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May - August,  2006

 AN ISLAND TOUR (TOE) WITH WENDELL DE RIGGS

1)BDN: (CT/MF) What inspired you to write this book?
Response:

The most significant inspiration to write the book came from the people who had become familiar with my stories and poems. From 1998, I began putting my stories mainly on the Grenadian   Website called Spiceisletalkshop. Bigdrumnation, another Grenadian Website, also featured my work. I was especially encouraged by a special American woman called Ann Wilder. It was the favorable comments that I got from those who read my writing that told me that there was a market for the type of literature I was putting out. From the comments I received, I realized that many people were hungry for the nostalgia of yesterday. As time passed, some people became very impatient and I can recall an e-mail from a fan who demanded,” Where is the book?”

The stories were always in my mind, but I was merely a driver and I needed a vehicle. The Grenadian Websites became that vehicle. 

I must also say that I felt there was a void that needed to be filled. It is sad that we are not strong on documentation. This is not only the case with Grenada but the Caribbean as a whole. Our patois is almost gone and our Grenadian colloquialisms and expressions are fading.

When I walk around Prospect Park in Brooklyn, I see all kinds of writings depicting events that happened a long time ago. Near Grand Army Plaza, one can see statues of men on horseback and the inscriptions below tell the deeds of those historical figures. We too, have our heroes and it is time we start writing about them. I am sure there were people who did heroic deeds during the rage of Hurricane Janet. We had outstanding individuals who lived and died in Grenada. It is time we recapture the highlights of the past because those who would do it for us cannot do justice, for they do not know what we felt and experienced. In the Forward of the book, I mentioned about a little boy in Grenada who did not know where the historical Empire Cinema was because no one had told him. We always had a rich African tradition of storytelling and passing down information. I used to sit and listen to my Grandmother. That is how the culture was able to continue to breathe. When the stories stop, all kinds of strange influences take root and the Grenadian young people lose that sense of identity and pride in the traditions. I was therefore moved to write the book so that it could become a source of information. 

2) BDN: What did writing this book learn you about you ownself? 

Response:

I “larn” that somewhere in my mind, I had the ability to retain and paint pictures of happenings that took place many years ago. Significantly, I was able to do so in a way that would grab the attention of people who are not habitual readers. The humor I injected into the stories went a long way to help sustain that interest. I ‘larn” that I was gifted with a talent to make people happy and proud of their culture.

I realized that deep within me there is a well of stories that must be emptied. Some of my fans recognized that even before I did. I remember a Spiceisle Talkshopper called Tagwa telling me “You are a poet but you don’t know it” That really hit home and it hit hard too. I reached within myself as I wrote and I realized that I was indeed blessed with the gift of memory and the abiding urge to share my experiences with others. 

Another point worth mentioning is what I “larn” about myself from the reviews of scholars like Caldwell Taylor and Dr. Francis Alexis. Those distinguished Grenadian intellectuals were able to point out striking features in the book that I was not conscious of when I was writing. There were times the pen moved in the dead of night as if inspired by a force beyond me. I realized that I was able to write material that others could unfold in great detail for me. 

3) BDN: You have taken this book to various North American cities and also to Grenada. What have you heard from individuals who have read it?

Response:

 I saw the happiness, acknowledged the appreciation and   I felt the joy in the faces of people who came together at those gatherings to bathe in nostalgia and share memories and laughter with their friends. The Canadian trip, the Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and Grenada meetings were venues where I experienced profound warmth. The book is popular with Grenadians, Caribbean people and people from various countries. Already many are looking forward to my next book, my book of poems. They love the book and they are happy it connects them to their Past. Some have been instrumental in distributing the book for me.  I did not have the thousand eyes of a Random House to look over the book but there is no question it has struck a pleasant note with many people. The feelings I experienced can best be summed up in the comment from an old lady who said to me,
“Sonny, come read for Granny” I was happy to do so. 

4. M4) BDN: What portions of the book are really autobiographical?  

Response:

Much of the book is autobiographical. My aim was to recall the experiences that I had. I did not seek to interview people except in the story of the Island Queen which took place about 8 years before I was born. Most of the individuals or events I had the experience of knowing first hand so it was easy to write the happenings that took place around me while I was growing up in Grenada and to pen them the way I remembered. The stories that deal with Palmer and Schaper School and many others including the poem “Old Mr. Marryshow on Pandy Beach” were written in the autobiographical voice. 

5) BDN: Is it just coincidence that this book bears some resemblance to V.S. Naipaul's Miguel Street?

Response:

I can’t remember reading the book Miguel Street. I am not saying that I did not read it. I read a number of Caribbean books while growing up in Grenada and some of them, no doubt, must have remained in my consciousness. I am particularly fond of Ruler in Hirooner by GCH Thomas. I even like the size of his book and I wanted a book around that size. While I was writing the book, I made a strong effort to be as original as possible. I did not want to copy the style of Paul Keens- Douglas or any other Caribbean writer and if there is any comparison, I must say it was not deliberate. 

6) BDN: A language is a conveyor of values. What are some of the values conveyed in the Grenadian nation language?  

Response:

To answer that question I go straight to my Mother and Grandmother. I can still hear them telling me sternly “Respect yourself.” Yes, our language is filled with words and expressions that convey cherished values. I carried the word “Respect your self” throughout my life and I am mindful of the fact that if I can’t respect myself, I can’t respect others. The words filled us with pride. “One hand cyan clap” tells us of the need for unity. “Learning is better than silver and gold”  my grandma used to say and that emphasized the importance gaining acquiring knowledge. And there were  other words and expressions like “One day for watchman , one day for tief” or “One day one day one day congote” which presses the point that you might get away with doing wrong today but one day it will catch up with you. It will be good if our young people are familiarized with those valuable words.


7) BDN: There are very many terms of abuse and in the Grenadian language. Why do you think that that is the case? 

Response:

Indeed there are many abusive terms in the Grenadian language. One must reflect on the history to find a root cause of such abusive words especially those that involve our women. Slavery did not help to uplift the cause of our women folk. It was an oppressive system that meted out physical and verbal abuse. Some of our men emulated undesirable qualities and it was seen in the way they dealt with the women... Ah man might “pelt ah wood” and then turn his back on the woman. He might tell the woman “haul yuh arse”. When I was growing up, it was not unusual for a young man who “breed” a number of young women to be looked upon as a hero. Dat was man! Women were mostly dependent on men and sad to say, many of them were at the receiving end of abusive words. “Ah man pick up ah ting by the park.” Women were termed “ah ting”. “Jaggabat”, “Leggo beast” and “warbeen” were unflattering terms to describe certain women. Children too, were at the receiving end of abusive words. A parent might shout “ah go jook out yuh eye” at a disobedient child. Such words are mostly said in anger and I can’t recall any parent doing such an act. Similary ‘Ah go cripple yuh backside” was often said in vexation. The language is filled with words like  “planass”, “cutarse”, “break yuh scrutch”, “take ah jail for you”, “ah  go put ah bullpistle or butoo in yuh backside”, and others. It is wise to note however, that such strong words were only that- words, and the undesirable actions rarely followed. 

8) BDN: What is your favorite Grenadian food? 

 Response:

No competition here: Oildown with plenty calalloo, pigtail, breadfruit and a little pepper. 

9) BDN: Can you drink ah real Grenadian strong rum without squingin' up you face, eh? 

Response:

Nah man!  Yuh have to squinge up yuh face. That is a ritual. You do so whether the rum is strong or watered down.  

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