PATRIARCH GRANVILLE WILLIAMS

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 When I decided to honour the life of the late pioneer Leader, His Excellency Patriarch the Hon. Dr Granville Williams JP, OHP. I was researching and found this excerpt from the book “Ye shall dream” that I will share with you. For the next few days, I will highlight other aspects of the life of this great leader. Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div (Patriarch)

Ye Shall Dream: Patriarch Granville Williams and the Barbados Spiritual Baptists

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Ye Shall Dream: Patriarch Granville Williams and the Barbados Spiritual Baptists. Ezra E.H. Griffith. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2010. xiv + 207 pp. (Paper US$ 25.00)

The Spiritual Baptist religion, which began to take its current form during the latter part of the nineteenth century in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, later appeared in Trinidad and Tobago sometime during the first decades of the twentieth century. More recently, the religion was brought to Barbados from Trinidad by Granville Williams in 1957, and this is the primary subject of Ye Shall Dream by Ezra E.H. Griffith.

Griffith’s fine work is both ethnographic and biographical, an approach that, as he writes, “has resulted in a melding of biographical portraiture of Williams and psycho-cultural observations of the religious movement he founded” (p. 11). It is this very approach that, in my mind, makes his ethnography an invaluable contribution to the literature on this religion. His focus on Williams allows him to explore the complex dynamic of leadership and authority, which is ordinarily a significant issue in this somewhat decentralized religion comprised of largely autonomous churches, but which, in this case, takes on an added significance given the fact that Williams is himself the founder of the church in Barbados. Griffith’s background in psychiatry is evident in his expert exploration of the psycho-therapeutic aspects of the Spiritual Baptist religion, a subject that he turns to time and again.

In Chapter 1, “Framing the Narrative,” Griffith discusses his research on Caribbean religions, which has focused primarily on their therapeutic aspects. Chapter 2, “Cultural Context,” begins with a discussion of the religious landscape of Barbados, a landscape that has been dominated by colonialism in the form of the Anglican Church although other Protestant faiths are popular as well. There is a brief discussion of “Obeah,” which Griffith
describes as “African-based religious beliefs including sorcery” (p. 16), and it is implied that this somewhat unwelcome ideology nevertheless thrived within the more “proper” religious context of the island. Griffith notes that discrimination against blacks has been a palpable part of the social fabric in Barbados. It was in this general context, then, that Williams, a native Barbadian living in Trinidad where he was a leader in the Spiritual Baptist faith, would move to Barbados in 1957 and attempt to establish a church there.

Chapter 3, “Granville Williams: The Early Years,” covers Williams’s early life in Barbados, his migration to Trinidad in 1944, and the next thirteen years of his life, which he spent on that island. Griffith notes that it was during this time in Trinidad that Williams became involved with the Spiritual Baptist Church and eventually established himself as a knowledgeable and charismatic leader in his own right.

In Chapter 4, “The Return to Barbados,” we learn that Williams’s charisma and abilities as a religious leader notwithstanding, he had to overcome Barbadian biases against the transplanted Trinidadian Spiritual Baptist faith. Griffith notes that Williams was able to attract worshipers by preaching a black/African pride gospel if you will. This resonated with black Barbadians who had endured a second-tier social status for generations.

Chapter 5, “On Faith and Ritual,” provides readers with a detailed description of the various rites and rituals conducted by the Spiritual Baptist Church, including baptism, a typical worship service, and “mourning”
(a sensory deprivation ritual where the worshiper goes on a succession of “spiritual travels”). The important role of dreams and visions in the religion are discussed as well.

In Chapter 6, “On Visions, Possession and Symbols,” Griffith further explores dreams and visions, using the two terms synonymously since it is difficult to make any kind of distinction between them given the way his contacts used the terms. He makes no attempt to critique the veracity of claims regarding visions and dreams and, in fact, notes that “Indeed, much of the time, it seems pointless to worry about trying to verify [their] authenticity” (pp. 31-32). In regard to the possession, he points out that Barbadians do not use that term, no doubt because of its association with Orisha worship in Trinidad.

Chapter 7, “On Spiritual Garments,” focuses on the distinct religious garb that marks Spiritual Baptist practitioners. Generally speaking, the dress individuals adopt indicates their position in the hierarchy of the Church which,
in turn, is related to their spiritual growth and progress in the Church. The complex Church hierarchy, which includes a number of ministerial and non-ministerial positions, is discussed in Chapter 8, “Organizational Structure.”

Chapter 9, “Further Reflections on the Leader,” consists primarily of a discussion of Williams and the way he exercised his authority, which was absolute, in Church affairs. Here Griffith suggests that Williams’s efforts to establish a black-oriented and black-themed Spiritual Baptist Church in Barbados could be viewed more generally as an exercise in ethnic and cultural “resistance.” Finally, the last chapter, “Ye Shall Dream,” revisits the notion of “church as therapy” and also questions whether Williams might eventually have to compromise his authoritarian role in the church given the democratic aspirations of younger adherents.

Ye Shall Dream is a rich exploration not only of an Afro-Caribbean religion but also of the more general topics of resistance, empowerment, and creolization. Griffith’s ethnography is a culturally rich, informed, and well-written
addition to Afro-Caribbean scholarship. It’s a must-read not only for religionists working in this area but also for those interested in the broader topic of ethnicity and empowerment in a colonial context.

James Houk
Department of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Our Lady of the Lake College
Baton Rouge LA 70808, U.S.A.
jhouk@ololcollege.edu

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Sir Godfrey Gregg
Sir Godfrey Gregg is one of the Administrators and managing Director of this site

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