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Tribute To A Friend Gordon Rohlehr (1942-2023)

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By Patrick “Paba” Anthony, Saint Lucia

The members of the Msgr. Patrick Anthony Folk Research Centre (FRC) are saddened to learn of the passing of giant Caribbean intellectual and friend of the FRC Gordon Rohlehr.

He passed away in Trinidad on January 29th 2023 where he had made his home for more than five decades.

Gordon was a giant Caribbean intellect from Guyana, and leading critic of Caribbean literature, both oral and scribal. Besides his doctoral thesis on Joseph Conrad and his monumental study of ” Calypso and Society in Pre-Independence Trinidad”(1990), he had also published  “Pathfinders: Black Awakening in the Arrivants of Edward Kamau Brathwaite”(1981), “My Strangled City and Other Essays”(1990), and “The Shape of That Hurt and Other Essays”(1992). He co-edited “Voiceprint” in 1989. A number of his books are now published by Peepal Tree Press.

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Gordon, along with Earl Augustus, Terry Julien, Everard Johnston, Knolly Clarke, Jeff Elder, to name a few, participated in the Conference on Creative Theological Reflection held in Trinidad (May 28-30, 1973), organized by Idris Hamid on behalf of the CCC (Caribbean Conference of Churches).

Gordon’s paper at this conference entitled “Man’s Spiritual Search in the Caribbean Through Literature”, published in TROUBLING OF THE WATERS (Hamid, 1973, pp.187-205) along with Idris Hamid’s own “In Search of New Perspectives” (CADEC, Bridgetown, 1971) were the seminal works which influenced those of us who have pursued interest in the relationship between Caribbean Literature and Caribbean Theology.

In 1993, Gordon Rohlehr delivered the feature address at the formal opening of the new home of the Folk Research Centre, at Mount Pleasant in Castries, Saint Lucia.

His address entitled ” Folk Research: Fossil or Living Bone?” was first published in the Folk Research Center Bulletin, Vol. 3 No.2 (July-December, 1993, pp.18-31) and republished in THE ROAD TO MOUNT PLEASANT (Selected Essays on Saint Lucian Culture in Honour of Msgr. Patrick Anthony on his 70th Birthday) FRC, Castries, 2017.

Here, in his own words, is Gordon’s description of the genesis of our relationship and enduring struggle for the liberation of our people: ”My connection with the Folk Research Centre actually began before the Centre itself was instituted. Sometime in the early 1970’s a great period of ethnic, political and cultural ferment in the Caribbean, I was privileged to meet and establish friendship with a number of young seminarians from the Abbey at Mt. St. Benedict, Trinidad: Terrence Julien, Clyde Harvey, Glyn Jemmott, Patrick Anthony, Kelvin Felix, Boyd Reid and later Patrick Gomes.

Their interest was to define a program of social action for a church whose relevance had been deeply questioned by the upsurgence of Afro-Caribbean nationalism throughout the region. My interest was, through my discipline, literary criticism, to illuminate the various and complex explorations of our Caribbean identity that novelists, poets, dramatists and singers had been making over the seven decades of this century. Our common interest was in making relevant to the processes of liberation, all the spiritual and intellectual resources of the region” (Road to Mount Pleasant, p. 141).

Thanks, Gordon, for your contribution. You are gone, but the struggle continues.  Dear friend, “travel light”! PAX!

Msgr Patrick Anthony is the Founder of the Folk Research Centre, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Headline photo: Gordon  Rohlehr, George Alphonse, Kendel Hippolyte, Patrick Anthony, 1993

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