Australian resident artists Willoh S. Weiland and Halcyon Macleod share their third blog post about their Fresh Milk residency. This week, Willoh explored different sides of Barbados, as she made field recordings around the island including along the rugged East coast. She not only reflects on the island’s multifaceted geography, but on the diversity of the women they have interviewed, and what constitutes the ‘right’ for someone to claim Bajan or Caribbean heritage. Read more below:
Why do white people like to hunt ghosts?
This Buzzfeed article made me laugh out loud. I think many of us are guilty of at least a few of these, including loving attics and hunting ghosts. Halcyon is right now in Dominica looking for the traces/evidence of Jean Rhys while I have been driving around the island collecting field recordings, including the windmill turning slowly in the dark gardens of St. Nicholas Abbey, village dogs barking at night and the St Matthias Sunday church service. I’ve been listening to Bajan radio all the while, particularly the religious stations, which are clear about how you can get cast out of paradise and for what.
The Bathsheba area is on the East coast. You drive over the high hills in the centre of the island and then you start coming down steep, steep hills towards the Atlantic Ocean. There is nothing between this coast and the West coast of Africa. Named after a biblical adulteress, it is nestled on the wild coast, boulders strewn as if flung out by a giant having a tantrum long ago. It feels like an entirely different country. The challenge of evoking mystery and complex narratives through sound becomes evident. What is Bathsheba if I turn off my eyes?
The Bajan dialect is a pleasure to listen to. The accent is syrupy. You can hear West African, sometimes hints of the Scottish Isles and the humour coming thick and fast. It is so close and yet so completely different to Belizean Kriol. In Belize you ‘suk u teeth’, in Bajan you ‘steupse’.
In both places, the action of making that sucking sound of disdain, anger, indifference, of sexy banter – given there are many ways to ‘suk u teeth’ – relays a whole glorious sense of attitude.
In Belize, I remember my best-friend saying to me when I was talking to my Australian Mum, “why does it take you so long to say anything?” and it’s true. English seems laborious, as though it were made for stiff upper lips and long cloistered afternoons.
I have no Belizean blood and so being Belizean is a negotiation, determined not by me, but by the person I am speaking to. Were you born there? How long did you stay? Do you speak Kriol? All of these questions probe the unspoken right to a place.
This week we spoke to women born here in Barbados, but not raised here, who have returned from abroad, with different accents after some time living other lives. In the reverse situation where all your blood is from here, how is it to be treated as if you are foreign. They spoke of the peculiar ‘outsiderness’, of being considered American and sharing the delight of being able to whip back a response in dialect, and of the peculiar and mercurial sadness of leaving and coming home, over and over again.
“I would never be part of anything. I would never really belong anywhere, and I knew it, and all my life would be the same, trying to belong, and failing. Always something would go wrong. I am a stranger and I always will be, and after all I didn’t really care.” – Jean Rhys
One interview this week with a high-ranking member of the cultural sector (cue spy music) was particularly inspirational. She gave an impromptu monologue about the future she saw for islands like Barbados and all small economies that have become utterly dependent on tourism. A bleak scenario, where the supply chains are cut off, the meat from New Zealand is no longer coming, where we are hungry and can’t remember how to plant our own food. The picture she painted was not to instill fear but instead to illuminate what is unique to where we are, the stories we need to keep telling and ways in which we can give back to the places we inhabit. Everyone, quick! Go do something meaningful with your life! Cue dramatic ending.