenced" to the West Indies for defying the British in his Ibo Nigerian homeland. The news that a real African king was a prisoner aboard a ship in the St George's angered many Grenadians; many left their homes and made their way to Town to see for theyself; and on their way to Town, these Grenadians voiced their disapproval of the high- handed British treatment of one of their own. The reaction on the part of the Grenadian people was said to have startled the authorities, and was perhaps the reason why the British took King Jaja to nearby St Vincent, where he remained until he was removed
to Barbados in March 1891. The Bajans masses welcomed the king with open arms; crowds gathered whenever he went. An ailing King Jaja was allowed to leave Barbados in May of that same year. Jaja, who died on his way back to Africa, is remembered in a Barbadian folksong:

It is a song young Canute might also have heard and sang. Ibos are very fond of singing, dancing and storytelling .Canute excelled in all three areas and , indeed, his paintings have the dramatic quality of Ibo storytelling............

2006 C.Taylor

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