By-Dr. Steinberg Henry
After almost 60 minutes of conversation by telephone between Georgia and Grange, Dominica, he raised a most insightful question. He asked me, “How do we know that a Henry and a Watty, our ancestors, did not have a similar conversation one hundred or even two hundred years ago?” It is a point of entrance, is it not? Theologically and philosophically, we may ask, were we always here or for that matter, are we always here, only changing form? We would not have been known as Henry and Watty, but we would’ve had an ancestry and surely, they would have been in the throes of discourse during days of enslavement and farther. Liberation theology you may say? Evidently, signals a point of entrance to the 21st. century thinking drawing on a 1970s and 1980s Latin American and Caribbean interpretation of biblical text; one that empowered women and men to be practical in Christ. Given the course of 21st-century spiritual movements, Rev Watty was way ahead, thinking of us always to have been here or there long before we were conceived in our mother’s womb (Job 3:16; Psalm 51:5; Psalm 139:13–16; Isaiah 44:24). We have to think it and, he encouraged thinking through it, meaningfully and indeed, holistically.
I was baptized Methodist and Reverend Watty’s sister was my Godmother. He was a mentor of sorts, an older and more experienced counselor, and a guide to me. I too had become fascinated with his advanced thoughts in sermons, always placing the spirit of Christ in the now, the ever-present. In my book titled “Calypso Drift,” I reflected a bit on those Ministers who came to serve at the Portsmouth Methodist church at Zicack where I was born. The text emerged to meet and find William Watty at the Fort Young Hotel in 2008. It read:
- In my boyhood days, I witnessed a few Methodist ministers who were called White. They sang those John Wesley hymns with a power of ownership. One sang, lifting his voice over and above the sweetness of his flock, adding striking harmony to hymns and beauty to Sunday morning’s praise and worship. They were good men. When one called Black did come to shepherd our congregation, there was an uneasy stillness over and in the pews. He couldn’t sound the same, could he? His accent was familiar yet strange when preaching the Word with such assurance, compared to the decorum hidden in a Brit. He preached with his hands; he preached with his eyes. He had to wipe the beads from his face at times when preaching St. Paul’s ‘nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’ Reverend Neville Brudy was one such man. He was what we call real today—connecting everyday Dominican and global life to Paul to the Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews with consummate authority and clarity. Wow. What a representation of a consuming fire!
Reverend William Watty is another such man. He’s a Dominican-Caribbean theologian and a former president of the United Theological College of the West Indies. He’s retired and lives closer to Zion, at Grange in northern Dominica. He speaks of Rastafari. Pronouncing it Rastafaree.
As a Methodist, his method of interpreting, even understanding the course of modern humanity fascinated, and instructed me. Occasionally, I’d visit him at the Methodist Manse in Dominica’s capital. One day, he drew my attention to a book on millennia, which led to a discussion on the phenomenon that was time, its distinguishing features in history, and its motifs. Hear calypso. He observed that popes, kings, and others ruled the first millennium guided by the motif “I Believe That I May Understand.” In the second millennium, the guiding overriding principle arose by way of Descartes, who pronounced, cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I exist.” Some said, “I think, therefore I am.” From his 1637 mental architecture, Descartes thought that the goal of knowledge was to bend nature to man’s purpose. The Indian scholar Kapil Kapoor stirs us up into critique when he states that from Descartes, Western civilization has been “harnessing nature” to the extent that it has brought us to the threshold of this disturbing conjuncture—an ecological disaster. Psychotherapist and power animal specialist Dr. Steven Farmer noted that it would have been better if Descartes had said, “I Am, Therefore I Think!” (Calypso Drift: Chapter 22, 2014).
Only last week, I finished reading Pope Francis’ encyclical letter titled “Laudato Si” and the Pontiff was absolutely clear about the origin of climate change two centuries ago. Traces of this change are firmly rooted in the saying “I think, therefore I am!” Yes, European Man discovered in him/herself the ability and capacity to determine the course of rivers and, in fact, the course of nature. Evidently, the phenomenon of climate change and its aftermath into the third millennium were disclosed to me in miniature by Reverend Watty.
That book that Rev (as we fondly called him) showed to me (almost as if I simply had to glance at it) was titled “The Third Millennium.” It was written by Ken Carey. Point of entrance? When I sought to understand what was identified as a “conceptual field” behind my changing eyes, I found Carey for myself and read what many classified as new-age literature. My friend, Reverend William Watty showed me Ken Carey’s book in 1997 and I drew from its interstices in 2022 in formulating parts of the first chapter of my PhD dissertation.
