DID SIR DEREK WEEP FOR ST. LU­CIA?

IN­DE­PEN­DENCE IN­VESTI­TURE AWARDS

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE -

Among us lives a tal­ent so im­mea­sur­ably colos­sal as to be listed among the world’s great­est writ­ers in the English lan­guage, go­ing back to Shake­speare. When he was only eigh­teen it had al­ready been clear to those who mat­tered that in him resided ge­nius. As if in con­fir­ma­tion of their faith he would be show­ered with ac­co­lades wher­ever lit­er­a­ture was ap­pre­ci­ated: Obie Award for Best For­eign Play; Guggenheim Fel­low­ship for Cre­ative Arts; Com­mon­wealth Award of Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice; MacArthur Fel­low­ship; Ains­field-Wolf Book Award; T. S. Eliot prize; the list seems end­less.

Sadly, his own fel­low coun­try­men seemed de­ter­mined never to honor the prophet in the land that gave him birth. We were last to cel­e­brate his spe­cial­ness when in 1992 the John Comp­ton govern­ment re­named Colum­bus Square for the year’s win­ner of the No­bel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture.

Just be­fore I sat down to write this piece for last week’s STAR (then de­cided to post­pone pub­li­ca­tion) cu­rios­ity had led me to Google his name. This was the first en­try that con­fronted me: “Sir Derek Al­ton Wal­cott, KCSL, OBE, OCC. Born 23 Jan­uary 1930, he is a Saint Lu­cian-Trinida­dian poet and play­wright.”

His stated dou­ble­na­tion­al­ity re­minded me of a visit sev­eral years ago to a renowned Port-of-Spain restau­rant where the pro­pri­etor proudly in­tro­duced me to—but would not per­mit me to sit at—“Derek Wal­cott’s ta­ble.”

As for the above three listed awards, two were al­to­gether new to me. So I turned to my more trusted sources of se­cret in­for­ma­tion, to no avail. They of­fered noth­ing that made sense. With few other re­li­able sources at my ser­vice, I re­vis­ited Google and en­tered KCSL. Sev­eral pos­si­bil­i­ties ap­peared be­fore me, among them: Known Con­tam­i­nated Sites List; Kake Com­mu­nity School Li­brary; Key­wood Com­puter Ser­vices Lim­ited. Most as­tound­ing was Korean Con­flict State Level!

Then I typed in What is OCC? Wikipedia served up sev­eral re­sponses in­clud­ing Out of Char­ac­ter Chat; Orig­i­nal Char­ac­ter Cre­ation; Old Cor­ru­gated Card­board. I con­sid­ered most of them but with all the imag­i­na­tion I could muster could not rea­son­ably as­so­ciate any of the sug­gested ap­pel­la­tions to Derek Wal­cott. While even his best friends would agree sugar and spice had never been in his DNA, to sug­gest a re­la­tion­ship be­tween “cor­ru­gated card­board” and the au­thor of Omeros and The Mon­goose seemed a stretch. Other searches de­liv­ered Onondaga Cy­cling Club; Ox­ford Com­mu­nity Church; Out­rage Con­trol Cen­ter.

I per­sisted. Ur­ban­dic­tionary.com ef­fec­tively shoved me up against a mutharockin’ wall. I mean, Ob­ses­sive Com­pul­sive Cock dis­or­der? Se­ri­ously? Derek Wal­cott?

The scales fell from my eyes af­ter I had What­sapped an MP friend (ok, an MP ac­quain­tance!) who as­sured me OCC stood for Or­der of the CARI­COM Com­mu­nity. Since its in­tro­duc­tion in 1992, the award had been con­ferred on seven­teen “Caribbean cit­i­zens of whom the en­tire re­gion is proud.” Listed among the Mag­nif­i­cent Seven­teen: Wil­liam De­mas, Dame Nita Bar­row, Jus­tice Telford Ge­orges, Sir John Comp­ton (all de­parted) the Mighty Spar­row and Sir Shri­dath Ram­phal.

As for KCSL, it turns out to be short for Knight Com­man­der of Saint Lu­cia. You know, as in KCMG that stands for Knight Com­man­der of Saint Michael and Saint Ge­orge, by re­li­able ac­count “an or­der of chivalry” that goes back to “28 April 1881, started by Ge­orge, Prince Re­gent, who be­came King Ge­orge IV of the United King­dom.”

So what’s with “cor­ru­gated card­board” and “cock dis­or­der?” My MP in­for­mant seemed con­vinced that in time the Kenny D Awards will be as re­spected uni­ver­sally as are the KCMG and the OBE—the first cen­turies old, the other in­tro­duced in 1917.

