Marianne Keating – Second Blog Post

Irish artist Marianne Keating shares her second blog post about her ongoing Fresh Milk residency. Outlining events which have provided rich research content and have helped to shape her project – such as the exhibitions Arrivants: Art and Migration in the Anglophone Caribbean World and Insurgents: Redefining Rebellion in Barbados, both held at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society – Marianne continues to reflect on the history of  Irish migration to Barbados in the 17th century. She also addresses popular misconceptions about this migration, and the problematic trend of equating indentureship with the transatlantic slave trade. Read more below:

Vanishing Villages – In search of Irish Town, Barbados, April 2019.

The focus of my research in Barbados addresses the subaltern non-elite white community on the East Coast of the island, who are believed to be descendants of indentured labourers – both voluntary and involuntary from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.  Since their arrival in the seventeenth century, the creolisation process now makes it difficult to determine their exact origins. During my residency at Fresh Milk, I seek to examine conflicting existing narratives relating to their arrival and subsequent positioning in Barbados during the 17th Century.

Studio View at Fresh Milk – The Colleen Lewis Reading Room

Today, the ‘poor white’ communities can be predominately found in villages of the parish of St John along with other sites of importance including the “vanishing villages” of Irish Town and Below Cliff. The analyses of this material and sites are fundamental to my research and development of my practice-based output, which involves the gathering of oral histories through interviews, film footage, research and documentation.

My initial onsite investigation in Barbados began in November 2018 during my first visit to the island for an exhibition I was part of called Arrivants: Art and Migration in the Anglophone Caribbean World. The exhibition, curated by Veerle Poupeye and Allison Thompson at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, featured a powerhouse of artists including Eddie Chambers, Hew Locke, Keith Piper, Veronica Ryan, Ewan Atkinson and Cosmo Whyte to name a few. During this time, I spent many days researching at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society’s Shilstone Memorial Library which has a rich collection of over 6,000 books, journals and pamphlets, covering subject areas such as the Caribbean, Barbadian and African history, archaeology, natural and social history amongst many more.

The Barbados Museum and Historical Society featuring Eddie Chambers Untitled (1994), flag.

The museum and library are housed in historic buildings which were used initially as the military prison at St. Ann’s Garrison. With the support of Librarian Ms. Harriet Pierce, I trawled through old copies of the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society dating from 1933, publications such as Richard Ligon’s, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados 1657 and copies of old newspaper clippings. These resources greatly helped to established secondary sources about the arrival of Irish indentured labourers and political prisoners to Barbados in the seventeenth century. I also spent many days at the Barbados National Archives exploring their records and the 1715 census which lists many Irish names within the document, leaving more questions than answers.

The National Archives of Barbados.

On my return to the island in March, I attended the opening of the exhibition Insurgents: Redefining Rebellion in Barbados curated by Natalie Batson in collaboration with Life in Leggings: Caribbean Alliance Against Gender Based Violence and Barbados Youth Development Council at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. The exhibition challenges the popular belief that Barbadians are and have been passive when it comes to acts of resistance against injustices.

Amongst the many protest images within the exhibition stood a 390-year timeline which documented insurrection in Barbados including accounts of Irish rebellion against the British Colony. The first post-dated 1655 mentioned the following referencing historian Sir Hilary Beckles, A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Caribbean Single Market, 1990.

It is reported that “several Irish servants and negroes out in Thicketts and thereabout, plundered estates systematically”.

And the second mention of the Irish was listed for 1661

Master and Servants Code of 1661 and the ‘Act for the better ordering and governing of Negroes’ slave code drawn in response continued unrest by Irish indentured servants and enslaved Africans.

When discussing Irish migration to the Caribbean in the 17th – 19th century, it is important to discuss the vast difference between indentured labourers/servants and African enslavement or chattel slavery and to address the incorrect use of the term ‘white slave’.

