The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – A Weekend’s Brief Respite

Jeff Cumberbatch – Chairman of the FTC and Deputy Dean, Law Faculty, UWI, Cave Hill

There is a passage in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I that is somewhat referable to this weekend in our nation. I refer not of course to the celebration of the end of the harvesting sugar cane crop, now replicated locally not in thanksgiving but, rather, in a latter day carnival of music and assorted varieties of public dancing. However, in the play, having just dealt with a civil uprising in his kingdom, Henry IV is tired of it all and announces to his council that he yearns for national unity to lead an English army on a crusade to the Holy Land.

There is much in recent local events that approximates this state of affairs. Over the past few weeks, we have been beset by political dissension among the national stakeholders over additionally imposed taxation; a claimed absence of consultation; a patent increase in gun violence, and impatient partisan calls for national elections even though the previously agreed and long accepted rules of governance provide expressly for when these should occur. Simply put, our local condition bears reminder of civil strife, although happily without the mortality rates of “civil butchery”.

The analogy does not end there. King Henry, at the start of the play, confesses his exhaustion with the prevailing civil discontent and expresses his contentment with the period of respite (a time for “frighted” peace to pant) even though in keeping with the theme of the metaphor, they may breathe only in “short-winded accents” of broils to be fought in “strands afar remote”.

So it is with us this weekend that marks the culmination of the Crop-Over festival. Forgotten for a while will be the acrimony over economic policy among the private sector or most of it, the labour organizations or most of them and the governing administration.

Shakespeare puts it better than I ever could:

…those opposed eyes,
Which, like the meteors of a troubled heaven,
All of one nature, of one substance bred,
Did lately meet in the intestine shock
And furious close of civil butchery
Shall now, in mutual well-beseeming ranks,
March all one way and be no more opposed
Against acquaintance, kindred and allies:
The edge of war, like an ill-sheathed knife,
No more shall cut his master.

I suppose that I need to re-emphasize that I am in no way suggesting that the local situation is equivalent to a state of civil war, it is simply that the contrast between the popular protest march of July 24 and the festive progression from the National Stadium to Spring Garden tomorrow is at least remarkable.

Of course, we should not wish to have the Shakespearean analogy actualized any further. It may be recalled that at that very moment when he was speaking there came unwelcome news of skirmishes in Wales and in Scotland that caused the king to remark;

It seems then that the tidings of this broil
Brake off our business for the Holy Land.

Most Barbadians, I feel certain, will allow nothing to “break off” their business of festivity this weekend. There have been threats of violent disruption broadcast on the social media, but few are taking this seriously, either trusting to the Royal Barbados Police Force adequately to counter this should it eventuate, or simply relying on the hoary Barbadian superstition that nothing like that ever happens here.

I am not one much for the costumed (or what little there may be) street parade, but I enjoy at this time the lexical skills of some of the calypsonians especially those with the witty turn of phrase. In this regard, Mr William “Smokey” Burke’s “Persona non grata” stands out, especially his mimicry of the protagonist’s twisted syntax in the punch line, “Persona non grata is what you will always be are”. Skilful.

And even though its message is less uplifting and perhaps a parody of incitement to the criminality of vote buying and selling, I find Mr Ian “I-Web” Webster’s “Salesman” with its use of the en vogue local expression “up de ting” referring to the cost of purchasing his vote to be an exceedingly witty composition.

Unfortunately, this personal appreciation does not extend to the modern bashment genre where the emphasis appears to be not on subtlety or wit but rather on a direct entreaty to tell it like is.

Clearly, I may not hold the same views as a majority of Barbadians in this regard. The effort performed by the Flow People’s Monarch for this year is one where he has consumed so much alcohol that he needs someone to pick him up. All the same, this emphasis on drunken helplessness may be in the finest traditions of the genre.

Over 40 years ago, Mr Slinger Francisco, the renowned Mighty Sparrow, declaimed that he always made his family ‘shame by being drunk and disorderly and by spending “every weekend in de jail”.

Enjoy your weekend, dear reader!