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Photo credit: Terel Moore Photography

 

William Montieth Drayton (Monty) is a cultural conservationist in Grenada who wears many hats; among them, teacher, story teller, drummer, drum maker, singer and dancer. To add to the plethora of knowledge he has gained over the years, through his own research into our history and culture, last year he went to Morocco to study Animation in the Hotel Industry: a short course about keeping guests entertained through the performing arts.

I recently interviewed him at the Grenada National Museum, where he has volunteered for over 15 years. For this, he had taken a break from drumming with his band of young drummers and as we chatted the sound of the drums in the background seemed a fitting serenade to the rhythm of his story. Here’s a Q&A with Monty.

What exactly do you do?

I currently volunteer at children’s homes and homes for the disabled teaching our traditional culture through drumming and singing. I also visit schools and community groups to do the same. I’ve worked with various performing arts groups all over Grenada and therefore know a myriad of songs and dances from the various corners of our country. Because of this I can identify variations in dances that are common to Grenada, like the Belè and tell you which parish they are from. Not every community does the Belè in the same way. I believe that River Sallee and Carriacou have the most authentic flavour of our dances. In fact, River Sallee has about 12 different versions of Belè. They once had a very vibrant folk group but in very recent times have fizzled out. I did everything in my power to resurrect that group. So right now I am coordinating with a church up there to organise to do a workshop to teach drumming there and hopefully revive the arts in this community.

How did this all begin?

My Genesis was with my brother, Mervin, a drummer and panist, who was very particular about his drum. We (my 3 other brothers and I) used to have to steal his drum to practise, when he was away. One day, when we thought he had gone, he doubled back on us and found us playing. He was shocked to discover how well we could play and this led to us forming the Drayton drummers band. My father, Malcolm Drayton, also influenced my path. He had a steelpan band, whose members later formed the now well known Angel Harps Steel Orchestra. Growing up at home he would always play a lot of Jazz and Classical music. This intelligent music enhanced my drumming.

The Drayton Drummers played in the community and became the national drummers of the revolutionary government. During the Gairy regime, in the 70s, we had to look over our shoulders while we played because the Police could come take your drum and destroy it. This was, perhaps, because it was towards the end of the Black Power movement, in which drums were used to carry the effect of power, bravery and fighting against the system. But this did not deter me. I moved on to the Roots Vibrations Band in which we did a multiplicity of spectacles around Grenada and in Carriacou: bike stunts, acrobatics, fire displays, chanting. As a boy, I even drummed for the hotels. This was before they paved the roads.

Why is the work you do important and what are some of the challenges you face?

I want to pass on our traditional culture and to ensure that the people I am teaching learn properly to pass it on to the next generation. I ensure they understand the history and the importance of drumming in the community because after doing my research, I realised that nothing was done in Africa without the drum. Be it for an invited guest, planting, reaping, teaching, death, birth, festivals, the drum was always played.

We are cut off from that now because of the misconceptions from some religious people. Religious people caused a negative vibe concerning some of our dances and drumming. Shango, for example, got a bad name because we were colonized by the members of the traditional church, who went against our drumming. Yes, I know some people have negative intentions when they drum but what is a drum? A piece of wood and goat skin. How evil is that?

I’m also concerned that I’m not seeing enough involvement from the government. Sometimes, I believe I am the Minister of Culture because I do so much. After going to Africa, no one from the government has tried to engage me to utilise my new knowledge. If I were in the Ministry of Culture, we would get money to develop every cultural program. We are not convincing the Prime Minister that our project is a good project. We are not trying to develop our product and take the culture to the next level. I’m concerned that there is a generation that is dying, a generation that needs that.

What are you most passionate about?

I love to play the Saxophone and I’ve always loved the guitar, even if I’ve never had the opportunity to play. I also love teaching and playing for the disabled. It’s joyful, I’m energized. If I don’t go, I’m not strong. One time, it took me a year to realise that a certain guy was deaf and mute because he followed the rhythm so well. I love to see them move to the rhythms. There’s a guy there I look at and I feel I could make a dance based on how he moves to the drum.

