The hope of new possibilities for the people who had been held in bondage Professor Maureen Warner Lewis reviews ‘Freedom Morning Come’

Many of the characters of the Eintou Springer play Freedom Morning Come are based on research by historians and academics such as Professor Maureen WarnerLewis In 2015 Professor WarnerLewis witnessed the play for the first time as it was performed in front of the Treasury Building in Port of Spain on August 1st Emancipation morning Following is the full text of her review

Many of the characters of the Eintou Springer play ‘Freedom Morning Come’ are based on research by historians and academics such as Professor Maureen Warner-Lewis. In 2015, Professor Warner-Lewis witnessed the play for the first time as it was performed in front of the Treasury Building in Port of Spain on August 1st, Emancipation morning.

Following is the full text of her review:

In the cool, clean air of downtown Port of Spain at 6 a.m. on First of August 2015 I witnessed a performance of the play Freedom Morning Come!!!, written and directed by Eintou Pearl Springer.

The play was first performed in 2010 and since then it has been performed annually under the auspices of the Emancipation Support Committee to begin the commemoration of Emancipation Day. Its purpose is to remind the public of the day’s historical context as well as to add a spiritual component to the anniversary celebrations. The play portrays the conflicting feelings of expectancy and anxiety among enslaved Africans as they awaited the proclamation of their emancipation by Governor George Hill in 1834. The audience too has to wait for the reading of the historic proclamation, which comes in the climactic phase of the play after a sharp verbal exchange between the governor, obeying the edict of his King in England, and a representative of the local land-owners who opposed the abolition of slavery.

The stage on which the actors performed was a raised platform up against the imposing black and grey marble facade of the Treasury Building on Marine Square/Brian Lara Promenade: it evoked the bare stage of the English Miracle and Mystery plays of the Middle Ages. Set against this austere back-drop was the slow movement of the red-coated militia who encircled the stage at street level and by their bayonets at-the-ready wordlessly established the bonded condition of the play’s characters.

The play’s structure is as spare in its deployment of characters as a Greek tragedy, but this play ends not in tragedy but with the hope of new possibilities for the people who had been held in bondage. Led by Trinidad’s veteran actress, Eunice Alleyne, as the quietly dignified Ma Sandrin, six of the characters represent the oppressed people. Each tells his or her story of capture, or punishment, rape, infanticide, and hard work. Social instability is conveyed by the enslaved workers’ boasts about the efficacy of their poisons against their owners, and the ironic death by poison of Begorrat, the Diego Martin land-owner who had used poison against his own enemies. Against these distressing narratives, a love triangle emerges among two young men and one of the female characters; this presages a positive future by the expected evolution of new blood-lines and the establishment of domestic life and peasant labour.

The play makes aesthetic use of motifs. One is the protest cry ‘Pas de six ans’ by which the patois-speaking workers rejected the plan to have them work unpaid for six more years as so-called ‘apprentices’. Another motif is the challenge voiced by various characters to their companions: “What yuh goin’ to do wid yuh freedom, allyuh?” The threat of rebellion is reiterated through the person of François whose references to the Haitian revolution recur throughout the play. He brings to life the iconic nègre marron (runaway slave) public sculpture in Port au Prince, Haiti who, kneeling on one leg and with his extended left leg bearing a broken shackle, blows a conch-shell of defiance and freedom into the air. François’ other prop – a cigar – evokes a defining marker of the Haitian vodun god Legba, who opens doors to miraculous possibility. Tobacco also represents a ritual element, like incense in other contexts, to invoke the presence of ancestors, which is one of the roles of François in his recall of the sacrifices made in the course and cause of the Haitian revolution.

Other deft costume props included the shoulder-slung macoute straw bag of Kojo the field-hand, typical of the Haitian peasant, and the long-stemmed pipe cupped by Ma Titi, reminiscent of the smoking habit of so many of the enslaved.

Springer draws on a number of songs to underwrite her themes and give historical authenticity to the events she crafts, and the choral ensemble created by the actors harmonised well. There was the Tobago song collected by anthropologist J.D. Elder, “Freedom a come o”; the liberation theme was captured in the Spiritual Baptist hymn “Fly away home to glory”; the soulful orisha chant to Yemanja accompanied a libation to named spiritual elders of the Trinidad community. The play ended with the celebratory calypso “O Lord, de glorious morning come”.

Springer’s choice of songs, her allusions to historical incidents, her naming of characters, and the rehearsal of life-stories are testimony to her creative use of sources, among them no doubt Carlton Ottley’s Slavery Days in Trinidad (1974), Mitto Sampson’s legends about nineteenth-century calypsonians (1956), Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool’s Rituals of Power and Rebellion (2001), and Maureen Warner-Lewis’ Guinea’s Other Suns (1991) and Yoruba Songs of Trinidad (1994). To all these, she brings her intimate knowledge of Orisha religion and ritual. Orisha dance choreography was ably and attractively performed by Dara Healy.

End of review

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