DARCUS Howe

New Statesman (1996), October 9, 2000 | Go to article overview

DARCUS Howe


Joyce huffed and puffed, causing macho men to tremble

The woes of the past few weeks required a period a long, long way from home, in a faraway place with a strange-sounding name. I chose Grenada, in the eastern Caribbean, off-season in tourist terms, which means instant departure, cheap flights and cheap accommodation. I arrived at a tiny cove, carved lazily out of Caribbean rock. The sea is invitingly calm, the day warm, but, like everywhere in the Caribbean, nothing is what it seems.

On the third day came the news of Hurricane Joyce, making her way out of the south-east trade winds and heading for the islands. We were to learn a new discipline: hurricane watch. We taped windows and battened down the hatches. Joyce was "kicking brass" at 120mph, with an intense eye, stalking a wide area.

Nothing has yet surpassed the intensity of Janet, the hurricane of my youth that was made immortal in a calypso: "Janet hide in the mountain/Janet blow away a million building/Janet sister was Katie/Janet blow away the whole of Miami."

I know that progressives have long argued against the naming of hurricanes after women. But the calypsonian recognised the wills and wiles of the sorority, and implicitly warned us of the devastating reply to Caribbean machismo. And Grenada is the land of machismo, of tall, dark-skinned, physically powerful men who have retained that elegant and imposing African presence. Their macho style is legendary.

I was sitting at the bar, and one of the regulars told his tale. He had taken to beating his wife. "Ah only hit she a few lash from time to time." He found that rather normal. As he heaped his sorrows upon me, the barmaid smiled. He tells his story to any new visitor. His wife took her case to the local magistrate and got a restraining order. He could not return to his home, although he must continue to pay the mortgage. Now, he told me, he has to pass the house daily, and a Rasta man sits in the porch with both legs cocked high, smoking a spliff. …

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