by Latoya Burnham
Conditions in Barbados now may be ripe for another uprising like that seen in 1937. In fact, says local calypsonian Anthony Gabby Carter, he has never seen a period in Barbados where there was as much desolation and outright hunger as he is seeing now among ordinary families.
And he said he believed part of the problem was that the needs of Bajans “at de bottom of de barrel” are still not being addressed.
“It is a period that has to be treasured because right now Barbados economic situation is such that a riot could break out at any time. They do not understand the depth of the economic crisis.
“On a daily basis, on a personal basis, and women do not beg — women in Barbados are the proudest women I have ever met in my life… On a daily basis I experience women begging, with children in their hands and they are not begging because they want to go town and buy two cell cards or whatever. They want it because they are hungry. This year alone, nine different women came to me and told me they were hungry and ain’t eat for three days.
“That has not happened since — not even in the 60s because we always had a little bit of something to eat, whether it was corned beef and biscuits or corned beef and breadfruit, or sardines, or some bakes,” the calypsonian and former cultural ambassador charged.
He said the situation was serious because women he had helped were also showing him the supermarket bills or presenting the change they received for the goods purchased with what he had been able to give.
Speaking in the context of the anniversary of the 1937 riots in the City, it was Gabby who had penned Riots In De Land in 1978 in tribute and memory to that historic period.
He added too that the challenge was that the needs of the poorest in society were not being addressed adequately.
“Barbados is yet to address the bottom part of the barrel. We are addressing the middle and the top all the time because in the old days that is how it was to retain workers on the plantation, which caused the riots in the first place…,” he said, adding that while some Barbadians were living in bigger houses than just the tenantries most had back then, the problems were still the same.
The riots and the song he wrote, he said, represented a watershed in the history of the country.
“It was the turning point, that was the watershed and you can’t see it in any other light … in Barbados. Between 1838 and 1937, the minimum wage in Barbados was one shilling per week. Can you imagine that?
“This is 2012, can you imagine between now and 2111, that salaries in Barbados remain at whatever we have it now? That would be impossible with all the inflation and everything else. Yet, the proof is tangible, the proof is concretised, that we went through a period where the minimum wage was a shilling a week for 99 straight years. Clement Payne and company changed that,” he stated.
Gabby said when he wrote Riots In De Land, it was not the result of long research, but in fact written after a lecture he attended where an elderly man who identified himself as Clement Payne’s best friend spoke for the first time publicly about the day that started the riots in Barbados.
“I was so inspired I went home and wrote Riots in ten minutes. It wasn’t research. Anytime you hear one of those songs it was a war machine that went off… It was merely me spilling my guts on how I felt about a situation, than anything else. Like One Day Coming Soon, I had no political affiliation or anything, it was not me attacking anybody. So any time I feel it like that the whole country does feel it like that and sometimes even the whole Caribbean,” said Gabby.