A nation’s struggle for identity
Book: From Guard House to the Glass House - One Man’s Journey through the Maze of Caymanian Politics
Author: J.A. Roy Bodden
Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD
J.A. Roy Bodden’s From Guard House to the Glass House is an explosive autobiographical work that maps a journey fraught with political peril. Bodden’s fight for a Caymanian identity is seeded in his formative years and underscores the exhaustive problems facing nations bedevilled by the ghosts of colonialism. Bodden writes with a palpable sense of exigency, destined, it seems, to right historical wrongs. “I, a black man with an education and the ability to think, was anathema to what they (the oligarchs) stood for – the continuing monopoly of Caymanian society.”
He recounts the sins of politics, in particular, nepotism and corruption, and explains Acton’s ‘power corrupts’ dictum, emphasising the importance of “cultivating [a] moral compass, especially in times of critical decision making”.
At the outset he sets the tone, recalling an encounter with a stranger that spoke words of enticement: “I have come to tell you that now you are an elected member of the Legislative Assembly, there are those who believe that you should be working for yourself.” Bodden held his ground.
He later decries the hubris of the elite captured in the words of one ruling-class figure: “There are no politicians out there who have the ability to run this country. If they cannot help themselves, they cannot help others ... none of them have any experience in government.”
He charges that irreparable injustice is being committed against his countryman, especially the youth, “many of whom seem lost in a Dickensian world of drugs, violence and nihilism,” and sounds the alarm on an economic climate that disempowers the common folk.
Unapologetically, Bodden raises the spectre of race, a subject many prefer to ignore. He argues, “I will once again be the subject of opprobrium for once more violating the hypocritical norms of Caymanian society by mentioning a matter which, to use the expression, should remain kinjite.”
In Canada, where he furthered his studies, he was reminded of the malaise that is racism. “It’s a white man’s world,” he pens, but never buckled under the weight of discrimination, his pride and self-worth ever secured. “Economics,” he notes, “was a far more practical and pressing issue.”
The Cayman Islands, according to Bodden, faces greater challenges than most post-colonial societies because of “toxic expatriacy characterized by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS), whose origin from the metropole afforded them privilege over ‘the natives’ – or so they thought.”
Not unexpectedly, his outlook is far from optimistic. “The near-white, or ‘paw-paw skinned’ politicians,” he says, “act as if they have a divine mandate to lead, while on occasion, the darker-skinned representatives, though sometimes more educated and better equipped to lead, are relegated to backbench followers.”
Raised in humble climate
Bodden was raised in a humble and at times domestically chaotic climate. He describes his mother in hagiographic terms, detailing her unwavering faith, strength, and wisdom. She anchored young Bodden. He began to see the world through her lens, a world that was far more nuanced and unforgiving than imagined. She openly addressed race, power. and Pan Africanism, and arguably sowed the seeds of Bodden’s political philosophy.
In a society unprepared to face the social and political implications of its past, Bodden’s upbringing was uniquely radical.
Like his mother, Bodden weathered episodes of domestic chaos and emerged stoic and loyal to his ambitions. We are moved by his filial piety.
His relations with his father were far more complicated, even poisonous at time. He recounts the woefulness of his father’s battle with alcoholism and a terrified household seeking refuge with his paternal grandparents.
On some level, Bodden’s reflections transcend the brutality of politics. It is a human-interest story, at times delicate, sentimental, and reverent.
A voracious reader, Bodden was glued to the seminal writings of the region’s best minds. He recalls his many literary influences: Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin White Mask and Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized.
He emerged, confronting the political Zeitgeist of post-colonial societies, determined to overhaul the system.
He excelled at Mico College, Jamaica, and returned home to serve as an educator.
By 1970, the Caymans, not unlike other Caribbean nations, was struggling for self-determination but was undermined by the political powerbrokers.
The people, Bodden argues, were shut out, and “development control passed from the old merchant elite to the more recent oligarchy.”
This was the period when Bodden was honing his academic and political skills.
The thrust of Bodden’s work centres on the abrasive, no-holds-barred Orwellian character of Caymanian politics. He details his disastrous 1980 political debut when his Dignity Team was trounced in the national elections. Four years later, another bid ended in failure. His campaign against government corruption and malfeasance proved experiential, steeling his political resolve.
His determination proved impregnable, and providence nodded the third time around.
Bodden does not fail to recall his political missteps as a member of the Legislative Assembly, including resurrecting a political rival to join his team. He was knee-deep in politics’ murky waters while addressing the demands of a divisive society saddled by a “revolution of high expectations.”
We peer into the culture of Caymanian politics: the dissolution of parties, unholy alliances, the Machiavellian ploys of political actors, the dubious affinity to the British Crown, “the lack of an accepted national identity,” and the ongoing fight for equitable labour laws.
From Guard House to Glass House is arrantly personal and authentic, a must-read in the field of governance and nation building. Written with uncompromising drive, Bodden’s patriotism bleeds through. “No amount of pressure and no lure of greener pastures would seduce me from my committed goals,” he pens.
Even Bodden’s fiercest opponents would agree that his footprint in Caymanian history is ineffaceable.
Book: From Guard House to the Glass House - One Man’s Journey through the Maze of Caymanian Politics by J.A. Roy Bodden
Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston
Available at Amazon
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