By Edith Oladele
I was born on the beautiful war-torn little island of Antigua on Queen Victoria’s birthday in 1941. A public holiday; the police band entertaining citizens at the ’pasture’ on East Street; my young parents were laughing and dancing as they shared out bowls of pepperpot when whoosh!! Mammy’s waters broke! First baby, she cried “Arthur look!” Daddy cried back “The baby coming; quick! quick! get in the bed!”
He hurried one street over to bring the midwife; by the time they returned my head was out, Nurse Cole caught me and held me up and Daddy said gleefully “Oh good, it’s a boy!”
Nurse Cole shot back “What’s wrong with you man, you can’t see it’s a girl?”
Mammy amidst all the excitement, she’d felt no labour pains: Daddy’s brother, fifteen year old Gershom, meanwhile, was in the yard listening to my first cries. The object of all this excitement and joy, from that moment on, never looked back!
My parents were Anglican and Methodist; Daddy carried the big silver cross at the head of the procession each Sunday; “Grannie,” my great-grandmother who raised my mother, was a fire-hot burning Wesleyan Holiness prayer warrior who taught us all by quoting scripture and Proverbs. Uncle Glen told me that she called the names of her ten children out loud every morning and called those of their children born and those unborn!
I have tender memories of my mom putting my hands together and teaching me “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child.” I was drawn to Jesus in those sweet moments; I was about three years old. I remember my aunts, Chris and Daisy, taking me to the Cathedral; I was too small to look over the rail, so I put my head through and looked down below. After that, I was constantly singing “Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, shall their true Messiah see.”
I didn’t always ‘see’ a connection between my faith and culture; in our daily lives, it was the way we lived; God was just naturally the centre of our lives. West Indian black people just loved and reverenced God, we honoured Him, it was our way of life. Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:34 – 36 influenced my dad to become a medical doctor to serve his impoverished fellow black people. I watched him live out that service daily. Mom made sure she “trained up her children in the way we should go;” it was church at 8.30 and Sunday School at 3.00pm every Sunday. At school, I would watch the sunbeams dancing on the roof and remember that “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for Him each day.” In school, I learned about loving others as I loved myself and wondered how Jesus would make me a ‘fisher of men’? It was in school as a teenager that tears came to my eyes as we sang “There was a green hill far away beyond the city wall, where my dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.”
It was the custom on Good Friday for children to be sent to see the movie “The Crucifixion.” I was horrified! That evening, walking home, the others behind me, Jesus appeared before me on the cross; I was awash in tears as I vowed in my little eight-year-old heart that I would never sin again to put Him on the cross. I became a new creature from that moment; I knew that my life had changed. I was happy. It was Grannie who’d told me about sin, the cross and salvation.
I discovered the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey early, but was also told that he was a ‘fraud.’ I became a more curious but silent follower. Through Tim Hector’s “Fan the Flame” newspaper, I learned about his philosophies and they resonated deep within me. I never liked the uniforms of the UNIA but understand the need for identity he tried to engender in the oppressed then.
Mr. Garvey has influenced my life and work to keep Africa in the forefront of my activities and work among our people to set them free. “Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad” his encouragement to slave descendants to return to Africa with our ‘knowledge, skills and resources to rebuild Africa’ remains a clarion call in my life to this day. I identified as an African at nine years old. I live as an African, I married African, I served God there as a missionary; it’s how I live and manifest my beliefs and culture. My mission in life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to see people free; Isaiah 61:1-4 is the mission the Lord has given me to do, and like Jesus, it is my meat…..what satisfies me …. is to do the will of my Father and to finish the work He has called me to do. I thoroughly enjoy this enriching mission.
As the church of the West Indies, the teachings of MM Garvey should be part of our theological studies so that our people can be taught the reality of our need to know our history and cultures and how to live it out in a confident reality of Emancipation. “A people without the knowledge of their history and culture is like a tree without roots.” Garvey’s words largely describe our people. The church needs to rediscover Garvey’s teachings; as a Christian and seeing his people’s suffering, his vision was to ‘set the people free’ by opening their eyes to their condition. It was his God-given vision. Marcus Garvey’s teachings brought good news to the poor, it lifted hearts damaged by slavery, it liberated captives and prisoners of ignorance and lies so that the joy of liberation might fill our African hearts. This is the mission of the church; it was Mr Garvey’s mission and it is my calling also. We the church must teach the people the truth. Thoughts and views expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer NewsCo, its management or staff.