Conkies and Barbados Independence


Today is independence day in Barbados  or Bim (short for Bimshire) as it is known.  Barbadians (colloquial names: Bajan or Beige) at home and abroad are celebrating 51 years of autonomy from the British Monarchy.  Bajans from all walks of life will gather to celebrate their culture, foods and heritage.

Chorus to Barbados National Anthem

“We loyal sons and daughters all
Do hereby make it known
These fields and hills beyond recall
Are now our very own
We write our names on history’s page
With expectations great
Strict guardians of our heritage
Firm craftsmen of our fate”
–  Irving Burgie

Here are a few interesting facts about Barbados you may not know:

  • It has the oldest parliament of the British Commonwealth
  • It is 169.50 square miles, 21 miles long and 12 miles wide, located just outside the chain of islands in the Caribbean
  • It has a population of 284,996 people
  • The Bajan dialect is a broken form of the English language – “Gimme a scotch” has nothing to do with the alcoholic malt/grain whiskey but actually means, “May I have a seat”
  • It has a stable economy and boasts 98% literacy rate
  • It is home to one of the retired supersonic passenger airliner jets – Concorde
  • No other foreign country has ever invaded Barbados

So, how is Independence celebrated? Read on.

During the month of November, residents dress-up in the vibrant blue and gold colors representative of the nation’s flag.  Government buildings and businesses are decorated in bunting of similar color.  Besides an over abundance of entertainment that can be found on the island at any given time (a tourism slogan says “Never a dull moment in Barbados”), there is a month-long competition which highlights the creative work of local artists.  The event is hosted by the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA).  Groups as well as solo performers vie for the “best-in-class” titles, and for awards in categories of: art, crafts, dance, drama, music, photography and song.  On the evening of the grand gala, and before a sold-out crowd, stellar performances are rendered for the judges who select the final winners of each category.

Besides national entertainment, in every community there is a direct thrust for nationals and non-nationals to buy and eat home-grown foods.  Residents are encouraged to use Bajan products and support local businesses.  Farmers and vendors at various market places display a wide variety of Bajan fruits and foods:  dunks, gooseberries, golden apples, fat-pork, ackee (genip), sea-grapes, yam, pumpkin, eddo, breadfruit are a few of the fruits and foods you will find around.  Whether day or night, the aroma of foods such as:  fried fish, fish cakes, bakes, sweetbread, pone and other culinary treats including the national dish – cou-cou and flying fish, may be found in any kitchen.

A must-have and the star of the season is a sweet delicacy called conkie or stew-dumpling.  Made only during this time, families gather to make and share these delicious treats, which in my estimation are labor intensive.  You must grate pumpkin, coconut and sweet potato in preparation for the conkies.  The grated foods are then combined with other ingredients such as: cornmeal flour, sugar, butter, essence and several spices.  Once combined, spoonful’s of the mixture is wrapped in a singed banana leaf and steamed.  Other the years, this recipe has evolved to include other ingredients such as: raisins, eggs and milk.  I am partial to the authentic conkie and therefore cannot attest to the taste or flavor of a conkie with the latter ingredients.

On the morning of November 30th, all eyes turn to the national parade of combative and non-combative arms of government.  Troops assemble at the Garrison Savannah, home of horse racing, for the official independence ceremony.  Before large spectator crowds, speeches are given by government officials, the national anthem sung and the national pledge recited. The troops then parade before onlookers and are inspected by the Governor General – the head-of-state and the Queen’s representative on the island, and the Right Honorable Prime Minister. A gunfire salute is given to the cheers of hip, hip, hooray, and the parade begins its final march through the streets to government headquarters to the beat of Barbados’ Police Force and Defence Force music bands. People line the streets securing every vantage point to catch a glimpse of their favorite detachment or to see and support a family member marching in the parade.

After all the national pageantry, crowds head to the seashore to fun and frolic.  You might hear senior folk reminiscing of the olden days. Still, you may find others at social parties talking of pastimes, reciting old sayings, singing heritage songs, and playing games like: picksup, scables, tip fuh two, pitching, tic tocs and rounders (words are spelled in local vernacular)

Every island has its own charm, claims to beauty and uniqueness.  The same can be said of the land of my birth. It has been a favorite destination for members of the British Royal family and former US Presidents: George Washington, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. It is the playground for regular A-list visitors like: Kerry Packer, Oprah Winfrey, Simon Cowell, Tiger Woods, and home to superstars: Rihanna, Olympic Bronze medalist Obadele Thompson, musician Eddie Grant, cricket legend Sir Garfield Sobers, and a Guinness book recorded checkers champion Ronald ‘Suki’ King to name drop a few.

While many people may think of Barbados as just another destination, to me it is paradise and a place called home.  While many go there to enjoy the sea, sun and sand, I go there to enjoy all things Bajan.  It is the only place where the term “Only bout hey” is understood by all and sundry.  Even though distance separates me from this land, it is always enjoyable recounting memories of the things that helped to make and shape who I am today. I want to wish my homeland a happy and blessed Independence Day.  I love you Barbados. Happy birthday!

I hope this post peaked your interest and caused you to add Barbados to you bucket-list. Remember to drop me a comment in the section below or like.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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4 Comments on “Conkies and Barbados Independence

  1. Conkies,Conkies…I love this treat without the raisins. Some of the games I remember playing as a child. Back down memory lane. Missing all the fun this year.

    Like

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