LITERATURE: THE ARTIST IN THE BALM-YARD: ‘SEASON OF ADVENTURE’

Reading Time: 19 minutes

On his terrified visit to Trinidad in 1960, V.S. Naipaul observed of Port of Spain: “The City throbbed with steel bands. A good opening line for a novelist or a travel writer, but the steel band used to be regarded as a high manifestation of West Indian culture, and it was a sound I detested” The Middle Passage (1962). George Lamming’s nationalistic novel, Season of Adventure (196o) begins: “Beyond the horizons of the trees, it was too black to see the sky. But the music was there, loud as a gospel to a believer’s ears. It was the music of Steel Drums, hard strident and clear ….. ” In a sense, Season of Adventure is a celebration (the first literary one) of the steel band. Not only does the sound of the steel drums hang in the air throughout the novel: at the climax, is a glorious parade of all the bands marching on to Freedom Square celebrating the coming of a new government.

Gort led in solo with the calypsoes and digging songs that had first christened his master’s name: Never Never me again; Glory, Glory, King Coca-Cola; Doctor Say You Pay to Earn But Lantern say you Pay to Learn; The Queen’s Canary Fly Away; River Ben Come Down; Going to see Aunt Jane; and not the native folk-songs alone. The paradox of their double culture was no less honoured with rhythm. For they changed as the mood assailed them and a mood had soon taken them back to childhood and the hymns of their chapel days; Hold the Fort For I am Coming, I Got a Sword in My Hand, Help me to Use it Lord; and back again the music would swing as though their moods were magnet which the rhythms had waited for. Now it was a noise of: Never, Never Me Again, and Daylight Come and I Wanna Go Home. And each time the change came, the bass drums would wait to hear from Gort who led in solo and on no other than his dead master’s drum.

Season of Adventure, p. (358)

But Lamming’s nationalism is not the local-culture-waving Naipaul goes out of his way to snipe at.

Season of Adventure is an analysis of the failure of nationalism in the newly-independent San Cristobal. “In the colonial countries, the spirit of indulgence is dominant at the core of the bourgeoisie; and this is because the national bourgeoisie identifies itself with the Western bourgeoisie from whom it has learnt its lessons. It follows the Western bourgeoisie along its path of negation and decadence without ever having emulated it in its first stages of exploration and invention …. It is already senile before it has come, to know the petulance, the fearlessness or the will to succeed of youth”.(1) Fanon’s description of the new ruling class in the ex-colonies is a convenient statement of one of Lamming’s starting-points in Season of Adventure. So too is the Martiniquan’s picture of the disillusion of the poor and underprivileged with the new order: “The peasant who goes on scratching out a living from the soil, and the unemployed man who never finds employment do not manage, in spite of public holidays and flags, new and brightly-coloured though they may be, to convince themselves that anything has really changed in their lives …. The masses begin to sulk; they turn away from this nation in which they have been given no place and begin to lose interest in it. “(2)

The dilemmas on both sides are the ambitious substance of Season of Adventure. Throughout the work, however, Lamming contrasts the outcast Drum Boys’ instinctive and immediate possession of the language of the drums with the insecure hold of the middle-class upon the European culture they wish to imitate. “Is like how education wipe out everythin’ San Cristobal got except the ceremony an’ the bands. To teacher an’ all who well-to-do it happen. Evcrythin’ wipe out, leavin’ only what they learn,” Crim’s remark (p.17) draws from Powell, another Drum Boy, a declaration which may b c said to be the pulse of Lamming’s novel: “A man must got somethin’ that he can’t let go … like how Gort hold that drum.” Lamming’s vision of the inter-relationship of politics with other aspects of life allows the novel to run from political inertia to the theme of cultural Joss. The reader’s expectation that this theme will involve Africa in some way is not disappointed. 1 he rhythms of the drums, although clearly belonging to the West Indian Steel band, arc made to suggest an African heritage. At the end of the novel after the triumph of the drums and the establishment of the Second Republic, the new president makes a speech in which the symbolic implications of the steel band arc more or less declared: “It was language which caused the First Republic to fall. And the Second would suffer the same fate; the Second and the Third unless they tried to find a language which was no Jess immediate than the language of the drums.” The Second Republic and the West Indian nation, Lamming is urging, must not only take a backward glance at its origins, it must use the personal relation of the Drum Boys to their drums as a model for the creation of a language, and for the meaningful and relevant appropriation of their double cultural heritage.