Since the early 2010’s the ‘white slave’ narrative has received more traction, frequently popping up on online platforms and social media across Ireland and throughout the Irish diaspora, a narrative supported by the far right in the United States amongst others, to support a racist political agenda.  This narrative is spread in relation to the discussion of Irish migration to the Caribbean when attempting to nullify the differences between indentured labour and African enslavement or chattel slavery. This narrative has been devised to remove race as an aspect of slavery, “the ‘white slavery’ narrative stresses a sense of shared victimisation; this sentiment then serves to discredit calls for reparations from descendants of enslaved Africans in the U.S. and the former British West Indies.”[1]

These false narratives continue to grow online through the constant referencing of many poorly researched books and publications resulting in the misconception, misinterpretation and misappropriation of the reality of the terms of Irish indentureship. There are many distinctions between indentureship and enslavement, with articles such as Contesting “White Slavery” in the Caribbean: Enslaved Africans and European Indentured Servants in 17th Century Barbados by Jerome Handler & Matthew C. Reilly offering a detailed examination on the socio-legal distinctions between servitude and slavery.[2]

The differences are extreme, and although many are aware of these inaccurate narratives, it has effectively complicated the already convoluted story of the subaltern non-elite white in Barbados. And the history of Irish migration to the Caribbean becomes intrinsically linked to this narrative, leaving it impossible to address this history without also addressing this false narrative.

Through my research, I am exploring all aspects of this complex history, as to leave an area untouched threatens the recording of this history through a clouded lens. Many researchers have written articles correcting these falsities, and one of the areas I will focus on is addressing the impact of this narrative on the history of Irish migration. In this way, I will attempt to separate it from the clutches of this racist political agenda which has become click bait for readers as they scroll through their posts on social media.

In Jamaica, Irish Indentured labour began in the years after abolition. Under colonial rule, the Irish poor had few opportunities in a country with high unemployment and ongoing food shortages resulting in limited funds to rent land to grow provisions for the landless workforce. Irish migrants seized opportunities offering a better life and voluntarily signed contracts where they signed a bond to work for a term of up to three years in return for passage, housing and provisions in Jamaica, becoming the legal property of the planter for the duration of the contract to pay off their debt. At the end of their contract, depending on the planter, they had the option to continue working under a new contract with new terms or leave the plantation free from any obligation. Alternatively, they could begin a new life elsewhere in Jamaica or, if funding permitted, in another country by signing up to a new emigration scheme.

Advertisement Emigration to Jamaica on board the SS Robert Kerr.

This is not to say that the promised conditions were always in place on arrival or that the plantation owners met the agreed terms. Agents and sub-agents working for the West India Immigration Scheme or on behalf of private planters were known to have exaggerated or mislead migrants regarding the opportunities available or working and living conditions in their need to recruit large numbers of labourers.

In the years that followed the abolition of slavery in 1834, the Jamaican sugar cane industry became less lucrative and Jamaican planters struggled to maintain their economic position in the global economic market. With a reduced labour force unwilling to work under the proposed conditions, crops failed due to a lack of manpower required to bring the crops to fruition, and bankruptcy ensued amongst the Jamaican plantocracy. Increasing numbers of labourers chose to sail to Jamaica, where legislation had not yet been put in place and conditions varied from plantation to plantation. The scheme to recruit Irish indentured labourers ran without controls implemented by the legislators until after the controversy of the S.S. Robert Kerr–the last ship to sail to Jamaica under the scheme in 1841.

Although the exact number is unknown due to limited records, there are accounts of the Irish indentured succumbing to diseases such as yellow fever as they were held in low lying areas more prone to illness or death resulting from poor working and climate conditions. However, if a labourer became dissatisfied with their terms and ran away, they were often not tracked down. There are many possible reasons for this, including the scale and rugged terrain of the country and the dwindling resources of the plantocracy. There is a case of a group of Irish causing such uproar they were returned to Europe to stop the unrest spreading to others on the island. Another example is of a woman from Galway who was prosecuted for running away and abandoning her contract. Indicted before the court, her mistreatment by the planter was discussed publicly with the resulting decision unknown. Some who ran away became homeless and destitute in Kingston, whereas others completed the term of their indenture and quickly moved up the ranks of society by taking advantage of their whiteness, privileged in a society driven by race. Through this manipulation of their whiteness, former peasant workers transitioned from bonded workers to positions of authority in the militia, the police force and later into the ranks of politics.

