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“MR SAASS”: NOTES TOWARDS A TRIBUTE TO CRESSWELL O’REILLY JULIEN


O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring,
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
-Walt Whitman (1819-1892)



Caldwell Taylor


Cresswell O’Reilly Julien, teacher, educator, historian, sociologist and one-time mayor of Grenville, died on the evening of December 5, following a brief illness.. The very sad news of “The Cress’s” passing reached me on the morning after, as I sat at my writing desk pondering the death of that great psychiatrist of the colonial condition – Frantz Fanon- in a Maryland (U.S.A.) hospital on December 6 back in 1961: Fanon was a tender 36 at the time of mortal expiration.


Though they were polar opposites in life, The Cress and Fanon are, in my mind, united in their deaths. Besides, they are among the most revered of my teachers, the one of the psychopathology of colonialism, the other of a hard-headed Burkean conservatism that was larded with the “commonsense” moral philosophy of G.E. Moore and the biting wit of Shakespeare.


I met Mr. Julien at SAASS (St Andrew’s Anglican Secondary School and I discovered Fanon via his masterwork-“Les Damnes de la Terre*”- that phrase having been lifted from a poem by Jacques Roumain (1907-44), poet, novelist and founder of the Haitian Communist Party. Roumain was the epicist of the Haitian peasantry (see his “Master of the Dew” (1943);indeed, Fanon’s idea of placing the peasantry in the vanguard of the Fanonian revolution may well have been inspired by Roumain’s oeuvre.


I visited Martinique, Fanon’s homeland, in 1971 while still a student at Mr. Julien’s school: This trip to Martinique-along with Monica, Evadney (“Darling”), Lynthia, Yolande (“YAMS”), and Vincent (“Old Man”) – was led by our French teacher, Mr. Painter, an Englishman- and was meant to refine our French; I think this idea of refinement was Mr. Julien’s. In any case, Martinique “refined” my French only in a very limited and marginal sense. On the other hand, the visit added up to an experience that vehicled my political imagination to another realm, giving me a new point of vantage from which to view what had suddenly become an old, decrepit world.

Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925, and he made his name as a fighter for Algerian independence and as a theorist of revolution . Fanon the theorist got a couple of things spectacularly wrong: He was certainly wrong to have assigned to the so-called “lumpen proletariat” the role of “historical agent” ,contradicting the carbuncled old man who saw the lumpen – supposedly the most degraded stratum of the working class -as a braking device. And Fanon came close to making himself-with generous help from Jean –Paul Sartre- an apostleof a “purifying” violence.

A blood-drenched Grenadian experience (October 19) has taught me that there exists no such violence, and so I favour Hannah Arendt’s critique: violence has its self-made inner logic, a one that defies human dictates. But let me hasten to concede that the righteousness of the prophet’s howl is by no means vitiated by one or two missteps.

Mr. Julien never read Fanon’s works. But he was aware, I recall, of Fanon’s speech before the 1956 gathering of Negro Writers and Artists, in Paris. I have no recollection of what Mr Julien thought of that speech; I knew him well enough to be capable of intuiting some responses. I shall stifle that temptation, though I wish to say that Mr.Julien- the consummate historian, had a superb grasp of the various anti –colonial currents in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. In his very own way, he backed the aspirations of the men who met at Bandung in 1955-Tito, Nasser, Nehru and Kwame Nkrumah- to found the Non-Aligned Movement. When I became enamored of Black Power politics, Mr Julien wasted no time in tagging me with the name “Kwame”. Thinking back to this reminds me of the Cress’s penchant for dropping nicknames ; I am also reminded of the day he dropped a moniker on his own son, Christopher. And that’s a yarn that is worth the telling.

It was one Saturday in the seventies and I went to the school to do a history tutorial. Mr Julien came into the building as was his wont of a Saturday afternoon while Mrs. Julien did the shopping: he was accompanied by Christopher, his youngest- who was then no more than 7 years old.

Mr Julien and I soon got immersed in a discussion and Christopher seized the opportunity to steal off to the school’s battered piano; he was drumming away when Mr Julien fired a glance in my direction: “Kwame”, he said, “ you hear Elton John. Elton John”. The name Elton John stuck for many years thereafter.


Cresswell O’Reilly Julien was born in Tobago in 1923, and he made his name as a teacher in Grenada. The Cress’s parents might have named him for L.A.P O’Reilly, who in the 1920s served as a nominated member of the Trinidad and Tobago Legislative Council. O’Reilly was a member of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council appointed in 1926 to “enquire whether it was desirable to introduce legislation to fix or restrict the hours of labour in any particular trade, business or industry in the Colony”. In the course of these hearings, O’Reilly distinguished himself by putting some tough questions to estate owner E.A. Robinson, an ideological progeny of Long, Edwards, Young, Poyer, Atwell and the other racist settler –historians of the “British” West Indies”.


Mr O’Reilly: With regard to children?
Mr Robinson: We have none in the factory, but 120 work outside.
They are from 10 years up to 20 ; they work from 7a.m. to 3p.m
O’Reilly: Do you think it is satisfactory to have a child of 10 working
that number of hours?
Robinson: This is an agricultural country. Unless you put the children
to working in the fields when they are young , you will never get
them to do so later
O’Reilly: You agree that the present system shuts them off from
education?
Robinson: They are well-fed!



Being named for LAP O’Reilly was not a bad thing for a child who would grew up to be teacher and educator. Actually, The Cress liked the name and that explains why he passed it down to his son , Francis O’Reilly (“Junior"), who also became a teacher.

