The night was unusually cool for Trinidad and Emily pulled her blanket tighter around her shoulders, she nudged at her husband Edward’s sleeping form until he groggily turned towards her with a tired and questioning look. Please check if the window is open it’s cold! Edward smiled, used to her whims and stepped out of the bed patting her pregnant belly as he did so. He was a happy man, a child on the way, two strong healthy sons and an understanding wife who loved him as deeply as he loved her.
But despite his joy in his good fortune, there was always the doubt that his children would not have the opportunity to achieve all that he had. Which was not very much in terms of money. He worked hard at many different jobs over the years and he wanted his children to be educated, as his father had wanted for him.
As he closed the window he heard a knock at his front door. He looked at the clock his wife’s mother had given them as an engagement gift and saw it was 4 O’clock in the morning! His wife sat up in the bed and looked at him pensively. Edward smiled at her, reassuringly, gathered his robe about him and headed for the door. Intent on giving this morning intruder a very stern lesson in courtesy he also picked up the rusty hammer he kept by the door just in case it wasn’t a friendly visit. To his surprise his father in law Papa Jackson stood at the door.
“Well aren’t you going to let me in or should I just stand here ‘til sunrise?” The old man said in a gravelly voice. Edward ushered him in. His curiosity piqued as to why the old man was at his door at such an unusual hour. “Is Maman well?” Edward asked.
“Yes, yes, she’s fine. That is not why I am here. I need you to come with me right away. It is a matter of great importance to our family and we must leave quickly and quietly.”
Papa nodded in the direction of the bedroom where he knew his daughter was awake listening. “Maman will be here shortly to take care of Emily. What I ask is very important, will you come?”
Ordinarily Edward would have scoffed at the idea but something in his father-In-Laws eyes made him fetch his clothes to come. Edward went back to the room and hurriedly explained to Emily that her father was there and needed his aid and her mother would arrive shortly. He had no further information to offer and he kissed her cheek as he hurriedly pulled on his pants and grabbed his coat from a chair.
When they got outside Papa was very quiet as they began walking on the road towards town. Soon Edward realized they had left the road and were traveling down a path he had never seen before. Edward thought he knew the area in the vicinity of his home like the back of his hand and was surprised to find he had no idea where they were and they had only walked a few miles. Soon Edward could hear drumming and chanting; he recognized the Shango Orisa three drum style of drumming as much of his family were members of the old African religion. Edward considered himself a modern man but respected the ways of the older generation. His Mama had always told him ”One does not get old by being a fool.” Soon they broke through the trees and stepped into a clearing.
All around him in a circle were young men and women dressed in white. It contrasted deeply against their dark complexions; the forest was still as it was just before dawn. The circle of people parted to reveal a heavy set woman not much older than Edward wearing a colorful patterned dress and a bright yellow scarf wrapped around her head. Edward expected her to jump at him and spout some Mumbo Jumbo but she just smiled, extended her hand and introduced herself as Auntie. The crowd dispersed hugging each other and left Edward and Papa standing in the clearing with Auntie watching the sunrise.
Auntie turned looking up at Edward beaming a beatific smile with shining teeth like pearls. “You wonder why we brought you here at this time, '' Auntie asked. “Why yes…” Edward began but was cut off. “…because sunrise is an important time to make decisions , sometimes we make decisions that can change lives or take them. It is always in our hands to do either. We are powerful beyond measure, that is what Oya and Shango teach us and we must respect that power and each other if we are to truly live.
“I’m not looking to change religions.” Edward said. “And I’m not asking you to.” Auntie replied. “I respect your ability to choose for yourself.” Then why are we here? Edward sighed growing increasingly tired and suspicious ``''We are here because your Papa has made me a very interesting offer. I am leaving for the United States today. That was my going away celebration you witnessed. Your grandfather has helped me pay my plane fare and because my father was an American I can go to the U.S. as a citizen. In return he has asked when your children are of age that I take them in so that they may have the opportunities not afforded those who live out their lives on this Island.”
Edward was aghast. He looked from her to his wife’s father and felt a rage build within him. What right had these people to decide anything about his children’s future!
Auntie looked into Edward’s eyes noting the anger and hurt in them. “Do not be angry,'' she spoke softly. “Your Papa would not take anything from you; he has given all he has for this opportunity. Our children are our living waters. They reach back into the rivers of our ancestors and bring forth the sprinklings of our lives to make oceans.”
Auntie closed her eyes and burst into song “Mother of all/Star of the sea/Pray for your children/Pray for me”. At that moment the first beam of the morning sun struck her face and the fire of it was in her eyes. Edward trembled as a singing voice serene yet somehow distant sung calmly to him. Edward knew it was sung in a whisper but it resounded in his ears like a clanging bell telling him of things this woman could not, should not, know! She sang of the worries of his heart and soul, the joys, and pain of his life, and the future of his child. He saw her power and pain, he saw triumphs, and schools, he watched his daughter fly through the air to soar over a world to cities he longed to travel. He saw places he knew he would never set foot upon and he cried tears of joy for the child who would. When the voice stopped Edward looked around to find both Papa and Auntie no longer in front of him but a few feet away looking at him strangely.
“What happened to you?” Papa asked nervously. “Nothing…” Edward replied, wiping tears from his eyes. “I was just listening to her song.”
“What song?” Papa replied, “we were about to discuss this and you froze like a statue right where you are. We’ve been calling your name for 5 minutes!”
Edward looked up toward the Trinidadian sun. “It’s going to be a beautiful day today the sun looks just like a pearl…as a matter of fact that will be her name.”
“Whose name?” Papa asked exasperated with a worried look on his face. “Why my daughter’s name of course Pearl Eileen Primus! Let’s go home Papa” Edward smiled. “Breakfast will be ready and I’m starving, besides you, me, and Auntie… we’ve got a lot of planning to do.”
Dr. Pearl Eileen Primus PhD. was an American dancer, choreographer and anthropologist. Primus played an important role in the presentation of African dance to American audiences. Early in her career she saw the need to promote African dance as an art form worthy of study and performance. She was also an activist for Civil rites and went undercover as a migrant worker in the Deep South to inform the world about the plight of the people there. As an artist/ educator, Primus taught at a number of universities during her career including NYU, Hunter College, the State University of New York at Purchase, the College of New Rochelle, Iona College, the State University of New York at Buffalo, Howard University, the Five Colleges consortium in Massachusetts. She also taught at New Rochelle High School, assisting with cultural presentations. As an anthropologist, she conducted cultural projects in Europe, Africa and America for such organizations as the Ford Foundation, US Office of Education, New York University, Universalist Unitarian Service Committee, Julius Rosenwald Foundation, New York State Office of Education, and the Council for the Arts in Westchester.
Born: November 29, 1919, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Died: October 29, 1994, New Rochelle, NY
Awards: National Medal of Arts
Education: New Dance Group, New York University