STORIES OF OUR FAMILIES
To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.
"Descendants" - BBC Radio 4
"Descendants looks into our lives and our pasts and asks how we are connected to slavery. And, in turn, who does that mean our lives are connected to?" - BBC Radio 4
An unexpected opportunity to participate in this radio programme came my way in 2021 when I received an email from BBC Radio 4. The story of my great-grandfather Alfred Sheppard led to this experience. I consider it an honour to have been among those selected to contribute to these important and timely stories. The series of seven episodes was aired each Friday from 28 May until
9 July, 2021.
An introductory Zoom call and further exchanges of emails with the producer explained the project.
The series is now available as podcasts that can be downloaded. Listened to in sequence, the stories are poignantly revealing. I find it fascinating to see all the links and connections that people all over the world share. The home page for the entire programme of seven episodes is Descendants.
I was featured in Episode 3, which was broadcast on Friday 11 June, 2021. My husband Meindert is a documenter/editor and filmed me during the Zoom interviews with producer Candace Wilson. He has added video to the portion of the program where I speak, preceded by the story of the evolvement of the steelpan as a musical instrument in Trinidad Carnival (for which there's no video). It is a shortened version of the episode.
I might add that I did not know beforehand what specifically I would be asked, and so my answers were unrehearsed. You may wonder about the pile of books with the iPhone on top. That’s because I needed to place it at mouth level in order to record myself. That audio recording was used by the BBC.
In listening to the stories on Descendants, I realize that the common thread running through the lives of all of the contributors is the absence of knowledge of their forefathers' lives. I've received several reactions that encourage me to continue writing and exploring our past, and to put into context the world in which our ancestors lived. My great-grandfather Alfred Sheppard was a man of his times, performing his duties as Sergeant-Major with the Colonial Police during an important turning point in Trinidad history. He was a family man, adapting to life in a foreign country, raising his family and being involved with social activities, particularly those held by the Portuguese community in Trinidad. His careful documentation in our family Bible has enabled us to know our genealogical history; delving into those times gives us a better understanding of the circumstances of his life.
Below are four of the reactions I received from people in different parts of the world.
"I’m so proud you’ve participated in conversations like this! I think it’s a big step especially for your generation to actually own and acknowledge the educational erasure during your upbringing and the general amnesia towards the past. I think there’s an interesting contrast with the young black man from the UK, like spheres of life that usually wouldn’t cross over being presented and shared in this way.”
Kayla Archer (Granddaughter, Barbados)
University of Leiden, Den Haag, Netherlands (BA International Studies)
"I listened, last week, to the whole series of ‘Descendants’ which is the most fascinating and shocking series of our history that should be broadcasted in every school worldwide . I was so surprised and happy to hear your voice relating yet another interesting piece of your family history.
I realise that how much we just carry on , without really considering what we know and why we know it and whether it’s correct or needs revising. Like you , I learnt ‘British History 1700 to 1945 at Grammar School but my mother always pointed out that my History text books were exceedingly blinkered and should be renamed as ‘English History’ as there was absolutely no reference to the Scottish Enlightenment or the plight of Scots or Welsh or Irish to maintain their identities so the rest of the world only existed if ‘we’ ( the English!?) went to war with them .
I hope that all people , slowly but surely can find their own two feet and be whoever they feel they are and not be told who they are.
Congratulations on your fascinating and eloquent story on Radio 4..."
Much love and admiration,
Susan - (Scottish-born Artist, The Netherlands)
"Fascinating and refreshingly honest." - Liz (United Kingdom)
"I thought the program was fascinating and I’m delighted that you were part of it. It is true that the interviewer collapses history in a rather efficient way that is not exactly accurate, suggesting that somehow the carnival started after emancipation, when history shows it to have it begun well before. There were a few other generalizations of that misleading kind that often tend to happen when history is collapsed into sound bites.
I thought your role was fascinating and that you handled it beautifully and answered the questions in a really informed and thoughtful way. I was particularly interested in the big house aspect of your interview. Certainly those estate houses are beautiful and played a major role in the histories of both Barbados and Trinidad.
I think it also useful that cross-links are being established through ancestral histories that show the interconnection of different races and different people with the history of enslavement. That is one of the best features of this project!"
Milla C. Riggio
James J Goodwin Professor of English, emerita
Hartford, CT, USA
Milla Cozart Riggio has focused her research and much of her pedagogy since 1995 on Trinidad Carnival and the plays of Shakespeare. She has coordinated world conferences on Carnival, and served as a frequent consultant for the Trinidad and Tobago National Carnival Commission. She currently coordinates the Trinity-in-Trinidad Global Learning site, an exchange program that brings students from institutions in the U.S. to study in Trinidad each year. Among her books are included an edited volume entitled Teaching Shakespeare through Performance, as well as three books she edited or co-edited on Trinidad Carnival. She co-edited In Trinidad, a book of photographs by Trinity Professor Pablo Delano, published in 2008 by Ian Randle Publishers.
The Dining Room at Sunbury
Table ready for a private dinner party hosted by the then owners of Sunbury, Keith & Angela Melville
"People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them." ~ James Baldwin