Big Drum in Carriacou
Many well researched articles and books have been written about the origins and culture of ‘Big Drum’ in Carriacou. For detailed information I suggest ‘Big Drum Ritual in Carriacou’ by Lorna McDaniel and ‘African Themes in the Paintings of Canute Caliste’ by Donald R. Hill. I have no intention of trying to emulate such expert writings. I would simply like to show the few photographs I took of Big Drum at Prospect ‘Maroon’ on the night of Friday May 17th 1968. I wish now that I’d taken a lot more. I would really like to know the names of the drummers and, if possible, the names of the dancers in the photographs. My assumption is that the drummers could be from the following names: Haynes Williamson, ‘Sugar’ Adams or the Lambert brothers. These were the main drummers on the island at that time (according to Christine David in her booklet, Folklore of Carriacou).
Big Drum at Harvey Vale
My first introduction to Big Drum came soon after I arrived in the island on Sat. Sept. 23rd 1967. Part of my diary entry for that day reads much as follows:
“After writing letters home we (George, Cathy and I) waited for Mackie to take us to Harvey Vale for ‘Big Drum’.
We heard the drums about half a mile from our destination. We stopped and began to walk. The noise of the drums became louder and louder as we followed the lantern through the corn. Finally we reached an opening. In the middle there was a fire and around the fire sat a circle of people singing to the drumbeat in a language I didn’t recognise or understand. The beat came from three drums at the far end of the circle; so loud and so rhythmic that everyone was becoming extremely animated and excited. In the centre were the dancers. They performed what appeared to be highly ritualistic steps and moves. Men danced with towels in their hands. Ladies had skirts held high; in fact everyone seemed high. The drums quickened. The dancing became faster. The climax came – then silence.
We looked around. The crowd began to chat and talk. The ‘jack’ was then passed around; some of it being poured on to the dancing arena. As I watched, George approached me and informed me that food was being prepared by the host. Cold pork and bread and butter, washed down with more ‘jack’.
Once we had eaten, the drums started again and the dancing re-commenced. Some of the dancers seemed to dance to a point where they became completely overwhelmed.
Inside the main house I was surprised to hear records being played. I looked indoors to see a number of teenagers dancing to music coming from the record player. They appeared to totally disregard the ‘Big Drum’ going on outside.”
This ‘conflict’ of cultural interests only really struck me as I read my diary years later. Here was a juxtaposition of cultures expressed, on the one hand, by the old traditions and, on the other, by modern influences from abroad. Was this evidence of a move towards a more cosmopolitan musical and cultural era? In 1968 ‘Big Drum’ was still alive and still being actively used as a meaningful celebration for ‘Maroons’ and ‘Tombstones’. During a later visit to Carriacou in 2003 I was invited to see to ‘Big Drum’. This time the performance was rather different. Drummers performed, and dancers were choreographed, not in the villages and homes, but on a stage in a Carriacou musical festival. However, it still remained a wonderful spectacle and had not lost its vibrancy and energy. It was, in fact, brilliant to see that such a great effort had been made to keep a unique cultural heritage alive and kicking, regardless of it being performed in a completely different context and despite so many modern day pressures.
N.B. If anyone would like to add their experience(s) of Big Drum please just send.