Book Report: Beryl McBurnie - A Caribbean Biography Book Written By Judy Raymond
This book is title Bery McBurnie is a Caribbean biography book written by Judy Raymond. This book focuses on the biography of Beryl McBurnie (1913-2000), also called “Belle Rosette” (which means Beautiful Little Lady) is a Trinidadian dancer who established the Little Carib Theater in 1945 after returning to her native country leaving a successful career as a performer in New York City. She promoted the folk-dance, arts and culture of Trinidad and Tobago as her life’s work. The book location is in New York and other countries, but is based in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 90’s. This book report is about analyzing the text within the context of the themes and topics of Caribbean civilization, within its social and historical contexts and discussing the value of the book to understanding Caribbean Civilizations.
Firstly, Beryl McBurnie is a legend from Trinidad and Tobago who danced across the stream of history and changed the culture forever. Meanwhile, identifying one’s heritage and developing a strong cultural identity is extremely important for indigenous people, Therefore, cultural identification includes recognizing one’s cultural attributes, beliefs, values and traditions. However, through the story of Beryl McBurnie, we recover knowledge about the past and also help provide a sense of cultural identity. This is how families, groups and institutions were formed and how they have evolved. However, Beryl McBurnie provide identity to Trinidad and Tobago by promoting and performing the dance and art. Who we are today, comes from an understanding of Beryl McBurnie’s history. However, Beryl McBurnie became influential in developing dance and the arts within Trinidad and Tobago and the region and introducing folk dance to the public education system and converting her parents’ backyard into the Little Carib Theatre. Knowing our history and culture helps us build our identity and build a sense of pride around being part of a culture.
As the Caribbean, facing the task of building a society, is now set about developing and expanding our cultural heritage and this cultural heritage already developed with Beryl McBurnie and her Little Carib dance group. McBurnie, used West Indian dance at point in time before independence when the Caribbean islands were still adjusting to colonial culture and indigenous forms were ignored or disliked. Therefore, McBurnie’s visible expression of her belief in indigenous Caribbean culture is the Little Carib Theater. However, McBurnie solely pick up the colonial cultivated system by releasing Trinidad and Tobago’s liberal and past heritage and remembering its French, African, and Venezuelan roots in both music and dance, and also represents what was common to her country.
On the other hand, McBurnie included every aspect of local culture in her work by reclaiming Trinidad and Tobago’s African heritage and represented every nation that lived here which are the Spanish, African, French and Portuguese. Dressed in a white full-length flounced dress with lace at the wrist, topped with a colorful headwrap (a version of Martiniquan style douillette), McBurnie performed the history of Caribbean civilization by interpreting it into folk-dances. Therefore, one of her folk-dance that she performs is the “the shango”. The shango was developed in the 19th century and is one of many African inspired religions practiced in the Americas. It is practiced primarily in Trinidad, Grenada, and Brazil. During the 18th and 19th centuries, a lot of Yoruba, Bini, and Fon people were enslaved and transported to the Americas. Shango therefore, was brought from the African Yorba tribe during slavery.
Secondly, McBurnie also performed a dance called “the obeah woman” in 1941. This dance represents spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the West Indies. However, slavery existed in West Africa long before it was brought to the Caribbean. African slaves became increasingly sought after to work in the unpleasant conditions of heat and humidity. Enslaved Africans were also much less expensive to maintain than indentured European servants or paid wage laborers. Enslaved Africans were often treated harshly and the death rate was high. For enslaved Africans the plantation relied almost solely on an imported enslaved workforce, and became an agricultural factory concentrating on one profitable crop for sale. Enslaved Africans were forced to engage in a variety of laborious activities, all of them back-breaking and the conditions were often worse, this resulted in the death rate on the plantations being high, because overwork, poor nutrition and work conditions, brutality and disease. However, by 1838, Caribbean enslavement came to an end.
Thirdly, another folk- dance that is interpreted is the “limbo”. The limbo is a dance in which participants have to cross under a stick by bending backward at the waist and the stick is lowered a notch each time every one passes under it, and those who touch the stick are eliminated from the dance. However, the limbo is dated back to the mid to late 1800s in Trinidad and it gain mainstream popularity during the 1950s. Meanwhile, it was brought to Caribbean islands with slaves from Africa and were held separately with both men and women in different areas of the ship, but in order to get over to see each other, the slaves needed to cross under very low spaces. However, the version of the limbo performed in the nineteenth century Trinidad, was meant to symbolize slaves entering a slave ship that carry them to slavery, or a spirit crossing over into the afterworld.