Monday, August 25, 2008

"Play Yuh Mas Rev"

Mas playing priest dies

By ANGELA PIDDUCK, Trinidad Newsday, Sunday, January 20 2008

(This story was published first in 'The Anglican Outlook', the newspaper of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago in November 2001; and repeated in the same newspaper in its Christmas 2007/January 2008 issue following the Revd Fr Clifford Hendey's death in England on October 17, 2007.)

The Reverend Father Clifford Hendey (spelt correctly), the first Anglican priest in the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago who "played mas", died in England on October 17, 2007, at the age of 77, after suffering from cancer of the pancreas for one year.

In recent years, what caused a "furore" in the then rather conservative church, raised just a few eyebrows when Canon Winston Joseph and Father Brian Jemmott played in masquerade bands at Carnival.

To quote from The Anglican Outlook: "The English priest, then 35 years and stationed at St Saviour’s (now Holy Saviour), Curepe, played with the Angostura Starlift Steelband on the streets of Port-of-Spain on Carnival Tuesday in 1966. Many people were horrified but Fr Hendey told the now defunct Daily Mirror he thought he had done nothing wrong." Reactions were mixed about Father Hendey’s Carnival activities.

Bishop William James Hughes summoned him to Hayes Court and administered a severe reprimand and considered whether or not to send him back to the United Kingdom "as he had caused irreparable damage to be done to the church. "I had ‘split’ it."

Father Rawle Douglin (now Bishop) commented that "although things might be lawful, they were not necessarily expedient."

The Sunday after Carnival 1966, scores of people flocked the St Saviour’s Church to see the ‘priest who played mas’ but were disappointed as he was due to take the service at St John’s, San Juan."

A packed-to-capacity Holy Trinity Cathedral where Father Hendey was delivering a series of lunch-time Lenten lectures, was counterbalanced by the congregation of St John’s, San Juan, locking him out of the church and waving banners inscribed with the words "We want a priest to say Mass, not play Mas’."

Neither St Saviour’s nor any of the other clergy had anything to say. In 2001, Father Hendey wrote Vernon Allick of the Anglican Outlook giving the reasons for his mas playing.

In late October 1958, the young priest who had recently arrived in the diocese, was "dropped off" at the Toco Rectory, and when Captain Clifford Beepat of the Church Army left for duties in the south, "I felt alone and isolated — abandoned even" said the late priest whose feelings were made even more acute by not having a car to travel out of the north coast , nor a phone by which to communicate with life beyond it. Added to which there were sensations of being an alien in a strange land as he had difficulty understanding the language although it was English, felt uncomfortable in what was for him excessive heat, and could not get English food. Father Hendey "missed to the point of frustration all the conveniences of life that were dependent on a supply of electricity."

When the then Bishop Noel Chamberlain declined Hendey’s request for repatriation, at his own expense, an agreement was reached that in return for remaining on the north coast for 12 months, he would be posted elsewhere in the diocese.

Faced with this 12-month sojourn which eventually became seven years, Hendey said, "I had to deal with two options, assimilate or disintegrate mentally. Of course, I chose to assimilate, which choice was made easy by the open-heartedness of all Toconans, especially that of the young people. But assimilation could not lead to disappearance. It had to be a positive and creative assimilation that would enhance my ministry."

"So I formulated for myself — it was a thoughout and conscious formulation — a theory of what I called an Incarnational Ministry which would mean exchanging ‘absolutely and totally’ my "Englishness" for "Trinidadianness." The method by which this would be achieved would be a progressive assimilation into Trinidadian culture at all levels." Father Hendey began by learning to speak as his Toco parishioners, to adopt their vocabulary, colloquialisms, accent and speech rhythms, and then to preach in his newly learned language. Then he exchanged formal English attire for North Coast informality, together with the daily rhythm of life and its customs, by which to live.

"Clock time means nothing, ‘liming’ is village communication and entertainment, greet everyone one met with in the street or along the trace by his/her Christian name prefixed by Mister, Miss or Missis, as the case might be — the older heads that is. "Boy" would do for my contemporaries in age."

In the next stage, he entered into the folk culture of Trinidad which in the rural communities meant practising rather than merely observing the art of folk dance, drumming, playing a pan, and participating in village wakes.

"This I achieved, if only at an elementary level. But the progression to total assimilation leading to an Incarnational Ministry had to go further if it was to be completed, as far as playing mas’ in Port-of-Spain, the epicentre of Carnival."

"My first experience of Carnival in Port-of-Spain was in 1960 — two years after I had arrived in Trinidad – and the first mas’ I saw as I stood at the bottom of Frederick Street waiting for the parade of bands was a solitary Roman Soldier on his way to his band’s headquarters. I was spellbound.

Here before my eyes, was a proud man in shining silver armour and blue silk — as true a Roman as there ever had been when Imperial Rome was at the height of its splendour and power."

"That" I thought "is for me." Playing mas’ will be the climax of my assimilation into Trinidadian culture that will make an Incarnational Ministry real. Mas’ playing would be the outward sign of an interior assimilation." It was not until 1966 however that Father Hendey finally played mas’ with Starlift’s "Splendour of the Himalayas."

The Mighty Cypher sang in 1967 a calypso "If the Priest could play, Who is We"; and Lord Bryner sang "Play Yuh Mas Rev."`Father Hendey played mas’ for three consecutive years.

Father Hendey says: "I sensed from remarks and comments made to me — a general feeling that a more generous assessment of, and attitude towards, Carnival had been unlocked... That the long held view by many citizens that Carnival was the work of the devil, despite it being a national festival, had been challenged and found wanting… For me to have played mas’, three times in all, was a final rite of passage that assimilated me into Trinidadianism which enabled me to practise my theory of an Incarnational Ministry; and I know that it worked… Doors and ears were opened to me post mas’-playing than were before; but, it all began in Toco, of which village I still consider myself a "Toco Boy." Clifford Hendey’s assimilation was completed when in 1968 he married Vera Brereton, the third child of Fitzroy and Angelina of Sangre Grande and a nurse in the second parish to which he was sent after Toco.

So that when Father Hendey left Trinidad in August 1971 to return to the United Kingdom after almost 13 years: "The island went with him in the presence of his wife and three daughters, Christine, Frances and Michelle."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This story was published first in 'The Anglican Outlook', the newspaper of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago in November 2001; and repeated in the same newspaper in its Christmas 2007/January 2008 issue following the Revd Fr Clifford Hendey's death in England on October 17, 2007.