A Review by Ariti Jankie
The Griot’s Tale
Trafford Publishing, 2009
The first few lines of The Griot’s Tale grip the reader with the childhood ritual of storytelling. A mother opening the eyes of her child to the world and, softly, the lifelong messages unfold.
The great storytelling tradition passed on to a child to take Africa’s lit’rat’-chur, musik and hist’ree, po’tree and filah-safee forward underscored the purpose of The Griot’s Tale brilliantly told to reveal an untold chapter in our history in which the essence of the human spirit is captured where generosity underlines the warmth that continues to embrace generations and influence the parenting of young children.
Ramdin gets into the mind of the enslaved teenage girl taken from her African village to deliver her rapist child and serve on a sugar plantation without delving into physical pains and emotions. Amazing life dawns with the discovery that she is with child, and side by side with her duties to her master is a responsibility to pass on a family tradition to her offspring.
She is the woman who would give her heart, blood and life for her child, a rait of many an ancestor who came out of slavery and indentureship.
Whispering stories to educate the child and later teaching him words from the only book she knew, the Bible, she provides a purpose for Adamah, giving him the courage to overcome one difficulty after another. The quality of love offered by a mother on one hand and a son’s commitment to honouring his mother’s dream forms but one layer of the book.
A skillful capturing of an Africa village, slave ship and plantation moves swiftly to another ship headed for London on which Adamah, now 12, is employed only to be freed on arrival. The scene changes to 18th century London and tests the survival skills of the boy determined to educate himself by learning new words and pronunciations continuously along the way.
He finds love that is quickly lost and deals with it as someone who expects very little and is not surprised when even the meagre morsels are snatched away. His ability to discern the traps of new enslavement, ethics applied to a craftsman’s job, an easy entry into the church and a sharp rise to fame before a final and fatal blow speaks of sacrifices endured with little except the enduring human spirit left to fight back, an echo that bears the trademarks of slavery.
Marabella-born, London-based Ramdin left a poverty stricken home for London at the age of 19 and lived close to the earlier ravages of slavery and the similar agony of indentureship both in Trinidad and London.
In 2005, he finally made a breakthrough in writing novels, after careers as a national footballer, a nightclub singer, a trade unionist, historian and biographer. With the 2005 release of “Rama’s Voyage”, Ramdin added novel writing to his literary accomplishments.
The Griot or African storyteller provides a brilliant plot in which an untold chapter in West Indian history is finally told. His first novel Rama’s Voyage filled a similar void between the recruitment of labourers in India to the barracks of Trinidad. After this, having discovered his passion for fiction, Ramdin went on to write The Griot’s Tale, a three year labour of love.
The Griot’s Tale, launched on the eve of Emancipation at the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London earlier this year runs to 480 pages of easy reading. In Book One, a complete picture is drawn of a man contemplating the events of his life by looking through the windows of his memory and, with clarity, reaches the soul of the woman who was mother and whose spiritual connection with Adamah kept him inspired to hold strong to the dream.
By the fourth chapter, the reader learns about a manuscript in which Adamah receives encouragement from his wife to tell his story in the written word. In Book Two, the importance of knowledge is emphasised by a mother who firmly believes that knowledge is the only weapon against slavery. Life in London with freedom begins in Book Three and takes the reader back in time to a ravaged city that played a major role in the control of the vast new British empires.
Book Four sees Adamah’s influence spreading as he convinces the people to play their role in bringing slavery closer to an end. What to do with approaching freedom and how to fight injustices n Book Five. Just when the reader rejoices with Adamah and wishes him well, Ramdin unleashes the final betrayal that, far from dampening the spirit, completes the saga of human bondage.
Cleverly, the story of slavery is captured in spirit and Ramdin’s skillful writing draws the curtain with the dawn of Emancipation and the prospect of a new life. The characters seem familiar and the story transcends race; it could very well have been yours or mine.
Ramdin has been in training to write The Griot’s Tale since 1982 when he wrote his first book Chattel Slave to Wage Earner. He followed up in 1987 with The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain which was followed by Re-imaging Britain in 1999 which provides an account of black people in England from 1500 onwards. Arising from Bondage: A History of the Indo-Caribbean People appeared in 2000 with Rama’s Voyage 2005.
He was awarded the Scarlet Ibis Award in 1990 and the Outstanding Achievement Award in 2006 by the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in England.
His new works bridge the gap among the races and has received international recognition.
The Griot’s Tale will be launched
tomorrow (Tues Nov 3) at NALIS, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, and is available at local bookshops at $120.