Morant Bay double from Hutton
Salt fish was involved in the progression of events culminating at Morant Bay, St Thomas, in October 1865, and 100 years later, salt fish was critical to a very young Clinton Hutton in Jericho, Hanover, becoming fascinated with that period in Jamaica's history.
Last Wednesday evening at the Regional Headquarters of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Hutton did a Morant Bay double in the period when the 150th anniversary of the conflict is being observed. His book, Colour for Colour, Skin for Skin: Marching with the Ancestral Spirits into War Oh at Morant Bay (published by Ian Randle Publishers), was formally presented to the public. An exhibition of his paintings and photographs with the same title was also opened.
Speaking to a full to overflowing house near the end of a programme hosted by Professor Hopeton Dunn, Hutton explained that Morant Bay came into his consciousness in 1965, when he was 11 years old.
"The Gleaner put out a supplement on the 100th anniversary of Morant Bay," he said. "I got the supplement by way of my mother sending me to the shop to purchase salt fish."
In one of the enduring uses of old newspaper, the supplement was used to wrap the salt fish. Hutton, who was always happy to be sent to the shop so that he could get his hands on the newspapers that came with the purchase, read the supplement, which included some "powerful" work by Carl Abrahams.
Having read about Morant Bay, Hutton said, "These things never left my head."
Eventually, he did his PhD thesis on the events surrounding the Morant Bay Uprising in 1865.
It was an evening of longstanding connections as Professor Rupert Lewis, who, along with Professor Verene Shepherd, supervised Hutton for that doctoral process, officially launched Colour for Colour, Skin for Skin. Salt fish was among the pressure points that led to discontent among the black populace which did not have ownership of land.
Starting his address with War Oh song, with some members of the audience joining in, Lewis outlined a social context in which economic factors contributed significantly to the social pressure which led to Morant Bay in 1865. As profits from sugar declined, the planter class squeezed more income out of a landless population, much of which, only 30 years before, had been enslaved.
Among the measures taken was an increase in taxes on salt fish. It was not the only thing that rose. So did incarceration, murder and prostitution. While there was discontent islandwide, it was especially intense in St Thomas. It culminated in the October 11, 1865 march on Morant Bay Courthouse, which then "resulted in a reign of terror".
There was laughter and Hutton stroked his white beard when his other supervisor, Professor Shepherd, playfully referred to him as a young man. Making a connection between Colour for Colour, Skin for Skin and Peter Tosh's Equal Rights, Shepherd noted Hutton's consistency.
"He was not surrendered his compassion, his advocacy for rights and justice, no matter the consequences," Shepherd said.
In her capacity as chair of the National Commission on Reparation, Shepherd linked Morant Bay in 1865 and the insistence on reparations for slavery.
"No one can stop this movement," Shepherd said. "The war continues in persistent forms because Bogle and his people knew the consequences of advocacy."
TURNING TO ART
The evening had begun with music from the Seaforth Kumina Group, and in one section of the hall-turned-exhibition space, a near-replica of the Revival table that is the cover image of Colour for Colour, Skin
for Skin was set up (the difference being that the red candles were not lit).
Herbie Miller, director/
curator of the Jamaica Music Museum, spoke about Hutton's art, noting the consistent theme of freedom in his academic, social and artistic lives. He noted Hutton's engagement with Morant Bay in 1865, "one of the most perplexing events in our history".
Hutton's "dense and textured works engage our visual senses", Miller said, adding that Hutton paints to music from a number of sources (including Burning Spear and jazz), and what he hears is reflected in the paintings.
The work is done with "diligent scholarly intelligence", Miller said, expressing the hope that the collection being exhibited can be kept together.
There was an invocation by Padrino Andres Ramirez Machin, priest, Malongo (Kongolese Order) and Lukumi (Yoruba Order). Dr Maziki Thame, research fellow in the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies, introduced Lewis.
Christine Randle, of Ian Randle Publishers, noted that the company will celebrate 25 years in January 2016, naming a number of academics, from the UWI, whose books have been published by the company.