In Barbados–a new area of research for me–the conditions varied significantly from those in Jamaica. Recruitment there began in the mid-seventeenth century where different terms were applied and which were extremely different from the Africans who were enslaved under chattel slavery. Here contracts of indentureship lasted up to seven years if the signing was voluntary, or varied in length if brought to Barbados as a political prisoner. The working conditions of the indentured or political prisoners often led to their preliminary death as a result of mistreatment or harsh working and climatic condition. However, unlike chattel slavery, the terms of indenture lasted for a specific time and did not pass from adult to offspring or their descendants. Furthermore, the indentured had certain rights that the enslaved did not. These differences are addressed very clearly in the aforementioned article Contesting “White Slavery” in the Caribbean[3] and in the article The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or slaves? Why we need to confront the ‘Irish slave myth’ and how terminology is not simply semantics[4], an extract of which is seen below.

the differences and commonalities between these two forms of unfree labour are of fundamental importance to our understanding of the development of racialised perpetual chattel slavery in the British colonies. The term ‘indentured servitude’ is not a denial of their suffering or unfree situation but rather an accurate term to describe their legal status, few rights and harsh reality. Colonial servitude in the Anglo-Caribbean was temporary and non-hereditary, with legal personhood, while chattel slavery was perpetual and hereditary with sub-human legal status. It is inevitable that if we refer to these two different statuses in the same historical context using the same term (‘slave’) these profound distinctions are erased. The refusal to differentiate often reveals a motivation to equate indentured servitude for Europeans with African chattel perpetual slavery to claim spuriously that slavery had nothing to do with race.[5]

Over the next few months, I will focus on making two short films (which may later merge into one), investigating this history of Irish migration to Barbados and the complex environment in which this history sits. My research is looking at these multi-vocal approaches to the past, exploring sites of importance while tracing oral histories and physical fragments remaining in the landscape. As I begin to address this history through practice-based research, I will concurrently address false narratives within this history and their impact on contemporary understanding of the histories of Irish migration to the Caribbean.

[1] The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or slaves? Why we need to confront the ‘Irish slave myth’ and how terminology is not simply semantics by Liam Hogan, Laura McaTackney and Matthew C. Reilly p19

[2] Contesting “White Slavery” in the Caribbean: Enslaved Africans and European Indentured Servants in 17th Century Barbados by Jerome Handler & Matthew C. Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, Vol 63 p156- 187

[3] Contesting “White Slavery” in the Caribbean: Enslaved Africans and European Indentured Servants in 17th Century Barbados by Jerome Handler & Matthew C. Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, Vol 63 p156- 187

[4] The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or slaves? Why we need to confront the ‘Irish slave myth’ and how terminology is not simply semantics by Liam Hogan, Laura McaTackney and Matthew C. Reilly p18-22

[5] The Irish in the Anglo-Caribbean: Servants or slaves? Why we need to confront the ‘Irish slave myth’ and how terminology is not simply semantics by Liam Hogan, Laura McaTackney and Matthew C. Reilly p19

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This residency is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland

Marianne Keating – First Blog Post

Irish artist Marianne Keating shares her first blog post about her Fresh Milk residency. During her time in Barbados, Marianne’s focus will be  on the migration of indentured labourers from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales who arrived in the island in the seventeenth century. She intends to explore this complex history both through the physical and social landscape of the country, beginning by conducting site visits and reflecting on the journeys of those who have long since traversed this space. Read more below:

Marianne Keating presenting to the students at Barbados Community College

During the last six years, I have spent my time as a practice-based researcher exploring and tracing the multiple trajectories of the migration of the Irish to Jamaica during Ireland’s colonial rule by Britain. My beginning point in the complex histories of Irish emigration to the Caribbean is the movement of Irish indentured labourers from Ireland to Jamaica beginning in 1835 until its abrupt end in 1842, and their resulting legacies in contemporary Jamaica.

My practice-based research combines many hours spent in national archives, libraries, onsite research, interviews and location shooting before combining all these research methods in my studio, where my multi-disciplinary outputs include a series of video pieces and written accounts. My research has now expanded to include the Irish diaspora in Barbados – bringing me back once again to the beginning –with a new direction in my research in an unknown land, surrounded by a new landscape, history, culture and people.

Although my research subject is the same, there are vast differences in all aspects between the Irish migration to Jamaica and Irish migration to Barbados of which I am still attempting to wade through and come to grips with during my first few weeks of onsite research.

To Begin
LAND – Ireland, Jamaica and Barbados

“By land is meant not merely land in the strict sense of the word, but the whole of the materials and forces which nature gives freely for man’s aid in land, water, in air and light and heat.” – Alfred Marshall.

I have always been fascinated by the geology of land, how the soil under our feet has been formed, who has passed this way before and the frequency of such movement. I think of our homogeneous desire to follow the same, well-worn path and manoeuvre inside the marks created in the landscape by those who have come before. These lie in stark contrast to the rawness of other areas, where few now walk allowing the natural world to continue ownership or reclaim the land back to its original form; removing all traces of life that passed through before.