In 2008, Reverend Watty delivered the Reunion address at the Fort Young Hotel. The first celebration of Reunion Year was ten years earlier in 1988. Again, his text appeared in my 2014 publication, and looking at the text now, it is a refreshing contribution to the advancement of our Kwéyòl lexicon — notice how the Kwéyòl (French and African) is juxtaposed with the Kokoy (the English and African) in his presentation. My text read:
- Dominican performers and musicians … sported a lyrical language representing encounters between Africa, England, and France between their people’s holocaust in an evil trade in black skins. That language used by musicians in the 1970s was referred to as patois (patwa), one that Reverend William Watty would describe as having all the qualities of a language, plus a structure similar to that of Hebrew. Ha-ha!
Delivering an address on visionary thinking at Dominica’s Fort Young Hotel to mark the end of Reunion Year 2008, he told the gathering and radio audiences, “If you study patois, you will see that it is an African language into which French words were inserted.” He continued, “I suspect that the language was very sophisticated because I have found close resemblances between the structure of sentences in Patois and Biblical Hebrew. The most important word was the word that was spoken first. Not back to front. The Hebrew would never say ‘I am going to Roseau’ unless he meant that I, was different from somebody else. If it was not that he meant, he would say, ‘to Roseau, I am going.’ And that is how we speak Patois. And, the repetition, ‘is run I running’ is Hebrew … These are not broken languages we’re speaking. These are sophisticated languages into which French words have been inserted. There are resemblances in sentence structures between the Marigot Kokoy and the St. Joseph Patois—the words are different—one speaks it in English and the other speaks it in French—but the structured sentences show these people have come from the same tribe” (Calypso Drift: Chapter 25, 2014).
As for the Hebrews, St. Paul addressed them, producing in the process a universal definition of faith (Hebrews 11:1) and referred to God as an all-consuming fire! (Hebrews 12:29). Pan-Africanist Ferdie Blanc told me, Hebrews were Black people with wooly hair!
I mean Reverend Watty was truly controversial that night at the Fort Young, stating that the Kalinago were not the first people to live in Dominica. That was not a popular view. Who knows, even as the Kalinago celebrate Kalinago Week in September 2023, they may use the opportunity in this century to set the record straight. Reverend Watty was of the view that Europeans met Kalinago on the island and wrote their histories, but the Kalinago were not the first people to live on Dominica. Did he mean to diminish Kalinago’s historical value? Oh no! They were much greater peoples with a much deeper history than Europe cared to establish. Should they now take hold of their greater progeny? Absolutely. Point of entrance in 21st. century thought!
The last time Reverend Watty and I spoke at length, he was telling me about his sermon at Wallace House (Portsmouth Methodist Church) on Easter Sunday 2023. “I was so happy to see so many young people in the congregation. So many of them.” He reminded me that he was approaching 90 years old and cherished the opportunity to preach on such an important Sunday in the Methodist and Christian calendar.
What he told me resonates to this minute even as I write. I had repeated his saying many times over the last month to friends and loved ones, barely cognizant of his spirit visiting. He said, “I told them, ‘You are the Resurrection.’”
Yes, my Twenty-First Century family, friends, citizens of Dominica, and the world, “You are the Resurrection!” The Kingdom of Heaven is alive and active within you! Live the risen Christ, he was saying to those young ones gathered (possibly by way of their ancestry one hundred years before). They were being invited to look into the energy inside them, to realize their new value, to become aware that they were born again, are being born again, are alive again, are life itself in all its glory!
Then, of course, he was a master of the text and the hermeneutic. He cautioned me as a student and potential scholar, that whenever a chapter in The Bible begins with the word “therefore,” you should read the chapter before to uncover what is thus being consolidated. An example can be found between Hebrews 11 and 12.
And then, there was this about how biblical texts were seen (I did not want to write perceived). He would say, to keep in mind that the Church Fathers of the time kept and removed sections. At that time, we were discussing Nicodemus’ who came to Jesus by night; why he used the cover of night; and why Jesus stunned him with his reply to the extent that Nicodemus’ voice did not appear in the last eleven verses of their conversation (John 3).
I keep feeling as I write this that death should be a celebration, but I am experiencing a sense of loss and sadness. It is how and who we are, is it not? Every now and then the sorrow rises in us. His wife and children, his sister and brothers who are still alive will know this emotional sweep no matter their age. I am just thankful that he came along and in the world of our ever-becoming, he met with my wife and children and me in the Twentieth and Twenty-First centuries while our ancestors joyfully went about their work. I am thankful to God and to Christ that We met Us!
I continue to hear him, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life NOW.” He placed in the NOW!
PS: If you so desire, you may find copies of “Calypso Drift” at: