Recollections from Carifesta '72 and Onward
INFORMATION AND GUIDELINES
We are gathering recollections for the historical record on Carifesta '72 and further Carifestas. We seek first-hand accounts in writing, audio recording, or short video, that respond to the following questions:
If you attended Carifesta ’72, what is your favorite memory of the festival?
If you did not attend Carifesta ’72, why not? What did you hear about the event?
If you’re of a younger generation, what stories have you heard about Carifesta ’72?
If you attended another Carifesta, what were your most memorable experiences?
Do you think Carifesta has had an impact on you or your community?
This page of the website serves as a recollections forum. You are welcome to submit celebrations or critiques—or anything in between—of Carifesta '72 or subsequent Carifestas; however, please avoid personal attacks or derogatory comments. All submissions will be archived, but some may not be posted if they do not adhere to these parameters.
All submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The responses below are arranged in the order in which they were received and have not been fact-checked or edited by the organizers. The views expressed within them are those of the submitters.
MEMORIES OF FESTIVAL CITY, NORTH RUIMVELDT
July 15, 2022
Margaret Allicock (who later became my wife) and I bought a home in Festival City, North Ruimveldt in 1972 shortly after our engagement in April of that said year, when we were in our early twenties. At the time we bought the home, I was renting a room in a house on Durban St., and Maggie was with her parents in Campbellville. Our wedding took place on December 25, 1972, and, on that day, we moved in as husband and wife. Prior to that, we had gone there together only once to view our future home. Nevertheless, I slept in the house alone several nights to safeguard plumbing and bathroom fittings that thieves may have been keen to have.
Our street was Nevis Street, likely named for the Nevisian artistes who lived there while in Guyana to perform at the very first Caribbean Festival of Arts. Our street ended in a cul-de-sac and had five wooden houses of the same size on each side. Each house was also between seven to eight feet on concrete pillars, but they were painted in different colours – cream, blue, yellow, and pink. Our house was painted in the latter colour and had one medium-sized bedrooms and two small ones. I assumed the others had a similar number of bedrooms.
As Maggie and I walked around Festival City periodically, we noticed that the houses were as colourful as those on Nevis Street. Some street names I recall are Blue Mountain Drive, Hummingbird Street, Willemstad Road, Boggy Peak Street, Nutmeg Street, Flying Fish Street, and Mittleholzer Street, which were all within proximity of Nevis Street. As with Nevis Street, the names seemed to tell which country’s artistes lived on a street for the length of CARIFESTA – Blue Mountain Drive (Jamaica), Hummingbird Street (Trinidad & Tobago), Willemstad Road (Curacao), Boggy Peak Street (Antigua & Barbuda), Nutmeg Street (Grenada), Flying Fish Street (Barbados). It appeared to me that Mittleholzer Street may have been named for Edgar Mittleholzer, the Guyanese writer.
My wife and I lived in Festival City for sixteen years (naturally, our children less) and knew the entrance and exit streets as Blue Mountain Drive and Mittleholzer Street, respectively, with the two paralleling each other. While I’m not certain of the acreage of Festival City at the time we lived there, its size was that of a large village. It seems that, in the years following 1972, several hundred acres of land were added beyond Mittleholzer Street, scores of houses were built, and the whole area became North Ruimveldt, Festival City being a portion of North Ruimveldt.
Festival City/North Ruimveldt was built on land formerly used for sugar cane farming by a sugar estate, but I’m unsure whether the estate was Ruimveldt or Ogle. When my wife and I moved into our home, our yard had several struggling sugar cane stumps, which attracted large nests of ‘red ants’ around them. We dug out the sugar cane stumps and burned the ants to be able to grow vegetables. Stubborn wild eddoes and paragrass were other obstacles that we had to remove to facilitate gardening. Our yard was also low, and we experienced flooding on a few occasions. This forced us to lift the level of our yard with seashells, sand, and clay. (Noticed that flooding has grown into an ugly plague in the North and South Ruimveldt areas.) Nevertheless, much to our pleasure, the soil was fertile, and our yard bloomed with various fruit trees and vegetables.
When we moved into Festival City, it appeared to me that most of the population were people of African descent. As Festival City/North Ruimveldt expanded, I began noticing smaller numbers of East Indians and other races. While I was a teacher and my wife a secretary at a government ministry, our neighbours on our street were a retired couple, a fireman, a sailor, a salesperson, a clerk, a soldier, and three police officers. On other streets, there were plumbers, soldiers, senior police officers, and other professionals. The trade unionist Carville Duncan lived on Willemstad Road, which was the road that Nevis Street turned off from.