What are your plans for the future?

I dream to get the opportunity, one day, to go to the US and teach 1000 people to play the drum, free of cost and their payment would be to take this newly learnt skill and go into homes for the disabled everywhere and to teach and play for disabled kids.

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Independence:  What does it mean to you?

At church one Independence week, the preacher asked, ‘“What does Independence mean to you?” Met by silence from the reticent congregation, he implored the young people to answer the question.  One by one, some stood and spoke out what seemed to be regurgitated independence jargon learnt from their school celebrations: “Independence means freedom,” “coming together as one people,” “unity,” “being proud of our beautiful nation,” “getting together with family and friends.” And others spoke enthusiastically about how they celebrate.

Listening to this exchange made me reflect on how Independence had a different meaning to those born afterGrenada became independent compared to what it meant to the generations born before.  Nonetheless, what everyone has in common is their strong sense of national pride.

My generation was one of the first born after Grenada achieved its Independence status. We never experienced living in a dependent state.  We never knew what it was like to not be a country, to not even have a flag or a national anthem.  We had no idea that a generation before us went to school and sang another country’s anthem.

 

The School Grade Independence Lesson of Yesteryear

Over 37 years on, I am a culturally sensitive, history-aware and extremely proud Grenadian.  So how did I get here?  Many influences in my life have had a part to play; from the stories told by my parents and grandparents to being exposed to traditional arts from childhood.  If I could trace where it all started, however, I would go back to my school days.  School instilled in my post-independence peers and me an excitement about being Grenadian. School gave me a strong base that motivated me to find out more. At school, we learnt about our country’s history and national symbols, natural resources and products.

This year we celebrate 46 years of being a nation and, in honour of our Independence day, February 7, here’s a list of seven activities we used to do at school that fostered our sense of national pride in the early post-independence years.

We:

  1. Sang the national anthem and recited the pledge of allegiance every day.
  2. Sang songs about the virtues of Grenada.
  3. Practiced for and participated in the national Independence Day parade.
  4. Learned the significance of our coat of arms.
  5. Chorally recited the symbolisms found on Grenada’s flag.
  6. Had our independence treat, which in my school was a hot dog with a snow ice. (We used to be so excited about this!)
  7. Wore our house uniforms the day before independence; each house having one of Grenada’s national colours. This was typical of school houses back then.

 

How about you? Do you remember doing any of these activities at school?

 

The Modern Day School-Based Celebration

Curious as to how things had advanced since my school days, I recently visited my primary Alma Mater to see how they were celebrating this year; and what a grand celebratory schedule they had…

Their celebrations kicked off a week before with their Independence road relay, followed by a day for classroom decorating on the themes of Famous Grenadians, Famous places and Flora and Fauna of Grenada.  Finally, on the day before Independence Day (our nationally recognised national colours day) school started with an Independence themed assembly, in which, as the very enthusiastic principal explained, they learned about all well-known Grenadians. Kids presented Prime Ministers and Governors General. There was an exhibition of local dishes, local spices, crafts from local raw materials and floral arrangements. And no Independence celebration would be complete these days without a big plate of Oil Down which the kids ate with gusto.

As I was there, my eyes truly feasted on the vibrancy of the colours emanating from the decorations all around the school, from the flags to the children’s clothing. The school  was just abuzz with a passionate vibe of excitement felt from teachers and students alike. Oh, what a grand occasion it was and, judging from all the colourful outfits worn on the street by students from other schools, I know they were all celebrating in a similarly grand way.  One school I passed had drummers lined up with Belè dancers (all kids) getting ready in the background.  How I wished I could have stopped to witness the spectacle.

 

That Unceasing Sense of National Pride

It warmed my heart to see how great an affair the schools have made Independence as the years have gone on.  A more elaborate celebratory schedule from what we had but what remains evident is the core value of instilling national pride. I really appreciate the introduction my generation had but judging from what I have seen this year, schools’ influence on our national pride will only get better and better.

