More Than a Voice In The Wilderness
A Review By WILLI CHEN
“Once upon a time”…begins the tale of a personal account, twenty pages short of 500, – written by Ron Ramdin, a self-made scholar, researcher, writer, preacher, lecturer with many international awards to his name. Viz; fellow of Historical Society, the Royal Society of Arts – 1996, D. Lit. University of London, Trinidad and Tobago High Commission’s Scarlet Ibis Gold Award (1990), the American Biographical Institute International Peace Prize.
He is originally from Gasparillo and had migrated to London. A devout night worker – reader in public libraries.
The Griot’s Tale is a runaway train of cogent life experiences, expressed in prose—“carriages” of episodic refluent accounts. An epistolary ménage of cognoscible reportage. His subject matter hinges on enslavement, brutality, white and black people, plantation life, flogging, sexual abuse, kidnapping, imprisonment, hardships, – ‘Bread Marches’, slaves, shops, ‘White Britain’.
Each chapter deals with almost prosaic monody couched in placable proclamations. The author exposes his sense of justice, his patriotism, his numinous deliberations—guided by his Godheads, the Bible. His mother’s voice hovers, appears intermittently throughout the novel as a gentle and innocuous angel of whispering, of advice goading him to achieve the freedom for betterment for his people in a world of indigenous inequality meted out by the powers of those in authority. It is the central germane theme becoming the dominant bone of discontent – as ‘humanitarians’ the “challenge of a mighty majority of my countrymen in parliament and in a country at large, also continues to buy and sell human beings, the producers of sugar and rum. England is prosperous because of this.”
Ron Ramdin like Mr. Matterson in his story, is himself ‘friend’ or ‘champion’ of the oppressed. A friend of the black man, often referred to as ‘my sable brethren’.
Whether as ‘a leader for the future’, the ‘one to watch’, or as preacher, a Methodist priest, a cabinet maker or sailor in all catergories of domestic occupations, Ron Ramdin assumes the priest role of Jim Headley ‘who spoke without fear’ saying ‘White slaves and Black slaves are for freedom, equality and brotherhood. Down with the oppressed.
Mr. Headley ‘a great spokesman and leader of the Tribes of London’ is a noble character in the book, a voice of high moral standards. In communities central to the very English locations in England – Clock Face Circus, Sugar Loaf Lane and the Rookery.
At Coventry, Ramdin becomes an assistant to Arthur Coldsnap, a master cabinet maker ‘ Here Ramdin rejects the name Philip. He had preferred the name ‘Griot’ given by his mother from Africa. Yet the Griot admitted that he was addressed as “Slave’, ‘Sambo’, ‘Blackie’, ‘Nigger’, ‘Sunshine.’
This is a proud book of unreserved, profluent comments, decisive observations, and declarations in his beliefs and support to the human cause. His is a vibrant but plaintive voice echoing the pains of faraway Africa, his motherland encouraged by his own mother, whose own voice is a replication of the author’s.
The reader can only sympathise with Ramdin whose relaxed, informal style conveys an appropriate close-knitted dimension to his expressed beliefs, the interviews, the casual relationships, the meetings, the understanding of people who were most times always collusive with his own “sable brethren” philosophy.
Yet Ramdin as Adamah Griot is the living force of a legendary hero, meeting so many people of diverse understanding, and career-driven individuals who had contributed to his status as an African in England weathering the storms of conflict as he parades his “wolly mop of hair” and dark skin.
He was at Coventry. He met a Master cabinet maker, as a worthy tradesman.’ who could not be more “diffrant” to Miss Manson’s pale face and hands.
Griot was supervisor. The apprentices he worked with were dutiful except one who was peeved with his muscular frame and who said to him ‘Go back to the jungle, to Smoke Town, to Africa’.
But Miss Manson became endeared with the Griot, who used to twirl ‘my mop’ of hair until an apprentice remarked ‘that nigger is interfering with one of our own’.
It was when Miss Manson asked to marry him that it prompted the remark by her father, Mr. Coldsnap: “No daughter of mine is going to marry the likes of you.”
Another lived experience outlined in the novel, is the Griot’s involvement with steady, reading and writing. It was Mr. Pitts and his bookshop that influenced him to write articles dealing with religion, poverty and justice, the obvious basic and important topical interests that were the prime factors of motivation in the Griot’s life.
Griot Tale is more than a tale of woe or compulsive fairy tale of misery, encompassing the urgent proclamation that champions the cause of Freedom, the ill-treatment and bondage of Africans and of all peoples. Equality, Justice and the story of Ramdin’s life as Adamah Griot.
Plantation slave, part time sailor, chronicler, pamphleteer or priest as mentioned before, Ramdin as Griot had a passion for reading and writing, having studied the scriptures with the Holy Bible and with Ma’s voice, both as twin tweeters of prodding stimulants to his worldly deliverance of sermon – exhortations to the Universe. The hero is now condemned as a murderer.
He was involved in a tussle with three men and a butler, who was stabbed; and Griot was handed the spike that condemned him for the act. Obviously framed for this crime he was imprisoned.
One wonders how he did not protest with more vigour and enthusiasm to clear his name. But by accepting the guilty verdict was unceremoniously naive. As a human rights activist whose lifelong aim was opposed to oppression and inhumanity, this was ironic.
The novel ends with the most poignant climax of the tale, with Ramdin, the Griot locked in a filthy cell awaiting his ultimate end.
And his only ardent desire was that his story would be remembered as more than a voice in the wilderness, a tale by his mother, Ma, – that began with those unmistakably introductory words… “Once upon a time”…