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COLUMN – Should old acquaintance be forgot . . .

london callingThere may be those who consider the notion of “Little England” as politically incorrect; however, like those men, despite advanced years, still being referred to by their school nicknames, I see it simply as a part of our history. Further, it is a heritage that I would suggest has become less germane as we approach, with “expectations great”, the eve of our 50th anniversary of Independence.

Nonetheless, one has to be careful when travelling north of the border in the “Mother Country”, as Scots, while part of a United Kingdom, have always considered themselves to be a distinct people –– as do the Welsh. On my short but significant trip to Edinburgh, exceeded in physical beauty only by the warmth of its people, I realized that the then “Little Britain” might have been more apt for us as we also share much with the Scots.

Many a Scot would probably find resonances of their heritage in Barbados. There are the considerable physical similarities of our East Coast, particularly the Scotland District appropriately located in St Andrew. Our dishes, like jug-jug (similar to haggis) and steam pudding (theirs is still black) would strike a familiar chord, as would our renowned skills with fermentation.

Of note is that November 30, their national day, is also ours. The cross of St Andrew, their patron saint, features in our Coat Of Arms formed by two sugar cane stalks, while the Order Of Saint Andrew is our highest National Award.

I discovered the hard way that Scots are equal to Bajans in giving directions, after walking over a mile in freezing sleet in Edinburgh only to realize that a “wee walk” in Scottish is best translated to the Bajan misnomer of “jus’ round de corner”.

I am convinced that if we Bajans did ethnicity and genealogical tests, like those advertised on television, we would realize that Scottish blood flows through part of our population. The origins of “Macbajans” may be traced back to Earl of Carlisle James Hay, and the first “proprietor” of Barbados who was a Scotsman.

Another inhabitant of Scottish descent was Rachel Pringle, the daughter of a Scottish sea captain and a local mother, who seemingly drawing on the entrepreneurial influences of her ancestry, is documented in our archives as proprietor of a reputedly successful brothel.

The first workers in the sugar industry that was pioneered in Barbados were Scottish. Some were voluntary migrants but the majority were unwillingly transported as “indentured servants” to Barbados, largely prisoners from the wars in England during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Some argue that as the terms of their servitude were never honoured, these Scottish “servants”, nicknamed “red legs” due to the effect of the sun on the skin beneath their kilts, fared little better than those enslaved from Africa.

The recent research done by Scottish author and broadcaster Chris Dolan for the documentary Barbado’ed: Scotland’s Sugar Slaves revealed that scatted today across the East Coast, mainly in St John, include McCluskies, Sinclairs and Baileys who are not, as we expect, Afro-Barbadians bearing the names derived from past owners, but the descendants of the original Scots.

The strong historical link which I suspect many Barbadians may be unaware of is being brought to light by the annual Barbados Celtic Festival, which has taken place in Barbados in May. This festival of rugby, pipers, dancers, choirs, and haggis, moisturized by Scottish and Bajan finest blends, is a celebration of the historical connection between Scotland (along with Ireland and Wales) and Barbados.

Scottish pipers in Barbados for the Barbados Celtic Festival.

Scottish pipers in Barbados for the Barbados Celtic Festival.

This festival, with originated with two Edinburghites –– Carol Anderson and Colin Mackenzie –– testifies to the strength and continued relevance of the links between Scotland and Barbados. This is a relationship built on considerable history and which holds much potential. Like the strong bonds that we maintain with their southern cousins, we must rekindle our acquaintances in the Highlands.

As we continue to welcome the New Year, with that renowned Scottish tune Auld Lang Syne still ringing in our ears, let us take a “cup of kindness yet” and “a right goodwill draught”, and as we reflect on the past and continue to look upward and onward to the future, inspired, exulting, free . . . .

May God continue to guide and bless us in 2015.

Sláinte . . . .

(Reverend Guy Hewitt is Barbados High Commissioner to London. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of any entity of the Government of Barbados.)

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