Horizon at Sandy Point

Monday, March 31, 2014


Chaguabarriga: the name itself is miasmic, like the fetid smell of things rotting in a mangrove swamp. It is to this estate that the colonists subscribing to Etzler's scheme aboard the Rosalind were bound in 1845. It's the new homestead on Trinidad - last island south in the Caribbean - where Willy Tucker's Papee intends to resettle his family.

And so, Willy Tucker crosses the Atlantic into the new world with his true love Marguerite. The journey stirs the blood with the adventurousness, the "time out of mind" quality of the sea voyage: a boy on his own even in cramped quarters, true love found and explored, no luxury cruise but a transit of faith upon which future fortunes are riding. The final destination - Trinidad, Chaguabarigga - brings truth, trickery, loss and the struggle for survival.   

Willy's voice is central to Robert Antoni's As Flies to Whatless Boys. It is as a boy would trade stories with his mates - colloquial and unadorned, direct and true. Almost 35 years since he came out to the colony, he is sitting on the deck of the Condor with his own son, under a half moon, with the lights of the island in the distance. He has been invited to deliver a lecture based on his self-learned study of hummingbirds and the skill to preserve them. But before he embarks on another sea voyage, Willy entrusts this tale of continuity to his son and heirs.

More than a hundred years after that, Robert Antoni (Mr Robot) searches historical documents to prove the background to the Tucker family story. He bounces up Miss Ramsol who guards the archives and photocopier with her body. Letters and written records are important devices in Whatless Boys: Marguerite's notes; Etzler's contracts; newspaper reports; Willy's commission to lecture; and of course the rude provocative email teasers from Miss Ramsol.

In the end, Mr Robot has his story. But we are left with one mystery. Where is Chaguabarigga? Is it today's Las Cuevas? Yarra? Blanchisseuse? Where are the oilbird caves nearby? What was the Amerindian trail they trekked to bring Papee back to Port of Spain?

Robert Antoni's Whatless Boys is an entertaining read - enjoyable on many levels -  adding to the rich lore of the many reasons people came, or were brought, to Trinidad. It is sad, funny, a growing up story of longing and fulfilment and loss. It is never self-pitying or apologetic, a story to be handed down from generation to resourceful generation.

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