EMPRESS MENNEN AWARDS
The beautiful women of Rastafari dressed in their regal finery at the colourful Empress Mennen Earthlight Banquet and Awards ceremony organised by the Rastafari Youth Initiative to celebrate the Earthday of Empress Mennen, wife of Emperor Haile Selassie I. As in previous years, the annual tribute honoured 13 Elder Rastafari Empresses whose work has been an inspiration to other women and to the movement, and several previous awardees were present, as well as leading Rastafari brethren representing all Mansions.
It was a rare, and beautiful occasion when the Rastafari nation in Jamaica celebrated some of its heroines and icons. Held at the Country Farmhouse, Kingston, the highlight of the evening was the presentation to Empress Adugo Onoura Ranglin, a cancer survivor whose presence at the event brought cheers and joy to the gathering.
The RYI is a 4 year old organization of Rastafari youths who have set out in new directions to do Rastafari works. In addition to having jobs or being tertiary students, they have established an organic farm, they organize annual youth camps and field trips, and have been instrumental in the formation of a Rastafari Business & Professional Association that provides a central business hub service to help start and maintain a variety of small businesses. The inter-mansion unity shown by the RYI membership is a welcome development by the 4th generation of Rastafari, and the group shows acceptance of its presence and livelihood in Jamaica, while maintaining the traditional focus on Africa as Motherland.
The RYI youths worked hard to organize the evening of excellence. Tables were set with red tablecloths and red-gold-and-green napkins and formally-dressed RYI members served the elegant gathering bowls of thick vegetable soup, platters of tofu in coconut sauce, rice-and-peas, and black bean stew, as well as a variety of fresh juices. The entire banquet was prepared from food grown by RYI members as well as from Country Farmhouse’s “NationTime” range of soya, grain and natural foods.
Among the evening’s celebrations were Nyabinghi drums and chanting, a ‘Reggae Opera’ performance of Nyabinghi hymns sung in classical style by Dominican opera singer Marie Claire, and a graceful dance by the Iritical Kush Dancers, 3 elegant young ladies whose movements seemed inspired by the work of former NDTC dancer Patsy Ricketts who was one of the Elder Empresses being honoured. Other well-known Empresses receiving Awards were: “Dawta Bubbles” (Lucena Williams-Heartley) now resident in the USA; Mama Baby I (Iris Dailey); Boboshanti Empress Esther; and Twelve Tribes of Israel Empress Miriam.
The evening’s programme was hosted by RYI Executive members Ishiwaawa Hope (Mutabaruka’s eldest daughter), TV personality Emprezz Mullings (“Talk Up Youth”) and music producer IyaGift Wilson. Among the well-known personalities present were film and TV actor Carl Davis, Jamaica Alliance Movement political candidate Ras Astor Black, Ras Howie of the Millenium Council, and Ras IyaV of the Nyabinghi Order, while I had the privelege and honour of being the event’s Guest Speaker.
A special mention must be made of the many RYI children present who skipped around and through the gathering, generally enjoying themselves, yet so well-behaved that none gave any reason to be reined in or reprimanded by their watchful, smiling parents. The beautiful evening closed with musical selections providing a backdrop to the many conversations still being exchanged by friends and friends.
The Colourful Life of a Theatre Director: by Yvonne Brewster
Yvonne Brewster went from directing plays in Jamaica to being awarded the OBE by Queen Elizabeth II for her work in founding and leading Britain’s Black Theatre movement. She tells her story in this book through the words and memories of her mother Kathleen’s life as the daughter of Jamaica’s leading undertaker, the Jewish Sam Isaacs, and his East Indian wife, Yvonne’s grandparents.
Born into a family that was light-brown and priveleged, Yvonne grew up in a home where European classics and Shakespeare were forms of family entertainment and her lifestyle of maids, chauffeurs and enough money gave her access to Jamaica’s opportunities of race and class. When she decided to go to live in England and develop her theatrical talents, she found her encounters with racism unexpected and challenging. However, the self-confidence inculcated in her upbringing led her to challenge racism, most spectacularly in her unceasing efforts to show that Black actors and playwrights were are talented as any. She did this by staging several theatrical triumphs of classical as well as Caribbean plays that broke down racial barriers onstage and backstage, and embellished the careers of many Caribbean actors in Britain.
No less were her achievements back home in Jamaica, to which she returned periodically in efforts to re-settle with her English husband. The book is full of annecdotes of funny and dramatic experiences while appointed to high positions in the Jamaican cultural fields. Yvonne knew all the top political and social players and became best known for the establishment of the trend-setting Barn Theatre in collaboration with noted playright Trevor Rhone, that staged numerous sold-out performances of the growing indigenous theatre.
The musings of her mother Kathleen that form the template of the book, show a wider picture of Creole Jamaica in the 19th and 20th Centuries, its manners, mores and modes of life in a world of privelege and genteel existence, of shady verandahs and family dinners. Told with humour and love, the story of the ‘Undertakers Daughter’ and her daughter is a captivating memoir worth reading.
THE SPOKEN WORD RETURNS
The pleasure of hearing the spoken word in performance returned to Kingston’s nightlife calendar two Sunday nights ago, when The Village Cafe in Barbican presented the first of every-three-weeks ‘Seh Supmn’ poetry readings that drew a sizeable and appreciative crowd. Guest poet, cultural historian Jerry Small, was the main draw, and Takura of Rawyal Afrikan Souljahs livened up the night with his strong rant, but presentations from the ladies present – including TV news journalist Khalila Henriques gained welcome applause, while Kai Wakeling brought a musical interlude accompanying herself on guitar. Forgive my lack of details, as I lost my notes, but I promise more details as the series continues.