Path of migration within a cane field, St. George, Barbados

As economist Alfred Marshall discusses, the word ‘land’ refers to not just the soil beneath our feet, but instead encompasses all of nature’s resources including the minerals underneath the soil and the trees above. “The term ‘land’ thus embraces all that nature has created on the earth, above the earth, and below the earth’s surface.”

Land holds the memories of past lives. The coral and limestone sediment on which we stand embeds what has come before and consumes the archives of past experiences, leaving us with few traces with many details never to be recovered. We trail through all manners of the past archaeology, anthropology and sociology to attempt to reconstruct the narrative, but often the land holds onto more traces than it reveals.

I think of the importance of our place in the landscape, and its gradual erosion by the constant migration of people over thousands of years, crossing the land back and forth on daily journeys and the eroding and erasure of the ground by natural or human-made means. It highlights the experience of all who have emigrated and continue to migrate from one country to another whether by choice, necessity or force. The formation of land over millions of years is a culmination of its coral and limestone structure and the inedible marks left in the soil by those that have passed through.

Many conflicts have been fought, whether on global or localised scales, over the ownership of land. But as Mason Gaffney discusses in his essay Land as a Distinctive Factor of Production, we are all only present for a time before the land is handed down over and over again, recycled as the limit of land is determined; its value may change due to circumstances, but its supply is finite. “Land is reusable. All the land we have is second-hand, most of it previously owned. Our descendants, in turn, will have nothing but our hand-me-downs. As there is never any new supply, the old is recycled periodically, and will be in perpetuity, without changing form or location.”

The importance and weight of land can never be diminished, and people’s connection to the land is universal. As each new generation is born, their attachment to the land continues, both of the lands of their birth and of that of their ancestors.

There are many points of connection between the three countries of my research through which I trace the migration of the Irish to Jamaica and Barbados. They all have the collective experience of being island states, their connection by the Atlantic Ocean and their colonisation by Britain till the 20th Century. This is not where these connections end, but it is instead the starting point for my exploration in Barbados.

To look at the lands of Ireland, Jamaica and Barbados, there are vast physical differences. Barbados, the eastern-most Caribbean island, was created by the collision of the Atlantic crustal and Caribbean plates, along with a volcanic eruption. It comprises low-slung terraced plains, separated by rolling hills, with eighty-five percent of the island’s surface consisting of coralline limestone. The island is small in comparison to the others, measuring 23km at its widest point, 34km long and a small surface area of 430 square km, with Mount Hillaby – the highest point on the island – at 340 meters above sea level.

Barbados is geologically unique, being two land masses that merged over the years with the deep ravine visible across the island. The distance by sea between Ireland and Barbados is approximately 6,357km, and I am imagining time spent by the Irish on their migratory path travelling across the Atlantic Ocean, knowing there was little chance of returning to the soil of their birth.

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This residency is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland

Fresh Milk Welcomes Marianne Keating to the Platform

Fresh Milk is pleased to welcome Irish artist Marianne Keating to the platform between March 11th – April 18th, 2019.

Landlessness, 2 Channel Video Installation, StudioRCA, London 2017.

Residency Statement:

Harnessing post-colonial and archival theory to analyse the migration of the Irish diaspora to the Caribbean during Ireland’s colonial rule by Britain, my research focuses its attention on the complex histories of the movement of Irish indentured labourers from Ireland to the Caribbean.

My focus in Barbados addresses the subaltern ‘poor whites’ community on the East Coast of the island, who are believed to be direct descendants of indentured labourers from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales who arrived in the seventeenth century, although through creolisation their direct origins can no longer be determined. During my residency at Fresh Milk, I aim to visit and document regions related to this community in the villages of the parish of St John where the ‘poor whites’ still live today and other sites of importance including the “vanishing villages” of Irish Town and Below Cliff. The analyses of this material and sites are fundamental to my research and development of my practice-based output, which involves the gathering of oral histories through interviews, film footage, research and documentation.

Excavating the official government documents at the Irish, English, Jamaican and the Bajan National Archives, alongside on-site investigation of other remaining visual and material traces, and through new oral histories, I begin to reconstruct this history.  Accumulating these disregarded and overlooked traces of different histories, I seek to insert a series of previously muted or silent voices into the archive and to give them presence through my practice-based work as an artist-researcher.

