Guilt and Shame

January 22, 2013

I now think that those two accomplices–guilt and shame–are probably together the most corrosively painful scourges the human spirit can experience. Precisely because they always and only stem from one’s own failure to keep faith with one’s truest self. With one’s private conscience, one’s most cherished and basic principles, with one’s sense of honor. For me it was an important lesson too painful to ever forget. I may not have known the word integrity, but that is what that was about. That simple incident first taught me that no matter how private or hidden the betrayal, one cannot live without integrity. The pain is too great. My late father had a much used saying that, because it seemed so unforgiving, puzzled me greatly as a young boy. It occurs to me that this is what it was about: integrity. “You can tell the truth every day of your life,” my father would say, “and if, on the day of your death, you tell a lie…that is what will matter.

That very day I began seriously to separate myself from the antisocial behaviors of the street.

Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggle of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)

Sometime in the late 1930’s, the government in another of its persistent and futile attempts to suppress African cultural survivals, decided that the colony would more easily be governable if drums and other traditional musical instruments were outlawed. The colonials must have sensed, and correctly, the importance of music in the cultural independence and political resistance of the African masses. I would, of course, encounter this phenomenon again in the American South. But at least the George Wallaces and Ross Barnetts of that world never tried to outlaw our spirituals and freedom songs. Though I’m sure they must  have often wished they could have.

So in Trinidad by legislative fiat an African could be jailed for possession of drums and other musical instruments? Not a gun, not a grenade, or some dynamite, but a drum? I have often tried, and failed, to visualize the campaign to enforce that law. In implementation of this policy, did armed police and soldiers–the governor’s minions–surround African communities and conduct house-to-house searches? And for what, those threats to public order, drums, tambourines, maracas, and marimbas? Did they kick  down the doors to shacks with guns drawn: “Freeze. You’re under arrest. Seize that drum!”

So, suddenly deprived of their traditional instruments of musical expression, Africans resorted to their creativity and whatever materials lay to hand. In this case, the fifty-five-gallon steel drums used to store oil at the refinery.

These they took and cut to varying depths. Say nine inches down for an alto pan, two feet deep for a tenor pan, and twice that for a bass. Then on the top they would heat and pound out a number of raised areas, each of which when struck would produce a precise musical note of a certain pitch. Over the years the brothers experimented with ways to refine the basic instruments and to create others. The result is what is today known the world over as the Trinidad steel band: an ensemble of musical instruments of great range and flexibility, capable of playing not only calypso and other forms of local popular music, but the most complex and demanding of jazz compositions or any form from the European classical tradition you care to name. A sound immediately recognizable in the distinctive, liquid purity of tones and the fluency of its musical lines.

Hey, as you may have noticed, I can’t pretend to be an ethnomusicologist. I’m a revolutionary. But that description should give you a fairly accurate sense of the accomplishment represented by the creation of the steel bands.  And remember, this unique innovation and the musical tradition it evolved into came directly out of the determined and indomitable will of Trinidad’s African’s to resist colonization and to maintain their culture.

Excerpted from Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggle of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)


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“From a young age, even the children had their appropriate responsibility. I cannot remember exactly at what age it first fell to me, but my duty was to clean the chicken coop each week. And those chickens were prolific in more than eggs, which is why later, whenever I’ve heard anyone derogatively described as “chicken s—” so-and-so, I’ve fully understood precisely the severity and grossness of that particular abuse.”


Kwame Ture
Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggle of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)