A few nursery schools were opened in Festival City. The one our two daughters attended was “Bonnie’s Nursery” on Hummingbird Street (I’m unsure if that’s how the actual street sign is spelled; believe I saw Humming Bird.) If my recollection is correct, Hummingbird Street is the first cross street after turning left off Aubrey Barker Road onto Blue Mountain Drive to enter Festival City. Educationally, another significant service added to Festival City was a branch of the National Public Library, which was immediately on the right of Blue Mountain Drive after turning off Aubrey Barker Road. Thus, it was between Aubrey Barker Road and Hummingbird Street. While I cannot firmly say when the library was established in what looked like the administrative headquarters when Festival City was being constructed, it had to be in the early 70’s.
The Guyana Marketing Corporation opened an outlet at the corner of Blue Mountain Drive and Willemstad Road around 1974/1975. Surprisingly, the outlet disappeared after about three to four years. A few years later, a businessman known as ‘Tyrone’ to everyone opened a mini supermarket also at the intersection of Blue Mountain Drive and Willemstad Road, but opposite where the Guyana Marketing Corporation used to be. I don’t recall whether Tyrone had replaced a laundry that used to be where he had set his business. The laundry had been built by a Mr. Whyte/ White, a Dominican. He and his family lived there for about five/six years before they migrated to the US. (I knew two of the Whyte/White children a little.)
Carl Boyce, a very popular businessman, built a large home/beer garden/nightspot (Mid/late 70?) on the left of Blue Mountain Drive, not far from the library. A Dr. Austin had his home and part-time practice close to Carl Boyce’s place. Dr. Austin’s home contrasted noticeably with the predominantly wooden houses in Festival City; his was a large concrete two/three-storey building that remained unpainted for a while. There was another concrete house opposite the doctor’s house, though it wasn’t as large. The second concrete house belonged to a Mr. Thomas and his family, who were from a Caribbean Island.
Further on houses, as the years passed, several Festival City and North Ruimveldt residents enlarged their homes in one way or the other – raising them and adding a bottom flat (We did this.) or extending their original one-storey building. Many people (including us) also changed the original colour of their home. Though my wife and I had refurbished our home, thinking that we would return to where we began our life as husband and wife, we couldn’t leave our children and grandchildren in the US. Sadly, we sold our home last year, one year shy of the grand FIFTY!
NB: Although I’m supposing Festival City’s streets were named for artistes from different countries, some may not necessarily have lived on a street bearing their country’s name. For example, Blue Mountain Drive had only the building that housed the library for many years before Carl Boyce and others appeared. Thus, I’m not clear why the street was named Blue Mountain Drive, unless the Jamaican team lived in the building that subsequently became the library. I doubt that, though.
Although Blue Mountain Drive and Mittleholzer Street were the official respective entrance and exit into and out of Festival City, there was a ‘back’ entrance and exit that connected Tucville and Festival City/North Ruimveldt.
CARIFESTA 1972: A MEMORABLE MORNING SESSION
Ted Eric Matthews
July 22, 2022
The memory persists. On the second (top) floor of the Public Library, a sizeable group had gathered for a session of poetry reading which included the participation of the late Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Another stalwart of note, A.J. Seymour chaired the session.
As an introductory feature before the readings, we were introduced to a distinguished and austere looking brother who we were told represented the Njuka people from the upper reaches of the Suriname River. As I recall he had two or three goat skin drums of different sizes standing on the floor next to his chair.
After his introduction by A.J.Seymour the drummer briefly explained the purpose of each drum and then proceeded to demonstrate how each drum must be struck, and caressed, and touched in order to elicit the correct sound from within. He left the largest of the drum for last, perhaps deliberately. It was close to four feet tall and heavily decorated with colorfully rich carvings around the sides. He demonstrated and explained the many different ways the face of the instrument could be struck describing each method as a “ hand.” Each hand produced its own distinctive sound and, depending on the force applied, the drummer would be able to get the desired response from both the drum and his audience. The sounds of that drum filled and charged the air of the entire floor, and needless to say many of us participants were ourselves charged and transported to another place. When the Njuka brother finished his presentation the ovation was both loud and cognizant of the presence of a kind of spirit now resident in the place!
The chair then introduced Edward Kamau Brathwaite, who either by coincidence or design proceeded to read a poem which described the nature of the drum. He stressed the importance of the selection and nurturing of the special goat kid, it’s sacrificial slaughter and offering to the spirits of the ancestors the expert preparation of the skin, and the likewise selection of the hollowed wooden body and other parts of the drum. We were all caught up in the moment and by the theme of the drum! The visiting brother, not to be left out, began to touch his large drum softly fitting into the nuances and vivid imageries being painted by the poet. The poem and the drum travelled, and soared, and came back to earth together. They spoke and sang and danced in a unison that could only have existed at that time, in that place! It was a glorious moment for all!
At the end of the reading, the already electrified air literally shook and trembled! The audience loudly called and begged for more! The chair A.J. Seymour would have none of it! He declared the morning session ended! We were disappointed, but refreshed and satisfied! The memories live!