By FELICITY DARVILLE
I remember the day that I came face to face with Queen Elizabeth II. She spoke to me, and I never forgot her words. The year was 1994. I was a student at St Augustine’s College, and a young public speaker. I was one of the moderators of the royal event at Clifford Park to welcome Her Majesty to The Bahamas.
One of my tasks was to give a speech on her life - from birth to the present time. I went to the library and did my research. Because I was given this responsibility, I had the opportunity to get to know Queen Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor (Elizabeth II) through her life story.
At this point in time, I was an acolyte, serving on the altar at Holy Cross Anglican Church for many years. The Queen was the head of the Church of England, which is a Protestant Anglican church. The English royal family has been a part of this religion since the 16th century.
So, for more reasons than one, there was a connection to the British Crown and a reason to do my best and give this speech. I moderated the programme with Desmond Saunders, and when it was time, I delivered my speech on the life of Queen Elizabeth II. There was a spectacular cultural show, choreographed by the late Bahamian cultural goddess, Kayla Lockhart-Edwards. The late great cultural king John “Chippie” Chipman and his band delivered the sounds of the Bahamas in beats that lifted spirits and brought the celebration to life. A little girl by the name of Miquelle Swann, now a woman, blew the audience away with a powerful rendition of “This Little Light of Mine”. I found some of the highlights of this day on Mike Swann’s Youtube channel.
Mrs Lockhart-Edwards was special to me. She was a mentor and role model. I attended the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts Summer Camp on more than one occasion and had the privilege of coming under her tutelage in dramatic arts and song. She helped to carve my confidence in my youth as she cast me for starring and leading roles in many productions. Later on in life, Chippie would also become my mentor and friend. These two cultural giants gave their hearts to their country. On that day, their best was on display.
With all this background, my young mind was absorbing everything. Proud to be Bahamian, and humbled by the opportunity to contribute to such a prestigious event, I assisted in announcing performance after performance - all in honour of the Queen.
But during that speech, there were another set of drums ringing out at Clifford Park. During one of the breaks, I darted off to the stands to a group of Rastas to find out why they were out there chanting and beating drums.
I said to one of them: “Excuse me, why is it that every time I call Queen Elisabeth’s name, you beat the drums and yell out?” He started to explain, but I needed to get back to my seat. He gave me a pamphlet to read. He and his brethren and sistren were out there to demand justice for their ancestors. To redress the wrongs of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Rastas agitate for “Freedom, Redemption and Repatriation” to Africa, the motherland.
The pamphlet was sponsored by King Emmanuel Charles Edwards, Founder of the Bobo Shanti Kingdom, Jamaica, established in 1948. They were seeking reparations. The hundreds of years of setback, the emotional trauma, the disconnect from their land of origin... all reasons why Rastas want to see the British Crown address the issue and do something to help those who say that they are still suffering from one of the most heinous collective crimes in history. Britain played a major role. I would later delve deeper into the claims that were made for the back to Africa movement.
For the time being, I put the pamphlet away and concentrated on the cause at hand. As the show was coming to a close, I was approached with great excitement by Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, who informed me that I was summoned by the Queen. They wanted to see my curtsy. It was accepted. I remember them giving me certain instructions, including, not to look the Queen directly in her eyes.
I was brought before her. She asked my age. I remember that upon my response, she looked at me from head to toe. I was very thankful to my mother for making sure that I was properly regaled, right down to my freshly-polished shoes. When she looked back at me, I had already broken the rule, and was looking down a pair of the most crystal blue eyes I had ever seen.
She said to me: “Young lady, you are one of the best orators I have ever heard.”
I said, “Thank you,” and as I was whisked away, those same officials were now even more elated, congratulating me, and happy that I had made such a good impression. At that young age, I had no idea of the importance of it all. I was just doing as I was told or asked to do.
Queen Elizabeth inspired me that day. Her words of encouragement rang in my mind as I continued to grow in both public speaking and dramatic arts. Her words have new meaning for me in this advent of her death.
She has reigned for seven decades - longer than The Bahamas has been an Independent nation. She represents the end of an era. Her lengthy reign serves as a bridge between the past and the present. The past... one filled with instances of inhumanity; the future... one where equal rights and justice must stand for all.
The Queen’s position is symbolic. The end of her era does not signal the end of the monarchy. The systems of Government remain in place. Queen Elizabeth II may have even sympathised with some of the causes of the Rasta man. Her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria did. It is said that she personally supported the anti-slavery cause. However, she could not take a public stance. The British system of constitutional monarchy requires that the sovereign be nonpartisan and primarily ceremonial.
When I heard of her passing, it took me back to the moment that I met her. It gives new fuel to the fire to continue to use my voice - whether in speech or writing - for the greater good.
I have seen an outpouring of love for a woman who sacrificed her life for her country. I have also seen the negative comments in reaction to her death. But, I see her as a woman - a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother affectionately called “Grannie” by her loved ones. Her husband, Philip, passed away just the year before. This family is no different from any other, and they undoubtedly feel the loss of their mother.
Elizabeth was an exceptional woman. She was born into the House of Windsor, which began in 1917 when the family changed its name from the German “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.”
Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, King George V, was the first Windsor monarch, and the royals of today are the descendants of King George V and his wife, Queen Mary.
King George’s son became King Edward VIII. This king abdicated the throne in 1936, choosing love over loyalty to the Crown. He fell in love with the twice divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson. He became the Duke of Windsor and made his way to The Bahamas to assume governorship here. Government House, therefore, underwent considerable renovations, during the Duke’s governorship from 1940 to 1944. Renovations included the addition of the West Wing (Windsor Wing) and remodeling of other areas. The country accrued quite a bill accommodating the former king.
His abdication led to his brother, Elizabeth’s father, the Duke of York, becoming King George VI. Elizabeth was ten years old at the time, and she became heir presumptive. Her life took an unexpected turn, and Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret had to be homeschooled and taught subjects such as constitutional history.
The young Elizabeth, like myself, became an orator at an early age. During World War II she made her first public speech to the children of the Commonwealth.
“When peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place,” she said in a broadcast to Commonwealth countries.
She would later serve in World War II in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service as a mechanic and a driver. Two years after the war ended, in 1947, Elizabeth married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. A year later, their first son, Charles was born. He is now the Monarch of Britain, King Charles III.
Elizabeth showed athleticism as she loved racing horses. She had a love for animals, especially her own pack of house dogs. In governance, she is said to have had impeccable memory and good wit. She undoubtedly had to manage public responsibility with her personal commitments. The call on her life was heavy, but she bore it to the end.
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II made good friends with Emperor Haile Selassie I, the reigning monarch of Ethiopia. He inherited the Solomonic Dynasty, and is said to be the 225th King descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Makeda. Their son, Menelik I, is noted as the first of a line of Ethiopian Kings that lasted through to the modern day. Emperor Haile Selassie I brought his country into the modern day, and revolutionized his country as it was prophesied he would do. He entertained Kings, Queens and leaders from around the world during his reign. Queen Elizabeth was no exception. The camaraderie between them is evident in the photos and videos left behind to tell the story of the meeting of the monarchies.
When the Emperor (who was known as Ras Tafari at the time) was crowned, it was a moment in history that is forever encapsulated in the chants of the people of the Rastafari movement. Seventy-two nations from around the world sent their leaders to witness his coronation and acknowledge the Ethiopian monarchy. On November 2, 1930, he received the titles “King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”, among numerous other titles belonging to this rich Solomonic lineage.
As the years progressed, many great leaders would visit him and benefit from his wealth of wisdom, including the former President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy. When Italy waged war on Ethiopia in 1935, it was blessed by Pope Pius XI, and led by military leader Benito Mussolini. The Ethiopian holocaust resulted in the deaths of thousands of Ethiopians, including women and children. Illegal tactics such as the use of mustard gas (in violation of the Geneva Protocol and Geneva Conventions) led to their demise.
Emperor Haile Selassie I appealed to the League of Nations. In response, the League of Nations condemned the Italian invasion and voted to impose economic sanctions on Italy. However, the sanctions were ineffective because of the lack of support from member countries.
Mussolini’s aggression was not viewed favourably by the British. Eventually, the Emperor, Field Marshal General International, would take exile in Bath, Britain. With the help of his ally, he would reclaim his throne five years later, and rebuild his country.
The Emperor told the League of Nations that it was “Ethiopia today” but it would be them “tomorrow”. Shortly thereafter, the nations of the world fell into World War II.
Many people of African descent will continue to hail Emperor Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen, whom he crowned on the same day as himself - the first time in history. The fond diplomatic relationship that he and Queen Elizabeth shared teaches much about diplomacy. Countries around the world must continue to find common ground and operate with mutual respect, the way these two monarchs did.
Yes, Queen Elizabeth taught me much through her life of service. But there is something she could not give me as I looked into her eyes that day - a face that looked like my own.
The children of African descent in the Bahamas have been taught the narrative of the slavery of their ancestors. But they have to be taught at an early age that there are African Kings and Queens to be proud of and to emulate as well. I was fortunate to have travelled to Egypt at the age of seven with my mother. I saw the images of great black Pharaohs on the walls of the pyramids. I saw the vast empires there in Africa. I questioned how we got to The Bahamas, and understood, in this context, the greatness we were taken away from. It all came to bear when I visited Ethiopia a few years ago.
It is only right for the people of Rastafari and others to agitate for the wrongs done to the people of Africa to be set right. The call for the end of the system of oppression that continues will go on. The efforts for justice will not be in vain, and King Charles III and his heir apparent, Prince William, will be faced with the same cries until something changes.
In the meantime, the words of the great prophet Marcus Mosiah Garvey will continue to ring true to the people of African descent: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
The people of the African Diaspora will have to organise and centralise, strengthening each other economically in order to thrive. African leaders and those of African descent must end corruption. Only through unity will African nations see the strength they so desperately need. I won’t give up my continent and I won’t give up my islands. They are both mine. Africa, by lineage and heritage, Bahamas by birth.
As the country begins the discussion on moving further away from the British monarchy and closer to true self-governance, whether it happens in this time or not, The Bahamas will only thrive with true leaders committed to empowering the people.
Farewell, Queen Elizabeth. Thank you for our moment in time, and for the reminder to utilize the power of my voice.