At this point, dear reader, per­mit me a small di­gres­sion trig­gered by my ear­lier ref­er­ence to Wil­liam De­mas. The Guyane­se­born econ­o­mist had been in­vited by the lo­cal OECS sec­re­tar­iat, then headed by Dr. Vaughan Lewis, to ad­dress an in­vited au­di­ence at Point Seraphine on the then hot topic of OECS unity, per­ceived with sus­pi­cion by a large sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion not sup­port­ive of the Comp­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Near the evening’s end, that is to say, at ques­tion time, I took the op­por­tu­nity to ask Mr. De­mas why he had never graced op­po­si­tion ini­tia­tives with his cher­ished pres­ence. Was it be­cause only opin­ions that pro­ceeded from the mouths of in­cum­bent MPs were wor­thy of his at­ten­tion? The vis­i­tor left it to his largely UWP au­di­ence to re­spond with wall-to-wall jeers.

The next ques­tion came from Ava Noel, a bril­liant young woman who just hap­pened to be the lat­est re­cip­i­ent of the Is­land Schol­ar­ship. Ava wanted to know “what do young peo­ple have to look for­ward to from the OECS Unity Ini­tia­tive?”

Again there were grunts and growls from the UWP Amen Cor­ner. But this time the gen­tle­man in De­mas had his own re­sponse: “How can some­one so young be so cyn­i­cal?” The au­di­ence re­ac­tion rat­tled the walls.

Ava’s part­ing shot blew a hole in the econ­o­mist’s ego large enough to ren­der him mute: “Was that your fi­nal an­swer to my ques­tion?”

I bumped into Vaughan Lewis as we ex­ited the venue. He had

served as the event’s MC. “Rick,” he chuck­led, “you’re a pretty in­tel­li­gent guy. Pity you left school too early.” He did not have to say he was re­fer­ring to my fa­mous ex­pul­sion from St. Mary’s Col­lege where he and I had been class­mates. Yes, touché. Not many years later, when Lewis had abruptly meta­mor­phosed into a politi­cian cam­paign­ing for the then UWP-con­trolled Cas­tries Cen­tral con­stituency on his way to ac­cept­ing John Comp­ton’s booby-trapped prime min­is­ter’s chair, we locked horns a se­cond time.

I said: “Re­mem­ber how you once said I quit school too early?”

And he said: “Yeah, who knows how far you might’ve gone with a bit more education?”

And I said: “I may have left school too early. But you’ve never left!”

News that Wal­cott would be the first re­cip­i­ent of the Kenny An­thony knight­hood (with the Queen’s per­mis­sion) left me in a quandary. Should I laugh? Should I cry? Should I shrug it all off as more proof that the more things change the more they re­main the same?

I re­called Wal­cott had been of­fered the real McCoy when Comp­ton still held of­fice and that he had re­fused, on the grounds that knight­hoods were too closely linked to colo­nial­ism. Or so runs the story. Now that Kenny An­thony was li­censed by royal war­rant to man­u­fac­ture awards for his par­tic­u­lar pur­poses, well, who best to re­ceive the first off the as­sem­bly line than our only liv­ing No­bel Lau­re­ate?

But just as I was get­ting over the irony inherent in Wal­cott’s ac­cep­tance (what might’ve been the re­ac­tion had he said thanks but no thanks?) from out of nowhere an­other slapped me in the face like bird drop­pings from the sky: Kenny D would on 28 Fe­bru­ary be­stow not just one knight­hood, not two, but three: one to the for­mer school prin­ci­pal and om­budswoman known to nearly ev­ery­one over fifty as Ms. Lau­rent, and the third to the for­mer prime min­is­ter Vaughan Lewis. By of­fi­cial ac­count Lawrence Martha Priscilla Lau­rent had “ded­i­cated the whole of her work­ing life in ser­vice to her coun­try as ed­u­ca­tor, cul­tural en­thu­si­ast, par­lia­men­tar­ian, om­buds­man and in­ter­na­tional pub­lic ser­vant” there­fore was de­serv­ing of a made-in-Saint Lu­cia knight­hood.

The rea­sons for hon­or­ing Wal­cott are as nu­mer­ous as they are ob­vi­ous. To cite the gov­er­nor gen­eral: “His con­tri­bu­tion to the arts and lit­er­a­ture has been so very well doc­u­mented that one would be hard-pressed to find any­one in the Western world who has not heard about this child prodigy . . .” It is his ac­cep­tance of a lo­cal politi­cian’s copy­cat award with­out his­tory that will start con­ver­sa­tions till the end of time.