As we celebrate 46 years, here’s to all that our nation’s schools, principals and teachers have done and continue to do in making us proud of our nation.  Happy Independence to all!

 

A-ZA book that all Grenadians must have

Every now and again, you come across a piece of work or reference material, that is so relevant and majestic that you wonder how you’d missed it. This book is one of those cases, and I’m sure if I missed it, many thousands of Grenadians both at home and abroad did too. Whatever, the reason, the time has come to recognise and share this magnificent book.

It is packed with information that straightens out the history books once and for all. It’s presented in a style that is easily digested by all readers and every page holds text or images that capture the soul and essence of our beautiful tri-island state from every perspective.

I personally, have a passion for all things Grenadian, but must confess to having seen the title on the book shelves but passed it by as though it were written for tourists. I could not have been more wrong. This book has been compiled with a real since of love and passion for the content that resides within and the subject matter of Grenada. It is written with an understanding that much of our history has been misquoted or has been contradictory.

Marcus Garvey, once said “a people with no knowledge of its history, is like a tree without roots, it can not grow”. John Angus Martin, with this book, has given us a great foundation to piece together our history for current and future generations to embrace in their everyday lives.

This book should be in every Grenadian home wherever you reside on the planet. (MA, May 2013)

 

JAM_120pxAbout the Author

John Angus Martin was born and grew up in St. George?s, Grenada, where he attended the St. George?s Roman Catholic Boys? School (now known as the J.W. Fletcher Memorial Boys? School) and Presentation Brothers? College before immigrating to Brooklyn, New York with his family in 1978.

He graduated in 1986 with a BSc in Biological Sciences and a minor in Anthropology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Long Island.

He spent the next three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, West Africa, teaching at an agricultural institute and as an agricultural extension agent to subsistence farmers in rural villages. He has travelled widely in west and east Africa for work and as a visitor.

He holds master?s degrees in History, and Agricultural and Applied Economics from Clemson University, South Carolina. He?has worked?as aReference Archivist at the Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University and a?Country Desk Officer in the Africa Region of the US Peace Corps,and traveled to many countries in west and east Africa. These travels have been important in his study of Caribbean slavery and colonialism.. He?is currently the director of the Grenada National Museum.?His next project,?French Grenada: Island Caribs and French Settlers, 1498-1763?explores the rise and demise of the French in Grenada, will be published in July.


 

What the reviews say:

Amazing!!!!,?January 12, 2008
This review is from:?A-Z of Grenada Heritage (MacMillan Caribbean) (Paperback)

It makes great reading for those of us who of Grenadian heritage but have lost the connection to our culture. The book provides valuable historical information that is often lost over time and is a wonderful tool that I can share with my daughter.

 


Dip Into A-Z of Grenada Heritage for Island Gems,?November 25, 2007

This review is from:?A-Z of Grenada Heritage (MacMillan Caribbean) (Paperback)

“A-Z of Grenada Heritage” is an oversized, 283-page, color illustrated [on quality paper] compendium of useful information about multiple aspects of the island of Grenada.

John Angus Martin writes to the point and provides facts of historical and contemporary information in an easily understandable manner. Excellently chosen photographs and illustrations catch one’s interest.
Martin backs up his knowledge with references.

A partial entry example:

“FISHERMAN’S BIRTHDAY is a Roman Catholic festival celebrated on 29 June each year as the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. In the town of GOUYAVE, one of the largest fishing communities in the islands, festivities are the ‘grandest’ and are attended by visitors from all across Grenada. Under the French the parish was dedicated to St. Pierre, the patron saint of fishermen. After church services in each parish and the blessing of fishermen’s boats and nets, there are boat races, eating, drinking and merrymaking for the remainder of the day; the merrymaking dates to the mid-1960s . . .”

“A-Z of Grenada Heritage” is recommended for library ‘Country’ collections, for every travel and tourist-related organization’s reception area, for those who live on the Spice Isle, for those who visit Grenada, and for those who plan to visit Grenada.

