THE WEST INDIAN PEOPLE

I see such an experiment as providing the maximum exchange of ideas and feelings about the daily course of our lives. I see it too as a way towards creating that critical public opinion which our situation demands if this consciousness is to be translated into a practical dialogue, at once controversial and free. The politicians and the civil servants meet; but the Barbados fisherman has not heard the voice of his equivalent in Jamaica; nor have the common voices of Montserrat and British Guiana. They are the very soil from which our consciousness springs. They must therefore become, in their own way, active participants in the dialogue which this conference approves. The failure of Federation, and the subsequent pantomime of separate sovereignties has, in a short time, produced one appalling temporary result. It has made many a territory even more provincial and claustrophobic than it was before.

An Eighteenth Century meaning of the word ‘broadcast’ was to scatter seed. And that’s precisely what we would like this enterprise of radio to achieve across the entire Caribbean soil.

I think this is the first time I shall be mentioning this phrase: national identity; and yet that’s what I’ve been talking about. If you want a name for it, I have none. If you are in search of a prescription for it, I have none. If you ask me what form this national culture will take, I have no answer. What, then, is the validity of what I am saying? This is my answer.

A man’s relation to place and time is crystallized by his acts and the history of his choices in given concrete situations. It is the process of work in all its variety which defines his spirit. This work, whether cultural or manual, is an integral part of a whole. We make this whole and are made by it at one and the same time. This reciprocity is constant; but it is not static; for a man who is organically related to his tasks is continually re-creating himself. What is my identity? I live it and at the same time create it. What is the West Indian identity? It is that process in which West Indians are and will be involved as they choose their tasks and recreate their situations. Those tasks must be founded on national solidarity towards which there is a stifled, but certain yearning. We will not know the true volume of this feeling until we are in full economic possession of the House in which we live. Today we are in the position of a man who must pay to occupy his own skin. We are still tenants on what is our own property. If we are as poor as some say, then let us confront the foundations of that poverty by assuming complete responsibility for it. And for what it is worth, I know that we are not alone. More than half of mankind is embattled in a drama of similar dimension and, in some cases, even greater rigidities. I do not believe that we will be denied the goodwill of men who are also trying to remake their world. But we shall travel the road of self-mutilation if we do not quickly reconvene and assume our tasks as men and women of one country. There is a mental condition which takes the form of the patient deliberately lacerating his body. That is the aptest parallel I can find for what politics of separate independence is doing to our area.

There is, I believe, a formidable regiment of economists in this hall. They teach the statistics of survival. They anticipate and warn about the relative price of freedom. I look forward eagerly to what they will have to say tomorrow. I would just like you to bear in mind the story of an ordinary Barbadian working man. When he was asked by another West Indian whom he had not seen for about ten years, “and how are things?”, he replied: “The pasture green, but they got me tied on a short rope.”

So, I want to close now by returning you to that force in our lives, at once the most obvious and the least explored of all our strengths. I mean the numerous poor of the West Indies, and I shall use two examples of the novelists: defining a responsibility and declaring a natural faith.

In my novel, Season of Adventure, there is a character called Powell. He is a composite member of West Indian society. He is intelligent. He has attempted rape and finally commits a murder that is of national significance.

He escaped and was never found. To the best of my knowledge he is still at large. But it is at this point of the novel, almost the end, that the author invents a shock tactic of intervention, entering in the first to say that Powell of the book was in fact his half-brother by a different mother. And this is what happened to Powell and him.

“Until the age of ten Powell and I had lived together, equal in the affection of two mothers. Powell had made my dreams; and I had lived his passions. Identical in years, and stage by stage, Powell and I were taught in the same primary school.

“And then the division came. I got a public scholarship which started my migration into another world, a world whose roots were the same, but whose style of living earned me a privilege which now shut Powell and the whole tonnelle right out of my future. I had lived as near to Powell as my skin to the hand it darkens. And yet; yet I forgot the tonnelle as men forget a war, and attached myself to this new world which was so recent and so slight beside the weight of what had gone before. Instinctively I attached myself to that new privilege; and in spite of all my effort, I am not free of its embrace even to this day.