The masquerading Bradfords

Resistance to slavery took diverse forms but historians point to the masquerade performance as one form.

The Bradford family will be remembered for its role in making the masquerade flouncing a living legend in Demerara. Bertis Bradford, the Head of the clan that moved to Wales with his wife Clementine Bradford called Beloved brought up several children who made their  input to the development of masquerade in the community.

At the time Bookers was extending its cane cultivation at Wales on the West Bank of Demerara. Bertie Bradford was thefirst child in the Bradford family. Bertie extended his talent not only in flouncing to the masquerade band at age eight but later became an outstanding athlete in several areas of sporting activities.

20140402nills1Bertis Bradford’s  first exposure to the masquerade band took place on the   Essequibo Coast  and drew inspiration from a brother-in-law  who first danced  to the band in such a rhythmic manner that he soon felt entertained and compelled  to take part in the entertainment.

The young Bertie Bradford, fleet-footed, soon became the pick of the crowd and soon his walking and gyrating to the sounds of the drum and flute music attracted the crowds  and their pennies, shilling and dollars were given as donations to the cause.

It was not unusual to see big men and women too standing in line and watching the young Bertie Bradford flouncing his way to the houses of senior staff while from a distance the bands play on, the flute sounded its anthem and wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year were exchanged.

Two years later Bertie stopped dancing but the Bradford family had just started to emerge in the world of masquerade. With his wife by his side, Bertis Bradford pressed on. Not only was she present with him at the dance, but she stood side by side with him in the sugar cane fields as he laboured among the  canes, cutting them, loading them  and sending them on their  way to the factory to be processed into sweet sugar.

The family before long led a group of masqueraders and purchased the necessary equipment to establish their own band. They named the band, Sea Devil.

At this stage more Bradfords joined the dancing family and the more successful  were Joseph, who played the  drum, while Michael, the smallest of the Bradfords played the flute. The last of the Bradford girls, Valda Bradford became the celebrated dancer. Not only was she adjudged the best dancer at a competition  by the National Cultural  Centre, but she was the pick of the three Bradfords selected to perform in Cuba at Carifesta. Valda was familiarly called Baby.

However, after some 30 years or so performing with the masquerade band, disaster struck the Bradford family. The father, Bertis suffered a stroke;  he later died of this illness. Grief stricken no doubt, Beloved also suffered a similar illness-soon she succumbed. They both died in their sixties after introducing the masquerade dance on West Demerara, and perhaps further afield.

 

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