Fire In The Whole: Redressing Mr. Harding In Barbados’ Crop Over

    • Presentation speakers
      • Nicholas A. Frech, University of Florida, USA


    In 1974, in an effort to invoke nostalgic memories of a bygone era, the organizers of Crop Over, Barbados’ annual sugar cane harvest festival, resurrected several customs of its original pre- and post-emancipation plantation celebrations, including the event of ‘burning Mr. Harding’. For several years, the newly nationalized festival culminated with this invective spectacle – the sanctioned public execution of a twenty-foot tall, white-faced effigy. Significantly, the revitalized festival, now anachronistically detached from the actual season of the sugar harvest and staged during the slow tourist season, is largely modeled after the most lucrative events of Trinidad’s pre-Lenten Carnival. It is counterintuitive that this poses no conflict between the expressed aims of festival promoters to celebrate ‘an authentic post-Independence Barbadian national identity.’ However in spite of its state sanctioning, as well as the adoption and adaptation of autochthonous traditions found elsewhere throughout the region, Afro-Barbadian artists maintain agency and cultivate power by reclaiming their representation, and therefore both their individual and collective identities. With the festival’s newfound international visibility, the custom of ‘burning Mr. Harding’ soon became highly problematic, and hence eliminated altogether in 1983. During its practice, however several now prominent artists invoked the guise of ‘Mr. Harding’ in their award winning creative works, and subsequently provoked a significant public discourse on modern Afro-Caribbean identity politics. This paper will address themes of resistance, rebellion and revolution encoded within various art forms in contemporary Barbados.