The book is a delight; there’s nothing quite like it.


 

Great Book,?May 5, 2008

This review is from:?A-Z of Grenada Heritage (MacMillan Caribbean) (Paperback)

I was born in Grenada but grew up here in the US. My parents and other family members made sure that I knew my culture. Although I have been back there many times,after reading this book, I was able to get eeven more knowledge of all that was instilled in my cultural knowledge by them. It is a great conversation book between family and friends who are not from Grenada. Well worth the read and the money.


A valuable resource,?March 7, 2008
This review is from:?A-Z of Grenada Heritage (MacMillan Caribbean) (Paperback)

This book is a valuable resource for anyone seriously interested in Grenada. It is an enjoyable and informative read.

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?A-Z of Grenada,?November 20, 2010
This review is from:?A-Z of Grenada Heritage (MacMillan Caribbean) (Paperback)

It is good, Enjoying it….Well Please…Even though, like a Rasta, I have different opinion on many Subjects…But it is cool..Just have some over standing..You done know how that go….Seen!


A-Z Grenada Heritage,?December 16, 2008
This review is from:?A-Z of Grenada Heritage (MacMillan Caribbean) (Paperback)

This book provide a great overview of Grenada, it’s people and it’s culture. Great Read!!

 

Since the arrival of Curator, Mr. Angus Martin, the national museum has been treated to several outstanding exhibitions and talks that have captivated a cross generational audience. These presentations have put heritage and culture firmly back in the public domain.

John Angus Martin, referred to as Angus, is the author of the wonderful book, A-Z of Grenada Heritage. He has a passion for archives and has spent the best part of two decades collecting, locating and documenting all aspects of Grenadian heritage and culture.? Educating and sharing comes as second nature to Angus and his presentations to date, which have included maps of Grenada dating back centuries, postcards of Grenada and Art of Grenada have breathed fresh air into the Grenadian heritage and culture scene.

Over the coming weeks and months, there are plans for many more exhibitions and presentations both in the National Museum and on the road around Grenada. Some of these will involve collaboration with other heritage and culture stakeholders. There will of course be specific programmes developed to engage schools and youth in general.

Grenada’s heritage and culture goes well beyond the shores of our tri-island state and there are progressive plans in place to make consistent connections with the worldwide Grenadian Diaspora.

The story of the Caribs last stand and their leap to certain death is known throughout the Caribbean, yet we struggle to commemorate this chapter in our history with the prominence it deserves. The Trust is seeking to use all available powers to remedy this situation.

Leapers? Hill or caribs? leap

The Island Caribs or Kalinago remain a symbol for the people of Grenada and the Caribbean because of their fierce resistance to European colonization. Thus, the Leapers? Hill site, where more than forty of them jumped to their deaths on the night of 30 May 1650, represents an heroic self sacrifice that left them a legacy of resistance. That bloody event is remembered with reverence throughout Grenada and the Caribbean and continues to hold great symbolism over three centuries later. As such, the site at Leapers? Hill is hallowed ground in the post-Columbian struggles between Amerindians and Europeans for control of the region, and should be accorded the due respect and commemoration it deserves.

To that end, the Grenada National Trust will seek to make this an official national historical site. It is the plan of the GNT to work with the Government of Grenada and other stakeholders, including the local community, to reopen the interpretation centre and develop the site as a primary part of our educational and visitor attraction. The interpretation centre will provide up-to-date information on the history of the Kalinagos in Grenada and their struggles against European invasion. It will host local students on field trips and visitors who come in search of an understanding of this tragic event that left an enduring legacy to the indigenous community. Its ultimate goal is to remove the sadness and anger this solitary hill may evoke, by providing a fitting memorial to the Kalinagos. It will promote their heritage so that we can celebrate those who valiantly fought to defend and preserve their way of life in the face of an unprecedented onslaught against their culture and persons. Please join us in making this endeavour a success by supporting the efforts of the Grenada National Trust.