Sugar Was King


Saturday 2nd August 2014 at New Art Exchange, Nottingham


The rhythmic sound of the Harambe Drummers’ call ignited this intergenerational workshop; all eyes turned to see this colourful snapshot of Jamaican history. With over 100 people in attendance Delores Cooper OD, Community Initiatives Consultant, opened the event sharing her ties to Nottingham and introduced Lorna Holder, Producer of the Jamaica Hidden Histories project, who presented an inspirational videography which showcased Jamaican culture and history, reminding us of the influence of Jamaica across time. Donald Hinds, experienced historian sharing the history of sugar, continued to lead us on a path through the production of sugar in Jamaica, discussing how Jamaica adapted after the economic ‘boom’ of sugar trade and how it effects Jamaican culture and community.


The focus on oral history was far from forgotten and a lively discussion allowed people to share their experience of sugar both in the Caribbean and in the UK. The excitement rose as the open discussion, paved the way for people to express their thoughts, emotions and memories. Traditional sweet treats such as wicked sweet grater cakes, crisp tamarind balls, lip smacking paradise plums, decorative mint balls, heavenly coconut drops – and let’s not forget the coloured rum, led us on a journey where those attended reclaimed their childhood memories and shared it with others. Links to toffee apples, seaside rock and cola drops, reminded us of the impact sugar has in the hearts of the British community today. “I love sugar today because of my experience of sugar back home growing as a child.”


Debate continued and turned to clothing, school life, the different routes to the UK from the Caribbean, black nurses and where they settled in the UK, and an animated discussion on hotcombing, which really got the crowd in spirited conversation. One to one oral history interviews created elders with the opportunity to recount their history laying a recorded legacy in the archives for future generations, and a dialogue with local photographer Esmel May Woma, who came to Nottingham in the 1960s, included a viewing of the photographs she took of friends and colleagues enjoying their free time. Esmel’s photographic archives will be in the exhibition in the New Art Exchange in 2015.


Archivist Charlie Philips, created a sense of nostalgia as he stirred conversations around objects, artefacts and childhood photographs; those brought in by others and those he personally owned. He reminds us of the place everyday objects have in history.


Melanie Kidd, Director of Programming New Art Exchange (NAE), and Glenis Williams, Learning and Community Engagement Co-ordindator, highlighted what’s on offer at the NAE across the coming months; stressed the importance of engaging with the local community; and specified future events at the NAE specific to the black community. In closing Lorna Holder shared future events for the JHH project, including the educational pack for schools and the exhibition at the NAE in 2015.


The event concluded as it started, with the drummers call bringing the day to an end. However importantly what was left behind was the beginnings of building missing links between the older, younger and future generations; a family coming together united in a ‘sweet’ Jamaican history. “We need to keep on telling and sharing stories, it’s great that they are recorded. We must not stop!”


By Maxine Binger