Exploring Caribbean History through the Barbardos Ephemera Collection
The Barbados Ephemera Collection is important not only for Barbadian history, but for Caribbean history as well. The collection contains several materials from or about other Caribbean countries. Even items that are seemingly specifically from or about Barbados allow us to explore themes that are common denominators in all Caribbean countries: civil rights struggles, women’s rights, workers’ and other social movements, identity formation, political aspirations and realities, and most importantly the tension between a postcolonial reality with colonial legacies.
A booklet issued for the first conference of the Commonwealth Caribbean Countries in 1963 contains images and detailed information of various development projects in Trinidad and Tobago. The booklet of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica has detailed information about the repertoire and performers for the 1965 season of dance by the Company at the Little Theatre in Kingston. It also contains the bios and numerous photos of the dancers in multiple performances, as well as yearly recaps of the company's repertoire (for 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965). The booklet of the play The Ruler by the People’s Action Theatre of Dominica contains information about the program and cast of the adaptation of G.C.H. Thomas' novel "Ruler in Hiroona," directed by Alwin Bully, presented during a tour of the theatre company in Barbados and St. Vincent in 1976.
Other materials of interest in the collection are those that reveal regional ties through athletic competitions, artistic performances, or political events. The official program of the 1st Caribbean Rugby Championship held in Barbados in 1966 contains information and the schedule for the “First Quadrangular Rugby Tournament” with teams from Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica. The booklet contains a brief history of rugby football in Barbados, photos and bios of members of each team, numerous advertisements, and "Rugby for Spectators," an essay that explains the rules of the game. The booklet for the Federal Pageant in Honour of the Opening of the First Federal Parliament of the West Indies in April 1958 by Princess Margaret contains memories of the short-lived West Indies Federation (1958-1962). The booklet for the plays Dream on Monkey Mountain (by Derek Walcott) and Belle Fanto (by E. M. Roach) contains information about the program presented by the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1971 in a tour to Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, Grenada and St. Vincent.
The program for the musical Bimshire!, performed by the Barbados Festival Choir in the late 1960s, described as "an original folk musical" with musical selections from Irvine Burgie's "Ballad for Bimshire,” reflects the increasing national consciousness and pride in one’s folk culture. The booklet for the Opening of the New John Beckles Day Care Centre by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977, contains an extensive biography of John Beresford Beckles (1873-1958), who worked tirelessly for children's welfare & poverty relief, and offers a sweeping view of Barbados' socioeconomic situation and developments in the first crucial decades of the 20th century. In fact, items like these, as well as numerous materials relating to the British royal family and visits to the island by Queen Elizabeth and other royals throughout the decades are tangible proofs of the persistency of colonial legacies, despite the transition from colonial worldviews to pride in one’s own culture. A sub-collection of death announcements and booklets for funerals reveals patterns of mourning, and human stories, and provides a wealth of information for genealogical research.
Issues of race and social activism are amply represented among the materials. Reading material against the grain helps us see central themes behind seemingly mundane items. The brochure for a series of symposia entitled "Dialogue: Is There a Future for Black Business?" that took place in 1979 and was organized by the non-profit Yoruba and the Extra-Mural Department of the University of West Indies, reflects the rise of the Black power movement in the Caribbean. The booklet with the program for a memorial meeting in honor of Walter Rodney, organized by the Friends of Guyana Human Rights Association (FGHRA), established in Barbados in June 1980 after the assassination of Guyanese historian and political activist Dr. Walter Rodney, reveals the solidarity among nations in the region based on issues such as racism, imperialism, capitalism, and social activism by the disenfranchised (black) majority in the post-independence Caribbean. Other materials offer a window into the vibrant life of West Indian diaspora communities in the U.S., Canada, or the UK. The souvenir booklet for the Federation Anniversary Ball sponsored by the Gayap Organization of Trinidad and Tobago that took place in New York City in April 1959, contains, among others, numerous advertisements of West Indian businesses and business owners in 1950s New York. Guest of honor at the event was Hulan Jack, Borough President of Manhattan, "distinguished American of West Indian birth."