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September - December,  2005

 HONOURING "MR CANUTE" (2)

DEPARTURE AND RETURN  - In Honour of "Mr Canute", 1914-2005

C. Taylor


"At the end of a terrestrial life, at the last physical vestiges, the departed soul continues on, into the invisible realms of eternity and spiritual existence. Ancestors, sovereigns, deified spiritual, or founding heroes constitute a group of mediators
in the next world. They keep an eye on the smooth running of their original communities".

-Lucy Pradel, African Beliefs in the New World.

The ancestral dead are ever present in Carriacouan and Grenadian affairs; indeed, they are historical and psychic agents that "clear the way" and "fix up things" for their obedient children. Ancestors are venerated and appeased in Shango, Big Drum, Saraka, and Praise, and even the Jab Jab's ( Devil's devil) fornicatory jookings are kinetic prayers that beg the "Old People" to send down fertility and abundance.

The dead are everywhere in our country. They are in the backyard cemeteries, in the awe-inspiring silk cotton trees, and in the
bustling crossroads where humans traffic with quirky, anthropomorphic gods. The dead are even in the rumshops, where
men who drink to forget their sorrows somehow remember to pour generous libations in honour of " the ones who gone in front ".

For us it is death that defines life. We pay homage to the dead because death is the everlasting precedent; It is the attainment
of wholeness, a return to the source. Return. Flight. There are countless stories that tell of Africans who flew all the way back
Home- "Flyin' Africans".

My own great-grandmother delighted in telling me stories about dem Afrikens who went back. She was sure of that . She knew that the old people flew back.... "They didn't eat salt and so they was able to fly back. Salt make you too heavy to fly back. So the ones that really wanted to go back never ever touched even one grain ah salt. Never."

Talking about salt, in a novel of the same name Trinidadian novelist Earl Lovelace tells the story of Guinea John, who placed two corn cobs under his armpits and then flew all the way back to Africa.  Guinea John flew all alone; his hapless relatives could not make the journey back as they had become salt eaters.

On this matter of Flying Africans Esteban Montejo, the foul-mouthed Cuban ex-slave, tells us that in Cuba "Negroes escaped by flying. They fly through the sky and returned to their own lands", he said. (Autobiography of a Runaway Slave, 1969:43)

Norman Paul ( 1885-1976), the Grenadian seer, also heard stories of flying Africans. In his 1963 autobiography Paul tells us:


At one time they used to make sugar and rum on Hamstead estate, but at that time I was not born. That was the time of
my grandfather. They were Africans and they used to work at the time of slavery. My grandmother told us of the time of
slavery, and when Africans were in Grenada. She showed us a mango tree in the yard , big as the whole of this yard here,
where some of them went and gone up. They went into the clouds and they never see them again, they understand they
had gone back to Africa. My grandmother said they were dissatisfied, so they went up the tree and away". ( Dark Puritan,1963: 16)

In Tobago there is the legend of Gan Gan (Nganga) Sarah, who clambered up a silk cotton in an attempt to fly back to
Africa.

Back in the late 1920s Alexander Bedward (1859-1930), a Native Baptist preacher and Rastafarian prophet made an
unsuccessful attempt to fly back home to Africa. The Rastas of course contemplated flight (repatriation) from the very
earliest days of their movement, and they published this idea in one of their best known "chants":

One bright morning when my work is over I will fly away home.

It is hardly any wonder that the first big ska record was Revivalist hymn entitled " If I had the wings like a dove"?

If I had the wings like a dove
If I had the wings like a dove
I would fly
Fly away
Fly away and be at rest

A hard dough bread made in the shape of a dove is a staple in Jamaican Kumina ceremonies.
Olive Lewin, Rock It come Over,2002:225

Continues

2006 C.Taylor

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