In 2013 the Cultural Development Department of the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) conceptualised and launched the Oral History Programme in an effort to develop a research bank containing the treasured memories of older Barbadians both at home and in the diaspora. Two (2) years later the NCF’s Oral History Programme has already overseen three (3) Oral History projects and is making preparations to extend its work to include themes of Independence as the island’s 50th anniversary of Independence draws nearer.
The Oral History Programme is spearheaded by the NCF’s Cultural Officer for Research & Documentation, Ms. Michelle Springer. In shedding some light on the scope of the programme she noted that the practice of oral history continues in the vein of our island’s rich oral tradition of speechifying, service-of-songs, sol fahs, tea-meetings, calypso innuendos, folk songs, spoken word and of course story-telling.
The information collected through these projects is mainly qualitative and gives insight to the personal experiences of our people. The NCF’s Oral History Programme has successfully documented the oral testimonies of about 170 persons through the Cultural Treasures Series, the Crop Over Oral History and the Mirror Image Projects. Though these projects all focused on recording oral history, they also varied significantly in their objectives and results, and each defining aspect was clearly noted.
The Cultural Treasures Series is a sequence of in-depth interviews conducted with national cultural icons who made significant contributions to the creative arts landscape and cultural philosophy locally and internationally. Barbadian critic, writer, thinker, and essayist George Lamming was interviewed during the period of the 60th anniversary of his novel In the Castle of My Skin, a novel which is described as one of the most important texts in the canon of Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Lamming was therefore an essential artist to be interviewed to gain access to the memories of one of our literary greats but also to gain access to the trove of memories he gained throughout the period of his life. The Cultural Treasures Series also featured the calypsonian, folk singer, Pan-Africanist and cultural activist Anthony “Gabby” Carter. The prolific song writer was chosen particularly because of his participation in the regenerated Crop Over Festival where he would have helped to contribute to the national soundscape over the years.
The Crop Over Oral History Project was launched in 2013 for an initial 2 year period with an objective of obtaining the memories and reflections of those who would have experienced the crop over festival over the years. The project took place during the festival’s 40th anniversary celebrations and was effective in capturing the memories of those who took part in the early years after its 1974 revitalization as well as those who would have experienced the plantation centred crop over celebrations prior to 1974. In total, almost 100 persons participated in the project.
The “Mirror Image” Oral History Project features various aspects of intangible Barbadian heritage focusing on traditional labour, recreation, and health & wellness, among other things. General interviews were conducted with a sample of our elderly population through collaborations with many of our organisations and homes for the elderly. Some of the themes which emerged include: grammar school culture in the 1940s; traditions of joinery; Spiritual Baptists; obeah; 1930s Riots; plantation elite culture; Jaycees Carnival; Barbados Landship; Wooden carousel; and the early telecommunications industry.
Additionally, the Mirror Image Oral History Project is currently conducting interviews around themes of independence, protest and resistance in the cultural domain throughout the early to mid-decades of the twentieth century, leading up to and continuing throughout the nationalist periods 1960s to 1980s. Those interviews revolve around cultural forms such as the tuk-band, service-of-songs, tea-meetings, singings, speechifying, sol-fahs, stick-licking and the Landship. It also includes topics such as Crop Over Festival, the social cultural of rum, superstitions, obeah, folk beliefs, myths, religion and spirituality, among others. This aspect of the project is scheduled to conclude in November 2016 in time for the 50th Anniversary of Independence.
The work of the NCF’s Oral History Programme is not only documented in the archives of the NCF but is also fully accessible to the public through the NCF’s Research & Documentation desk. The National Cultural Foundation also features some of the interview content on its YouTube Channel – NCF Barbados. Through partnerships with the Media Resource Department, the Government Information Service; Shango Films; A.G.E. Film & Video Productions and the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, the interviews will also be used to inform various documentaries.