Situating my practice within the historiographic turn in contemporary art discourse and in relation to the Archive, notably through the examination of unrecorded, private and disregarded histories, my multi-disciplinary approach to the research, the archival record and the archival image questions the legitimacy of the archive and falsification within the recorded image and text. My research involves the gathering of oral histories through interviews, film footage, analysis, documentation and re-documentation. Through my research and the study of archival theory, I wish to challenge the definitions and meanings of the archive itself. By recovering photographic and textual traces, which had been consigned to disappear within the archive, I question what the archive remembers and what it forgets; for whom and for what purpose. By investigating collective, social and individual memory through a series of video interviews, I accumulate accounts and memories of a particular time and consider how they have been affected by the passage of time. My engagement with archival and personal accounts and embodied memories positions my research as anti-monumental, counterpoising monumental official state histories, and developing strategies to address excluded narratives, enabling previously muted voices to inform a counter-narrative assembled through creative practice, exhibition and written accounts.

About Marianne Keating:

Marianne Keating graduated with an MA from the Royal College of Art, London, and a BA from Limerick School of Art and Design, Ireland. She has exhibited extensively including exhibitions in London, Paris, New York, Melbourne and Shanghai. She is currently preparing for upcoming solo shows for the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, Ireland and Rampa Gallery, Porto, Portugal. Recent group shows include New Contemporaries, South London Gallery and as part of the Liverpool Biennial; Arrivants: Art and Migration in the Anglophone Caribbean, Barbados Museum and Historical Society, Bridgetown, Barbados and Between Us And, Embassy Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland (2018). 

Daisy Diamond’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 3 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the third blog post by US-based international resident artist Daisy Diamond. Daisy recounts her return to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue in Bridgetown, where she contemplated the Jewish mikveh ritual and related it to her wider experiences in Barbados. The first session of her sacred reading practices group also took place this week, and the collaboratively chosen text for thoughtful reflection was Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. Read more below:

I returned to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue early this week to visit one of the oldest mikvahs in the Americas. Mikvahs are traditionally used for ritual purification practices in Judaism and ones like this with fresh running water are said to contain “living water.” According to the Old Testament, the spiritual (rather than physical) cleansing power of this natural water source moved through this bath. If the water became blocked within the vessel, it became “drawn water” and was invalid for mikveh rituals. This reminded me a bit of other rituals of immersion, whether in literal, social, or mental spaces and how stagnancy or movement affect those processes.

There are also connections between these ritualistic, religious submersions and the intentions of those doing them. Some people say pre-written prayers of intention or individual prayers from their heart, like what they hope to experience from their immersion. In some ways, I felt a parallel again between this and the experience of feeling submerged in unfamiliarity with specific intentions to learn and create.

Later in the week, I held a sacred reading practices group at Fresh Milk. I tried to create a space with intention for the folks who showed up to have an engaging conversation. After discussing several religious reading practices, we collectively chose to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, a book about education, humanization, relationships within society, and so much more. We took turns reading out loud and tried out some of the sacred reading techniques. These naturally led to conversations about how to define oppression, understand/address disparity, and take responsibility for action.

By framing this conversation in a certain way, we meaningfully engaged with a text and had a very challenging, thought provoking discussion that will be continued at a second reading group during my last week. I have been thinking about how these conceptual frameworks translate to visual symbols or could be explored further in images. I have also been looking at encyclopedias of sacred symbols and myths in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room and taking notes. Visuals are slowly coming together and writing/reading has been a huge part of that process…

A quick drawing of fires in the sugar cane fields I passed while driving near St. George.

 

Daisy Diamond’s Fresh Milk Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

Fresh Milk shares the second blog post by US-based international resident artist Daisy Diamond. Inspired by material in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room, Daisy has continued to research the Caribbean, Barbados, and Judaism’s role in society. She has been reflecting on the tremendous effects of complex histories on contemporary realities, and questioning how we can acknowledge this impact while reclaiming, reinventing and growing through our lived experiences and practices. Read more below:

My notebook and sketches from the synagogue and visual motifs from the graveyard

As a medium that lends itself more to imperfect (incomplete) exploration, drawing doesn’t allow for erasure or concealment. To draw could mean to visually conjure something from will or to extract something (meaning, guidance, connection) from a source (history, art, conversation). ‘Drawing’ is a tool, a verb, to pull on a thread and weave together thematic threads gradually. Midway through this residency at Fresh Milk, I continue to build on the ‘spine’ of my visuals and learn more about Barbados beyond what can be discovered at the easel.

