After more than twenty years as a folk leader, one of the Negro shepherd-kings of the Caribbean, Robert Bradshaw of St. Kitts—“Papa” to his followers—is in trouble. Two years ago he became the first Premier of the three-island state of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. The state had a total area of 153 square miles and a population of 57,000. It has since become smaller. Anguilla has seceded and apparently gone for good, with its own islet dependencies of Scrub Island, Dog Island, and Anguillita: a loss of 35 square miles and 6000 people. There is discontent in Nevis, 50 square miles. In St. Kitts itself, Papa Bradshaw’s base, there is a dangerous opposition.
The opposition union is called WAM, the opposition political party PAM. WAM and PAM: it is part of the deadly comic-strip humor of Negro politics. These are still only the politics of kingship, in which there are as yet no rules for succession. It is only when leaders like Papa Bradshaw are in trouble, when they are threatened and fight back, that they become known outside their islands; and it is an irony of their kingship that they are then presented as dangerous clowns. Once Papa Bradshaw’s yellow Rolls-Royce was thought to be a suitable emblem of his kingship and courage, a token of Negro redemption. Few people outside knew about the Rolls-Royce; now it is famous and half a joke.
The folk leader who has been challenged cannot afford to lose. To lose is to be without a role, to be altogether ridiculous.
“Papa Bradsha’ started something,” a supporter says. “As long as he lives he will have to continue it.”
Bradshaw prepares to continue. The opposition are not allowed to broadcast; their supporters say they do not find it easy to get jobs. Men are recruited from the other Caribbean islands for the police. The St. Kitts army, called the Defence Force, is said to have been increased to 120; Papa Bradshaw is the Colonel. There are reports of a helicopter ready to police the island’s sixty-eight square miles.
It has been played out in other countries, this drama of the folk-leader who rules where he once securely agitated and finds that power has brought insecurity. In St. Kitts the scale is small, and in the simplicity of the setting the situation appears staged.
Think of a Caribbean island roughly oval in shape. Indent the coastline: beaches here, low cliffs there. Below the sharp and bare 4000-foot peak of a central mountain chain there is forest. Then the land slopes green and trimmed with sugarcane, uncluttered with houses or peasant allotments, all the way down to the sea. A narrow coast road encircles the island; it is impossible to get lost. The plantation workers live beside this road, squeezed between sugarcane and sea. Their timber houses are among the tiniest in the world.
All the history of St. Kitts is on this road. There, among those houses on low stilts, whose dirt yards run down through…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.