On the other hand many will won­der about the Lewis tro­phy. Surely there is noth­ing spe­cial about his aca­demic life that mer­its more than his doc­tor­ate; cer­tainly noth­ing so spe­cial as to merit recog­ni­tion sim­i­lar to that given Derek Wal­cott. As for his al­leged con­tri­bu­tions to the OECS Unity Ini­tia­tive, no need to re­call the de­tails; we have only to re­visit the re­cent case in­volv­ing the Ja­maican Shanique Myrie and the Bar­ba­dos govern­ment to de­ter­mine af­ter some thirty years how far the pro­ject has come.

In­deed, some less kind than I might go so far as to say the Lewis award was al­to­gether un­mer­ited. And who would blame them, hav­ing read the fol­low­ing, taken from At the Rain­bow’s Edge?”

“They [the UWP] are ashamed to ad­mit Sarah [Flood-Beaubrun] beat Vaughan Lewis be­cause she was the bet­ter [elec­tion] can­di­date. They refuse to ad­mit that in his one year as prime min­is­ter Vaughan Lewis proved to be St. Lu­cia’s big­gest Comp­ton-made disas­ter. To this day no one can iden­tify a sin­gle ini­tia­tive in­spired by Vaughan Lewis. Our ap­proach to the man­age­ment of this coun­try is so dif­fer­ent from that of Vaughan Lewis that I doubt whether he even un­der­stands what we are do­ing. He did not know in 1996, does not know it now, and he will never know.”

More­over: “What is per­haps worse is that St. Lu­cia’s rep­u­ta­tion in the world was be­ing dragged down along with Vaughan Lewis’ rep­u­ta­tion. It is one thing to be like him, a laugh­ing­stock in your own coun­try, but when you are the prime min­is­ter and you are ridiculed abroad as well, then you can­not take the whole na­tion down with you.”

And this: “The UWP has tried to con­vince us that their party has changed. They have pro­moted Vaughan Lewis as the change. Time and the ex­pe­ri­ence of this has [sic] shown that the UWP has in­deed changed since the ad­vent of Vaughan Lewis but it is clearly a change for the worse. Never be­fore have we seen such vin­dic­tive­ness, such nar­row­mind­ed­ness, such pedi­greed ar­ro­gance, mau­vais langue and mep­wis in an elec­tion cam­paign. Many had hoped that the en­try of Vaughan Lewis into the political arena would have sig­naled a higher level of pub­lic moral­ity and a higher tenor of political discourse and de­bate. There were some who thought that he would have at­tempted to clean the rot, cut the pa­tron­age and ex­cise cor­rup­tion. In­stead of ris­ing to his his­toric op­por­tu­nity, Vaughan Lewis sank to the low­est com­mon moral and in­tel­lec­tual de­nom­i­na­tor. Even Sir John Comp­ton in his worst mo­ments has never sunk so low.”

As ear­lier noted, the quoted para­graphs are from the pages of the widely dis­trib­uted At the Rain­bow’s Edge— also for­ever ac­ces­si­ble on the In­ter­net. The doubt­less proud au­thor was also the cre­ator of the KCSL. By all ac­counts he per­son­ally de­ter­mined who should be the first re­cip­i­ents of his award, not the nom­i­na­tions com­mit­tee.

Fol­low­ing last Sun­day’s in­vesti­ture at Govern­ment House what oc­cu­pied the minds of sev­eral mem­bers of the spe­cially in­vited au­di­ence was Wal­cott’s de­meanor as Dame Pear­lette Louisy’s sword gen­tly touched his shoul­ders.

The rest of us, who had to be con­tent with tele­vised clips of the cer­e­mony, are free to spec­u­late about why through­out his dub­bing Sir Derek wept!

Dr. and re­cently de­clared Sir Vaughan Lewis: Cer­tainly in his most pe­cu­liar case the eyes have it!

House Speaker and Se­nate Pres­i­dent (l-r) Peter Foster and Claudius Fran­cis at the in­vesti­ture;

St. Lu­cia’s twin tow­ers of power?

Sir Derek Al­ton Wal­cott: Would it have made more sense to have cre­ated a unique Wal­cott tro­phy, the first handed by the

great man to a wor­thy re­cip­i­ent?

Taj Weekes: Hu­man­i­tar­ian, en­ter­tainer and writer—and now re­cip­i­ent of The Saint Lu­cia

Les Pi­tons Medal (Gold).

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