Books I’ve been reading from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room collection

One of the books I’ve been reading is The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique, an author from St. Thomas, an island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Annalee Davis, artist and founder of Fresh Milk, recommended this incredible work of magical realism and generational family sagas when I asked for an introduction to contemporary Caribbean literature. The novel is a collage of ideas and experiences with shifting perspectives and a variety of writing styles.

Here are two quotes I’ve been thinking about from this book:

“History could do that, change a person’s name. History was something so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it.”

“People can need each other like water.”

The water that surrounds each island shapes and serves as a witness to its history. A collective history “so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it,” not our own, each other’s, or the one being written now. In what ways do acts of artistic creation and consumption situate us in a dialogue with history? Rather than in a position of repression or swallowing the legacies of colonialism? The water that swallows the lives of several characters in this story is impartial to their guilt, innocence, or their value to the people who depend on them, who might “need each other like water.”

I recommend this book for its poetic language and thought-provoking, critical analyses of intersecting family histories as Dutch rulers gave way to American ones in the early 1900s in the Virgin Islands. Here is a video of Yanique reading from a passage about protests, beaches, tourism, and so much more.

I also spent one morning this week walking on Bathsheba beach alongside a few swimmers who seemed intimately knowledgeable about the water’s tides and sweeping currents. We were all there, but had acutely different relationships to the waves cyclically consuming themselves. But perhaps not? Maybe they were visitors and in awe just as I was (the limitations of projection). I was reminded of a quote by Hilton Als from an essay, “Islands,” published in 2014. “The sky’s largeness and generosity reminded me of how pitiful I can feel on islands, where one’s ideas about the place amount to so much sentimental or ideological bullshit.” Similarly, Barbados occupies an active place in many imaginary realms as a ‘paradise.’ I have found powerful counterexamples to this homogenous narrative daily through literary, political, and artistic communities and news while at Fresh Milk.

Sir Paul Altman (left), walking on the grounds by the cemetery during a filmed interview

Later in the week, I returned to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue to listen in on an interview of Sir Paul Altman, a leading advocate for the restoration efforts of the synagogue that began in 1986, by Judy Dennison, a cinematographer from Trinidad, and her film crew. Sir Altman described his efforts with the restoration of the synagogue as a “labor of love.” It was fascinating to learn more about the Altman family’s advocacy for the Jewish community and their dedication to preserving history.

During the interview, I also learned more about connections between Barbadian Jews and synagogues in the United States. America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, where I spent eight months this past year as a student, was founded by Jewish settlers from Barbados. A synagogue in Philadelphia, where I grew up, was financially supported by and had a rabbi who spent years in the Jewish community in Barbados. Again, I was reminded of how this small group of individuals has had a disproportionately large impact across time and geography.

Sir Altman also discussed his horror at the city’s one time plan to build on top of the sacred land where the Jews are buried outside the synagogue. This notion raised a lot of questions for me about how to memorialize sacred land within and beyond this graveyard that was also the site of so much historic trauma and violence – slavery, mass murders, and the displacement of communities. How does the absence of a memorial to this terrible legacy get in the way of a community’s understanding of their ties to history and prevent healing? I have so many questions about how echoes of colonialism and political control are used as justifications for ownership (of land, people, and history) in Barbados and across the world.

In this landscape of sand, sun and sea, I can’t help but think of other ancient land with thousands of years of conflicted ownership and migrations from stolen land to stolen land. Here, we are witnesses through our screens to the horror of the deaths and injuries at ongoing protests in Palestine against the jarring backdrop of formalities performed at the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

I am reminded over and over again of Tiphanie Yanique’s insight that “history was something so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it.” I am thinking of the ongoing protests in Palestine and the land theft justified in the legacy of colonialism and in the name of religion. Reconstructionist Judaism at its core acknowledges our history as one religious civilization among many with parallel histories. It also explicitly seeks to reinterpret and reject Jewish thought that has been historically used to justify the oppression of others. My background in this relatively recent branch of Judaism (founded in 1968) has spurred my interest in ways to engage with spiritual traditions to bring meaning, understanding, and community into daily, and perhaps even explicitly secular, life.

I hope to explore and experiment with religious techniques outside their original contexts to draw meaning and everyday relevance from a text we collectively decide on (poetry, short story, essay, etc.) this Thursday evening, May 17th from 6-8pm, at the Fresh Milk studio space in St. George. Information about this Sacred Practices Reading Group can be found here. Please be sure to RSVP to freshmilkbarbados@gmail.com if you are interested or have any questions! Again, no religious practice or belief is required, just an open curiosity! Hope to see you there.