"Waste no opportunity to sing a song or play a tune. Learn how to hook a mat, dance the lancers or build a dory. Show your children how to skin a rabbit, make a figgy duff or trench potatoes... Show them where they came from and the stuff their ancestors were made of."
Usually I smack the snooze on my clock radio to steal myself another nine minutes, this morning though the words spoken by Anita Best on CBC radio brought me fast awake. Seldom is it heard in these modern times the need to grab onto what we hold dear as Newfoundlanders and as Labradorians, with the above words she had my ear.
I was listening to an excerpt of a speech given at convocation upon Ms. Best receiving her honourary degree from MUN. She expressed how important it was to the woman she would become to have been born in her Placentia Bay home of Merasheen. Thanking her family and "the many other singers of Merasheen and Tack’s Beach [who] sowed and nurtured the seeds of traditional song within me."
In Community Linkages we often struggle to put to words the true value of what it means to be a Newfoundlander or Labradorian. What it means to have grown up with our traditions, craft, culture and song. To make the argument that these intangible products of our early life have a true value in the people we become. It has a value not only in shaping our lives but an intrinsic value in the careers we follow, the lessons we learn that we in turn give back to our communities. In Ms. Best’s speech to the students of MUN could be found the true essence of why the CLCC was formed and from which we gain our strength:
"I hope that you will broaden and enrich your lives as engineers and academic professionals by participating in and passing on our intangible cultural heritage. Waste no opportunity to sing a song or play a tune. Learn how to hook a mat, dance the lancers or build a dory. Show your children how to skin a rabbit, make a figgy duff or trench potatoes. By all means read them stories from books, but tell them your stories too. Show them where they came from and the stuff their ancestors were made of." She writes.
Community Linkages is not blinded by a romanticized view of our past. We do not express a desire to return to a storybook vision of outport Newfoundland and Labrador, instead we recognize that our communities are in transition, in order to flourish, our rural communities will find their place in a modern world. The true strength of Newfoundland and Labrador has always been in its survivability in the toughest of situations. It is innovation, community leadership, and individual sponsorship that will spark new life into our communities just as it has for generations. Ms. Best too expresses the necessity to evolve and adapt: "You can change the recipes—every generation has the responsibility to use tradition to create their own art! Chris Brookes, Figgy Duff and CODCO did it in our generation, WGB and Great Big Sea did it in theirs; Duane Andrews, Graham Wells, Billy Sutton and many others are doing it now."
The people of Newfoundland and Labrador have crafted a good life from a land that is at once brutal and beautiful. Ms. Best told the convocation "...a long line of traditional singers and storytellers [have] collectively crafted a rich culture from the weather, rock and water; shore, sea and sky of the Newfoundland outport, which fellow bayman Rex Murphy has called “the house of our being.”"
It is up to each of us as Newfoundlanders and as Labradorians to recognize “the house of our being." In it we will find our resolve.
With great thanks to Anita Best who sent me the transcript of her speech and allowed me to use portions of it here.