Wadadli, our home away from home
Imagine if you will, a young man leaves home at age 20 and, apart from the occasional visit here and there, he never returns home to live.
Second, imagine if you will, apart from an occasional visit, his children never return to the home of their father.
Lastly, imagine if you will, his grandchildren, for the most part, have never been to their grandfathers home for any length of time.
The question then becomes this: “Is his home still their home?”
In 1904, my maternal grandfather, Christopher Alexander Glover, was born and raised in the rural farming village of Freetown, in the southeastern corner of the island of Antigua.
His mother, Louisa Nathaniel-Glover, one of 12 children of Henry and Henrietta Nathaniel, died while he was still young. After which, he was raised by his uncle, Joshua Nathaniel, in the close-knit community where most persons are related by blood.
Not wanting to spend his life tilling the soil or cutting sugar cane, my grandfather chose to leave his homeland in his early twenties, in order to learn his trade of auto mechanics. His life of adventure took him to many, many islands, including the Virgin Islands, St Kitts, Nevis and, finally, St Eustatius.
Along this life journey, he, like many other Caribbean men of the time, had 11 children, spread throughout the region. Over the course of time, he took each one of his children back to Freetown for brief visits to see where they came from.
Some of his grandchildren had occasion to visit Antigua for various reasons, but never really got to travel to Freetown or to meet their relatives.
This story, repeated itself with each of the descendants of Henry and Henrietta Nathaniel. Multiple generations leaving Freetown and/or Antigua itself, resulting in them and their children not knowing their relatives spread throughout the Caribbean and the world.
Over the past two years, various family members met at weddings and funerals, and decided to finally put plans in place for a Nathaniel family reunion that would invite all branches of our family tree to come together for a week of activities and bonding.The week of July 27 to August 3, 2019 was chosen to coincide with Antigua's annual carnival.
I had previously been to Antigua on several occasions for events, or just in transit to or from neighbouring islands, so I had no hesitation in travelling there. However, I never knew what to expect on meeting so many persons I was related to but never knew. With guarded optimism, I flew to Antigua and prepared for all that lay ahead.
Over the course of one week, we had the following events:
• A meet-and-greet
• A church service where we donated a pew to St Phillip's Anglican Church
• A bus tour of Antigua
• The building of a bus stop in Freetown
• A walk through our village to speak to elders
• A family beach day at Long Bay
• A grand formal family banquet
During this time, close to 200 family members from across the Caribbean, the United States, Britain and elsewhere in the European Union spent a day and night with each other, soaking in not only the family vibes but the aura of Antigua itself.
Originally named Wadadli by the Arawak and Carib peoples, meaning “our own”, Antigua is approximately 108 square miles — or five times bigger than Bermuda. For the most part, the island is relatively flat, allowing for vast amounts of agricultural activity.
Some of the local fruits and vegetables include papaya, corn, pineapple, sugar cane, watermelon, cantaloupe and mango. Luckily for us, it was the middle of mango season and, literally every five minutes, there were people selling all manner of fresh fruit.
The population is approximately 100,000, with most people having moved to Antigua from islands such as Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Guyana. Native-born Antiguans are effectively now the minority on their own island.
As a former English colony, sugar cane was the main crop grown by enslaved Africans and their descendants for more than 300 years. So much so that the entire island is dotted with sugar mills that have stood the test of time.
In more recent times, tourism has become king, with a combined total of more than one million visitors by air and cruise per year. For clarity, that would be almost 300,000 stayover visitors. The net result is a buoyant industry for vacation rentals, taxi drivers, car rental agencies, restaurants and vendors.
The people of Antigua are extremely warm and welcoming to all visitors, going out of their way to accommodate any given need or wish.
It engendered a sense of pride to see that a number of my relatives owned and operated vacation units, car rentals, minibuses and entertainment complexes. So much so that those visiting were able to support our own economically by renting vehicles or guest apartments, as opposed to spending money outside of the family.
More Bermudians must strive towards these forms of ownership in the hospitality industry over the coming years.
A week after arriving in Antigua, those of us who lived abroad reluctantly headed to the brand new VC Bird International Airport to return to our respective corners.
With a renewed sense of kinship, warts and all, we became so much closer as a family and realised this salient fact: no matter how long ago our foreparents may have left, Antigua is the home we never knew.
As the original inhabitants declared, Wadadli is our own.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org