By now you may have noticed that I am a dialect man. I’m not sure when that emerged, but it could well have been at university in Canada where, in a linguistics class, the value of our dialect first hit home. Previous to that I had been told at school it was evidence of our ignorance; living outside I learned otherwise. At any rate, as we say, it deh wid me. In particular, as I sometimes mention in my shows, I have come to notice how concise the dialect is so that something complex in Standard English can be reduced to one or two words in the dialect – “voomps”, for instance, or “briga”.
Of course, Standard English is also full of those compressions. Just recently, for instance, it struck me that we have in Guyana, in the midst of all our woopwhap, examples of qualities captured in the Standard English word “progenitor”, one of those five-dollar constructions, this one of course meaning a person or thing that first indicates a direction, originates something, or serves as a model. The term for that in Barbados is “a proper” chap; the Trinis say “a hero”. And when you look around our society, while we rightfully complain about this or that, we should be giving thanks for our progenitors. There are many public ones, but I know from my own experience that each of us has such persons in our private sphere. In my case, my mother (I mentioned her previously) and my father, Joseph Francis Martins who came here as a child from Madeira, worked in the interior for a while, and later had a farm in the Pomeroon where he was a bit of a leader, playing a key role in starting the Government Depot project in Georgetown selling Pomeroon produce, and the formation of a school near to Charity named Martindale – he had donated the land for the school.
Growing up as a youngster in West Demerara, there were other pivotal people on my lens at a distance, one of them being David Rose, later a Sir, and of course Cheddi and Forbes. Fresh out of Saints, there was another in my first job (B.G. Airways at Atkinson Field) in Art Williams. He was the first foreigner I had extensive contact with (remember I was basically a sheltered country boy) and he was a unique person; grumpy as hell at times, mind you, but certainly unique. He was the first stranger in whom I noticed this mania for “doing things the right way” in the operation of the airline, and this aspect of certain highly developed skills. Although leery of flying on instruments when weather closed in (he would turn to chain smoking) Art Williams had an astonishing visual map of the country in his head. Coming back once from the South Savannah, I heard him tell the co-pilot as we approached Atkinson: “You see that house down there on the ground? By the wing position as we passed over that I know we’re about two degrees off for the airport.” The co-pilot smiled and said nothing, but when I later told him how ridiculous that was, he said, “Actually, you know what? He was right.” Progenitor. Similarly, around the same time, I remember various actions by Cheddi (he was big on the West Coast) and later Forbes, that were in the category of “originator” or “precursor” (much later, the same for Walter Rodney), and overseas, persons such as David Rose and the orchestra conductor Rudolf Dunbar operating in England.
Living in Canada, but returning to the Caribbean regularly from 1968 with Tradewinds, other examples came my way. In Barbados, it was radio guru Vic Fernandes (he became the band’s rep there) who was in that same mould of a person doing highly professional work while also being a stalwart citizen in his private life. Integrity rated high with Vic – my kind of guy. In St Lucia, the late Bobby Clarke, was a similarly solid person – we became close friends; birds of a feather. In Guyana, coming now to a Georgetown I had never really known, I got to know George Jardim (the musical connection working) who was also developing a very successful engineering business on the East Coast; another one of those in the progenitor mould. The late Freddie Abdool was another; also a local Tradewinds rep, Freddie was pioneering his own insurance business and prominent in Rotary. He was a joy to work with and, again, friendship blossomed and never faded.
There were many others. Later on, Joe Singh, with his army background, when I got to know him, as head of GT&T. Joe had that iron-core quality about him (Desmond Hoyte, the same way) that never wavered in the years that followed and is still with him today. Away from Guyana, as well, I would see the originator in persons such as Ormond Panton, a politician/lawyer in Grand Cayman, and in that same island, Guyanese theatre expert Henry Muttoo, doing singular work in Cayman despite being labelled “foreigner” by some. (The two of us became referred to affectionately there as “the Guyanese Mafia”.) More recently, living in Guyana again, I have come to recognise the progenitor in my neighbour businessman pal Dennis Dias (one of those ‘gets things done’ people, never wavering) and, for similar qualities, Ian McDonald, well known as a writer; I know him as a creator and a solid friend. Also, while I don’t know him personally, I see that same probing quality in the writings of Freddie Kissoon – a precursor, if you will. Another one is well-known sports specialist and broadcaster Reds Perreira (actually, family, as Reds’ mother is a daughter from my father’s first marriage) who is a combination of friend and sounding board. Reds is an example of folks you’re glad you know.
We all have such people in our lives – often we don’t recognize the gradual influence they’re having on us at the time, and because the process is usually a piece here a piece there, drip-drip, over an extended period, not a single occurrence, it takes time for the realization to jell, but they have this inherent quality that ultimately has to do with fortifying you on your path. What is the dialect word for that? Gribba, perhaps? You see what I mean about compression? One word conveying volumes.