SOME YEARS AGO, I recall as a junior reporter, having to apologise to a senior editor for suggesting that if he took a particular course of action, then he would only be a “yard fowl”!
I was shocked the day after to be summoned to a meeting including said editor, with a grim visage, and told he had taken offence.
I was shocked it had reached his ears, since he had not been in our small group’s conversation.
I was shocked he had taken such great umbrage at an expression that had been widely used – before either of us was born – in this society and possibly the wider Caribbean, by people at all levels and not just politicians.
But what particularly disturbed me (apart from the meeting having placed a certain label on his informer/s!) was that here was an acerbic character with a vituperative pen, who took it as a right to pour vitriol on all comers, taking such extreme objection to a harmless remark.
I could not believe my eyes and ears.
Fast forward to 2015, and the anger that I felt during that long ago meeting was now paralleled with a fit of uncontrollable laughter upon reading a Press report that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has a problem with the term “yard fowl”, which is used to describe rank and file “foot soldiers” of both political parties.
Now, I did not attend the event at which the reported remarks were made – so I don’t know what could have triggered his comments and the context was not readily clear.
However, Stuart and my editor “friend” have been around politics and political descriptions for, let’s say, a few decades.
What now after nearly a half-century of interest and service in politics at varying levels of the trenches could have prompted Stuart, in the sunset of his career and sitting at the top of the pinnacle, to take such strong offence at the term?
According to the report, he says it smacks of arrogance as it was political parties and trade unions, both mass-based organisations comprising ordinary people, which have enhanced the quality of life of Caribbean people.
Defending the role played by rank and file members, the report continued, Stuart, who is also president and political leader of the DLP, noted that “when individuals joined the many service clubs in Barbados, no one dismissed them as yard fowls”.
Ay, there’s the rub.
It prompted me to look around for the historical origin and context of the term, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find much of real value.
But I did locate a May 19, 2012 piece in The Voice by the St Lucian firebrand Peter Josie on the country’s recent budget, headlined “Yard Fowl Budget . . . Much Cackling Little Soaring.”
Josie offered “to describe the phrase ‘yard fowl’ and its origin and political usage in our Caribbean politics and civilisation”.
“The terms ‘yard fowl’ and ‘yard-fowlism’ were made famous by Maurice Bishop, a former prime Minister of Grenada whose political party had seized power . . . by force of arms,” Josie wrote. “By doing so Bishop had upset the conservative leadership of the Caribbean region who swore by the strict Western democratic system of first past the post elections.
“Those who criticised Bishop and his methods were referred to as yard fowls. To Maurice, the unthinking and corrupt support for the political, religious and commercial forces which had long kept the Caribbean masses in ignorance and poverty was yard-fowlism – a political ideology of sorts”.
First, the famed CLICO list; then, the shock republic; next, the PM on The Hill; now yard fowls and still the people and Dems continue to suffer. Why?
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email email@example.com