He was one of the first children born in the year this country achieved political independence from Britain.
And whether through sheer coincidence or fate, Donville Inniss presently stands in the vanguard of safeguarding all that the 1966 act of lowering the Union Jack and raising the ultramarine, gold and black flag has come to symbolize for the people of Barbados.
Inniss, who is the minister of International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development in the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration, explains that he was actually “ the third child born in Barbados on [January 1st, 1966]”.
“This makes me the third child born in Barbados that year, which happens to be the same year that Barbados became independent,” he pointed out in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
“[But] don’t for any minute think that has anything to do with me, it is just coincidental,” he quipped.
Growing up, he never thought of his birth date as anything special, but now he has come to a greater appreciation of the fact that it puts him in a position where he can “naturally” be considered among Barbadians of “the independence era”, who would have experienced first hand, the transition of the nation from the colonial master rule to self-government, initially under the leadership of Errol Barrow, the father of independence and late DLP leader.
“The work of the political forefathers has been well documented, Errol Barrow, Grantley Adams, Tom Adams, Erskine Sandiford, Frederick Smith [now Sir Frederick]. [In fact], we could spend all day reflecting on the individual politicians who made a contribution,” said Inniss, who also credits the transformation of the island from a village into a modern society, to a number of “unsung heroes, who made a lot of difference”.
It was in this vein that he recalled the shopkeepers, agriculture workers, fishermen and other villagers in Bayfield, St Philip, where he grew up.
He said it was from them, and not the history books that he had learned most of what he knows now about “old Barbados” but laments that young people today are not benefiting from the same type of village schooling.
“I really think that is what is missing, that history, where we can really pass stories on. I don’t think we have a lot of passing on of stories from one generation to the next,” he told Barbados TODAY.
The father of two sons said as a boy he was fortunate to have many of the opportunities that exist today in terms of access to education, public transportation and job prospects, there were still some things that he experienced that his children never did, including the use of a kerosene oil lamps, or having a pit toilet (outside toilet).
“Some of those things made us a lot stronger and then even things we take for granted; today you turn on a tap and you have running water and you have bathrooms. I know full well the standpipe where we as boys had a little fight to get under the standpipe and take a bath in less than a minute, sharing the same cake of soap, and you perhaps just run around a little bit to dry your skin or you share a towel.
“Those are things that really developed good friendships that last throughout the years,” he said.
“What I would say is a big difference today in Barbados is our children now seem so individualistic [and] so caught up in their own world.
“So they socialize around an electronic game and the Internet,” he said, explaining that while “there is nothing wrong in principle with that, [it] could never replace learning fundamental social graces and how to communicate with individuals and how to survive out there in the world to some extent or to inculcate in you that history from which you have come”.
“My children came a long in an era when we needed a baby sitter. We lived in places whether it was abroad or here and we needed a baby sitter occasionally. At times my mother in law and my mother would chip in and help. But I grew up in an era where your parents could leave you and go out knowing full well someone is going to keep an eye on you, somebody is going to make sure you get a meal, and they may occasionally insist that you bath your skin. But nobody thought about a baby sitter or nanny. These days we blacks in Barbados consider that to be a part of a status quo, if you have a nanny, a driver or a gardener. I don’t think all hope is lost on that point,” he said.
Inniss, whose father was a fisherman and mother a seamstress, housewife, vendor and agricultural labour, said his family was “quite happy” in the early days of independence.
There were two girls and six boys in the immediate family who shared everything and didn’t measure their success by how much they had.
“We weren’t wealthy but we were contented with what we had. I know the days of hand-me-downs. I have three older brothers I am sure I wore clothes that probably I eldest brother had owned originally. As long as it [could] fit and [was] clean or half clean, you were quite happy.
“More importantly you had the cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles around,” said Inniss, while revealing that as a fat child growing up, he was given the very unflattering nickname “fat so” at one point.
“I would always try to keep up with the others in sporting activities. I was always more inclined to be reading or using my mouth to make a point or win a ‘fight’,” said Inniss, who learned to swim later in life.
In those days, he also acknowledged that “many could not get [a quality education] beyond Seventh Standard and other issues which forced people to migrate to England for better opportunities”, but he recalled there were some other “good things” that are missing today.
“There were really good united families where people really shared and looked out for one another in the villages. There were even strong community groups whether centered about the church or a sporting activity. But generally speaking you have to appreciate the bedrock of this society,” he said.
This is not to say that Inniss wants to see Barbados returning to the days of the standpipe, pit toilet or kerosene oil lamp and wood fire for cooking.
However, it is the “fundamental values that once existed” and the spirit of neighbourliness that he would sooner have return since much of this experience, has shaped his character today, his strong love for Barbados and his appreciation of its independence, which for him “means having to stand on your own for what you believe in and fight for yourself”.
“You have to realize that there is nobody behind you to prop you up and support you. You have to go out there and face the music on your own. As a nation it meant that we would have had to build the right socioeconomic environment and political structures to sustain ourselves,” said Inniss, while pointing out that “it is one thing to attain independence and another thing to sustain it”.
“I think that in Barbados’ case we have done very well. I think we were reasonably well prepared with the [West Indian] federation experience and then having the kind of leaders we had in that era and the kinds of programmes they pursued in terms of health care and education. Opportunities for all that really made going into independence somewhat of a no-brainer. We are fortunate to have been able to weather more storms since then and gone on our own because we prepared ourselves well.”
For this 1966 baby and lover of Red Plastic Bag lyrics, Independence is a time to sing along to all his favourite Bajan music.
“I think we have the sweetest music. November is a time when most people seem to stand up and ask themselves what it means to be Barbadian, and to me what does it mean? It means the
uniqueness about the food we consume whether it is the conkie, the rum. But then you hear the music that captures succinctly a lot of the old Bajan ways,” he said.
Having lived abroad and experienced several cultures, there is still no place like home for this proud Bajan, who would like nothing more than to see a greater level of patriotism among Barbadians in general, given the island’s “uniqueness”.
“I would be somewhat of a stranger to the truth . . . if I said that I am satisfied that we as a people are very patriotic. It is manifested in so many ways; in our craving for whatever is foreign, our belief [that] what is foreign is good as opposed to local and regional.
“It is almost like we live with an inferiority complex. We are not all bad, but I see these little pockets every now and then,” he said.
Therefore, if he could make a change to the national independence celebrations, he would make them more community based, “with activities taking place at the village and street level”.
“I would paint the country blue and yellow. There is nothing that stirs you up more [patriotism] than when you see a bounty of Barbadian colours around the place. The school groups and community groups would all be doing skits and other activities that are really reflective of our unique culture.
“I would like to see more community based activities for independence, reflected in dance, song, poetry, the culinary works; the whole thing that really makes us different for one whole month, not just for a day. One month where every one of us can reflect on what it means to be Barbadian. I believe that what we do for that one month could really make positive difference in the [other] eleven months.
But everything now is commercialized, lamented Inniss, who recalled days when “grandmothers would spend time picking raisons, making sure they secured banana leaves and preparing the conkies”.
“These days you pop in the supermarket and buy conkies. So it is almost a dying art form,” he said.
“Even Christmas time, people no longer spend weeks cutting fruits and soaking it in rum and preparing the mixture for the great cake that lifts your nostrils up in the air come Christmas.
“Nowadays, you pop in the supermarkets and buy a great cake. A lot of those things that ought to be a part of our culture seem to be missing. But there is the advantage of commercialization that it makes it easier for people [and] somebody is going to make some money and employ people and I am happy for that,” the Minister of Commerce added.
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