Burning Mr. Harding
As Crop Over approaches I have been looking for inspiration to write a Crop Over Blog. Today I found such inspiration in a refreshed memory of Burning Mr. Harding.
As a young child I gathered with my siblings and cousins on Brighton Beach where my uncle lived to watch Harding burn. We did not know what it meant but we knew it happened every year at the end of the Crop Over festivities. To our young minds it was an exciting thing to see this tall figure set ablaze.
To be honest it is only today I have learnt the meaning behind burning Mr. Harding. In an era that is long gone Barbadians were greatly deepened on the sugar crop for their livelyhood. The crop over season was the first 4 months of the year. The end of the season was observed on plantations by Crop Over festivities that I will discuss further in post that will follow this one.
Crop Over is a Barbadian Folk Festival which evolved out of the harvest festivals of two cultures, England and West Af rica. This colourful national celebration is also one the Western world's oldest festivals, dating back to the 1780s' when plantation workers proclaimed the end of the sugar crop with feasting and dancing in the plantation yards. At that time the end of the crop and grueling field-work was cause for celebration. It was a plantation event marked by the arrival of the last cart of canes and punctuated by a day of dancing and frolic. As the last procession of decorated carts made their way into the mill yard, a labourer would beat a make shift gong announcing the "Crop Over."
The very last cart carried "Mr Harding" an effigy made of cane trash stuffed into an old pair of trousers and coat, with a top hat on its head. Mr. Harding symbolized that period between sugar crops, when employment was difficult to obtain and money was scarce. This time was referred to as "Hard Time" so that the crop time and the hard time divided the Barbadian year.
In 1974 when Crop Over was revived and adopted by the Board of Tourism as a national festival, the "burning of Mr. Harding" was included. But as the result of an element of lawlessness that marred this event in 1979, the ritual was discontinued.
The "Mighty Gabby" a well known Barbadian Calypsonian won the first ever Crop-Over road march title in 1979 with "Burn Mr. Harding"
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