As teacher, Mr Julien had two short stints at the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School( GBSS). One of those stints, I believe, occurred in mid-forties, at a time when the GBSS was headed by Dr Wilfred Rankin, the Guyanese –born Latin scholar and putative black radical: Dr Rankin, a naturalized American was viewed by Washington as a subversive and intelligence agents holidayed in Grenada to keep a watchful eye on him.

Mr Julien was a quiet man, but those who knew him will tell you that he was capable of espousing very radical ideas. Could this have been on account of his exposure to Dr Rankin, the radical black nationalist who was close friends with Dr Phillip Savory, the Guyanese –born co-owner of Harlem’s Amsterdam News?

Mr Julien the teacher made his name at SAASS. Heck, he made the school-he is Mr.SAASS. I think of the school’s motto, Semper Navigans, and I immediately think of its great helmsman: the two are inseparable.

Ultimately, Cresswell Julien was a teacher’s teacher; he enjoyed teaching just about any course, but he was at his best when teaching Literature, Religious Knowledge ,History and Latin . In his Latin classes he would be mindful of the mischief that could be performed in the recitation of the future tense of the first conjugation verb’ Amare’,
to love :

Amabo; I will (shall) love
Amabis: you will (sing) love
Amabit: he , she , it will love
Amabimus: We will (shall) love
Amabitis: you (plural) will love
Amabunt: they will love

Cresswell Julien believed that school was more than a place where knowledge was decanted into green vessels: his philosophy of education is described in a 1990 essay , which was commissioned by the Grenada Civic Awareness Organisation. He wrote:


“Education does not mean attending school and learning the lessons taught therein, passing examinations-Common Entrance,‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, CXC. For a few it means also going on to centres of higher education-Tertiary Education. All of these provide us with certificates to show when we apply for a job. But education means more. That is why in our years at school our teachers try to teach us other things besides English, Mathematics, Geography and Science. They try to instill the good habits of punctuality, politeness, thoughtfulness, truthfulness, cleanliness and neatness”.

Mr Julien thought that these “good habits” could be taught and or reinforced on the fields of play; playing sports was at the core of his of the philosophy of education,. Therefore he emphasized the importance of the House System.

The Cress’s philosophy of education was developed from his wide reading and also from the stuff he distilled from our historical experience. He knew that British colonialism did not make us British ; he understood the peculiar story of the birth and evolution of popular education in the West Indies, beginning with Negro Education Grant of 1835. The British Parliament discontinued the NEG in 1845 so education was left to the churches and other philanthropic parties. In the Cressie Tobago, the first secondary school- Bishop’s – opened in 1925.

The great and immortal Cress saw the school as the conservatory wherein citizens were made. Those of us who “passed under his hand” are forever thankful: in our eyes he is man, a legend and indestructible institution. He is our Tobago Hill

In Tobago there is a place called Grenada Hill. The place is so named because once upon a time it was settled by scores of Grenadians, who formed a community in the immediate wake of the abolition of slavery in 1838.  It is probably true to say that the Grenadians were the most prominent of Tobago’s “tranger nagers”-outsiders- and were among the first of these “trangers to become fully integrated into Tobagonian society. Tobagonian anthropologist Dr. J.D Elder (1914-2003) explains that it
was the Grenadians’ “expertness in agricultural work” that endeared them to the “home born”.


In Tobago the Grenadians ( from the "mainland" and also from Petite Martinique and Carriacou) were known for their cultural work, including Shango (Orisha) and Big Drum.

There is no Tobago Hill in Grenada. But when I was a wee fella growing up in a village called " Paradise", kite flyers used to invoke the name of a Tobago folk heroine- "Gangan Sarah"-whenever a strong wind was needed to launch their tissue- papered birds. The invocation went like this:


Wind oh, wind oh, Gangan Sarie
Wind oh, wind oh, Gangan Sarie

This mantra was recited until the wind came.

"Gangan" is one of a few African ( Kongo) words to have survived the unrelenting pressures of colonialism, the system that, according to Cesaire, “thingified” the colonized.

The word ‘Gangan” used to be a term of endearment : the title often reserved for an old women who was a doctor of herbal medicine. And isn’t interesting that such a word has survived? “Dada”, another African word to have survived is Ewe for “beloved old woman--” An Ewe word and a ki-Kongo word: interesting, eh?


According to Tobago and Grenada legends, Gangan Sarah was an old African lady - in slavery times , who tried to fly back to the home to Africa.


Our ‘talking books’ say Gangan Sarah "failed to take height " and so she fell back to the ground.


The talking books also say that Gangan Sarah failed because she din time the wind properly; she din catch a big enough breeze. Eventually, a big breeze would became a Gangan Sarah breeze


Grenada Hill and the story of Gangan Sarah breeze attest to close ties between Tobago and Grenada-ties that reach back to 1763, when Tobago was made a part of the Government of Grenada, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris in which the French ceded the islands to their British rivals.
.

Cresswell Julien is an immortal emblem of the thickness of Grenada-Tobago ties: He is an ennobling chapter in the Grenada-Tobago story.


Talking about story, the Cress was the consummate storyteller. He was also a story maker; literally hundreds of stories cling to his name.

"Cressie batted for three days and made five rones ( runs)"

Or was it five days and three runs?

Or: Agatha Joseph ( not her real name),”if you grandmother gave you breadnuts she would be surprised to hear the number of taxi numbers you’d call out in your sleep!”


If you knew The Cress, you would know a least one hundred “Cressie stories”. Of course, all Cress’s stories begin with:

“Old man…………..

Old woman …….


Long live the Cress!
He is forever the great Captain of the unsinkable Semper Navigans.
“ O Captain! my Captain our fearful trip is done! “


Mr Julien will be laid to rest on Wednesday, December 17.

             

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