In this article, I summarize and discuss three chapters in Roy Bodden’s latest work - From Glass House to Guard House - one Man’s Journey Through the Maze of Caymanian Politics. Previous articles considered the Foreword and the Preface.
This book was launched recently and its publication has further cemented Bodden’s place as an important Caymanian public intellectual. The public intellectual works with ideas and with books. Ideas must never to be underestimated. At times, the public intellectual, in seeking to advance knowledge, realizes that the status quo can be disturbed, and sometimes, need to be disturbed.
Bodden’s book is what he calls a ‘personal reflection’. He looks back at his life and seeks to record it but in reminiscing on his personal story, he presents the society, in all its complex dimensions, in which his story takes place.
In Chapter One - The Journey Begins, Bodden describes in considerable detail, the facets of dysfunction that were part of his family reality. Guard House, the home in which he grew up with his three siblings, was once the headquarters of the militia when Bodden Town was the capital.
His father, was only partially so, as he was frequently drunk ‘A binge drinking, sometimes insanely violent father’. The reader feels the pain that this brought to the family but more so the psychological impacts it must have had on the author. Enough is known today on the importance of the father in the home and the need for them to be present, not only physically, but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as it is in many other Caribbean families.
Even though good fathers abound, the fact is that there is not enough male leadership especially in Afro-Caribbean families. This phenomenon caused Caribbean Sociologists to label as ‘matriarchal’ or ‘matrifocal’ the nature of familial relationships in the Caribbean- especially in the Afro-Caribbean segment. Matrifocality has a socio-ecology grounded in stability often provided by women- mothers, daughters, grandmothers, etcetera. Edith Clarkes’s ground breaking text – My Mother who Fathered me described areas of Jamaica where mothers and in some cases grandmothers moved into the vacuum left by the absence of a biological father becoming the primary providers and caregivers. In these mother-headed families, fathers pay a less important role.
Unfortunately, the case of the author, though real and touching, is still a pervasive feature of Caribbean family life. The causes for this sociological fact is subject for another time.
It is his mother who takes pride of place in Bodden’s story and who had the most profound impact on the writer. Born in Cuba, ‘Sunshine’ gave more than love- she gave the author firm discipline but also introduced him, in her own way, to ideas and concepts of race, colour, class, and the impacts of inequality generally. She introduced him to Garveyism that she had been influenced by while a child in Cuba. This was the authors initiation to the world of reality and this information would later become the basis for further readings and the development of an anticolonial perspective and stance, a prism through which to understand the Caymanian society ‘with its own near white merchant elite, most of whom held black people in contempt’. (Bodden).
His mother encouraged him educationally and in fact used part of her meagre resources to afford the Reader’s Digest further developing the authors thirst for knowledge and certainly, his vocabulary.
When his father was not drunk their home was also a place for evening gathering and the telling of stories by old men- a treat for the ears of young Bodden. Another source of solace, learning and pride for the author were his paternal grandparents. His grandmother, Jean Bodden, he writes in recollection, brought ‘prayer, moral and material support.’ His paternal grandfather, Joseph Scobel Bodden, role model, mentor and hero, a naturalized American citizen, encouraged the author to get an education for ‘livelihood, virtue and social conscience.’ According to Bodden, from his grandfather he learnt how to be a man, and the essential qualities of a real man: honor, respect, propriety and decorum, piety, morality, ethics and a sense of social justice.’ The subject of how Caribbean boys learn manhood is an especially important one especially given the concerns of educators, social workers and the public about male underperformance in many instances, and the growing narrative of male adolescents and young men driving the crime wave across the Caribbean.
Yolande Forde’s 2006 study, Predisposing Factors to Criminality in the Cayman Islands identified inadequacy of fathering as a concern and this subject was also taken up by Barry Chevannes in his important study – Learning to be a Man: Culture, Socialization and Gender Identity in Five Caribbean Societies. Chevanes’s work examines how males are socialized in the Caribbean. Therefore, Bodden raises very current and important points, which must be constantly assessed if our societies are to survive.
Of significance is the fact that when the author completed Bodden Town All Age, very little opportunities were available for poor children desirous of continuing their education. This speaks to the inequality in educational opportunities along racial/ colour lines. Bodden says he was impatient for change. As fate would have it, the author completed required exams for The Mico College where he was trained as an educator.
Bodden writes at some length about his time at The Mico, the second oldest teacher’s college in the world and the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Bodden ate up all opportunities for additional learning and became an active leader in the Parliamentary Club, Debating Society and Scout Troop of the College. At this college, the author was exposed to the teaching of history from the perspective of the marginalized, unpacked from experiences of the colonized. This he found illuminating and intellectually impactful as it helped in the development of his ideas and perspectives. The author did well at The Mico graduating with honours and then taught for three years at George Town Junior High and later at East End where he became Principal.
The author continued his reading of history and ideas about the colonial enterprise and everything soon fell in place. He concluded that imperialism and colonialism were responsible for the oppression and underdevelopment of the Third World and he began to apply this knowledge even more to the Caymanian situation, seeing the society with new eyes and new vision.
He concluded that the nature of the colonial enterprise on the Caymanian society was not unique except for the size of the country. He deduced that the merchant establishment controlled the society to the extent of inhibiting its sense of history and desire for self-determination. He supported the protest march of 1970.
Bodden, as his thoughts on the subject developed, came to believe that the maintenance of control over their lands was critical to the well-being of Caymanians and that any separation would spell doom. He saw increasingly saw himself as anti-merchant class which he felt monopolized the Caymanian society.
The final part of these three chapters speaks to the author’s years in Canada where he studied History and Sociology at Trent. Here again he studied the nature of colonialism which became the framework for this analysis and understanding of his own country.
Interestingly, in a paper he did in his Development Studies Project, on the subject of colonialism, he took the perspective which he had already settled on – that in the Caymanian context, land was of such singular economic importance, any sale of ‘ of absolute land titles to outsiders would, in the long run, prove detrimental to the interest of Caymanians’. This paper was published in the Nor’wester causing some disquiet but also announced his intellectual presence on the local scene. The author also did a Master Degree in Educational Administration at Queens University. Later after some more teaching, he decided to enter politics.
Bodden’s work raises current and weighty issues, which call for closer examination.