Aragon Dick-Reid & Gli-Gli

kevin & aragon

ARAGORN DICK–READ – SAILOR’S ARTIST GREETS CHARTERERS/CRUISERS IN THE BVI
By - Nancy Terrell (Nautical Scene - 2000) Aragon (center) pictured above with his winning copper sculptures given as awards at the BVI Spring Regatta. Kevin Rowlette won the "Best BVI Boat" and displays his trophy.

Sailors have a real treat in store when they visit Trellis Bay, located on Beef Island in Tortola, BVI. Aragorn Dick-Read, a famed Caribbean artist, visits cruisers on a daily basis welcoming them to the island and introducing himself, his art and his studio on the beach. The village atmosphere of the bay, with its artist and local cyber cafes, gives a refreshing glimpse of life in BVI’s up-n-coming arts community!

Aragorn was fortunate to have been born into the beauty of the BVI and from early life began to make art in some form or other. He tells me that, “After an education that was sympathetic to my creativity and a period at university studying the History of Art, I came back to Tortola to try life as an artist. The idea of selling around the boats began when I was a boy working at the Last Resort, going around to boats in the bay selling conch shells and ice to cruisers. It soon developed into selling my own design T-shirts, which I made in one of the stone buildings on the beach. I also made sculptures in copper, steel or wood mostly from recycled junk … fridge doors, car bonnets, drift wood or wind falls like a copper roof. Since those days, to complement my own art, The Studio is now selling arts & crafts that I gather from fellow artists throughout the Caribbean – some from Tortola and also from my Carib Indian friends in Dominica, Guyana, St. Vincent and Trinidad The Trellis Bay/Marina Cay area has always been an area where boaters can connect with local artists, or vice versa. For those who don’t get off their boats to explore on shore, we bring goods out to them including fresh breads and locally grown fruits & vegetables from BVI farmers or what I grow myself. This has become quite a service industry now, known as ‘the boat-shopping network’, and it is the best way for tourists to get local products. Visitors love the convenience of purchasing off the side of the boat plus they have the satisfaction of getting Caribbean products that are hard to find in ‘corporate destinations’. We think it is a shame for visitors to come all the way to the BVI and have to buy souvenirs made in China … when they can get real Caribbean arts and crafts in Trellis Bay.

Selling around the boats is hard work. It involves different communications - as I speak with many people each day, from all over the world, I can sell you a T-shirt in English, Spanish, French, Italian or…German at a push. I have learned a lot on the sea talking to people and there is a lot of psychology involved in approaching strangers early in the morning. Aside from getting a daily cross section of people and ideas from around the globe, I have a lot of return customers and long standing friendships from over the years. I even met my wife, Federica, out there one morning! Hurricanes forced her holiday to be extended and now seven years later, we are enjoying the pleasures of our two little boys, Zanti and Ceiba. Fede now imports quality ladies clothing and bikinis from Italy, which we sell in The Studio.”

Obviously, having a family has helped Aragorn to consolidate a lot of the good ideas that were floating about before. The ladies touch has had its effect on The Studio, which used to be a rough workshop space but is now blossoming into a unique venue packed full of the coolest art and craft Aragorn can find in the Caribbean. It is also an ideal showcase for his artwork, T-shirts, prints and sculptures. The thatched roof, hammocks, island music and parrots set the scene with people from all walks of life hanging out and enjoying the space. It is probably one of the best ways to wait for a plane, located only minutes walk from the airport where you can relax in the shade or on the beach surrounded by local art.

Aragorn’s T-shirts come in a variety of styles and techniques. The original silkscreen designs are popular with their sun design, pelican or two fishes - each is a different colour blend with subject matter that focuses on the wildlife, turtles and fish of the BVI. Inmates in HM Prison now make these. Twelve years ago Aragorn started teaching printing in the prison and out of this programme has developed the Prison Print Shop, which allows prisoners to earn a living and a skill while confined. An ex-prisoner, taught by Aragorn to make woodcut and sewn on shirts, now makes them for The Studio from his home.

Aragorn's most popular designs are done with an etching technique that allows a lot of details into the image. These pictures, also printed on paper, show scenes of traditional BVI life and wildlife. The Tortola sloop design, “Running the Channel” depicts old wooden Tortola boats sailing down the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Another recent one is called “Mangrove life” high lighting one of the BVI s major environmental concerns – the loss of mangroves through development. The new design for 2002 shows a sloop sailing amoung leaping dolphins called “Catching the breeze”. Aragorn is also putting out a new Gli Gli T-shirt.

In front of The Studio, on the beach in a palm thatched boathouse, is the home of Gli Gli, a 35’ long dug out that is the largest Carib canoe in the Caribbean. Aragorn smiles as he relates the story, “A few years ago my Carib friend Jacob Frederick and I built the canoe and undertook an 800 miles journey from Dominica to Guyana. The expedition was a symbolic gesture to reunite the Carib tribes throughout the southern Caribbean. It was an epic adventure that was recorded in a BBC documentary that we show every day in The Studio. Gli Gli goes out for regular day sails with up to 15 people on board. Sailing on a Carib canoe offers an exciting introduction to ancient Caribbean culture and it can really give you a feel of the sailing technology that has been around the Caribbean since before Columbus.

Working with the Caribs has been a real privilege for me, giving me a great insight into indigenous culture and myths. The ferocious cannibal myth seems to have been made up over the years to justify the horrible treatment the Caribs received from early pioneers. These days the Caribs have merged in many ways with modern life; however, they still maintain a strong focus on their traditional culture, especially crafts. 80% of Carib homes are producing some form of craft product, from beautiful basket weaving or carved Calabash, to dug out canoes. All are made from natural materials that are growing in the Carib territory. This degree of self-reliance is rare in global times, which I find very inspirational. Working with the Carib crafts people of Dominica for nearly 10 years has allowed me to offer a spectacular range of crafts in The Studio such as baskets, hammocks, jewellery, carvings & calabashes - it feels like a museum.”

Interspersed with all the craft and T-shirts, Aragorn displays his art. He started making sheet metal sculpture after a trip to Haiti in the 80’s. His main medium is copper…cutting out images and then beating, patineting and polishing the sculpture to life. The contrast between the polished and brilliant turquoise copper works well with island themes as well as the more universal subjects that his art represents. Aragorn’s works have been exhibited in London, New York, St Barths, and Tortola throughout the years. He is currently making commissioned pieces for homes, both internationally and in the BVI. At the moment he is working on a series of large outdoor sculptures out of steel mooring balls that he found washed up on the beach. They look great and light up at night .

Coming to Trellis Bay is full of surprises. The village like atmosphere of this small artists’ community offers a refreshing relief from resort destinations where one can discover local art and Carib history and meet people at the “already famous” Trellis Bay Cyber Café next door to Aragorn’s studio. I think that it can be truthfully stated that any cruisers having the good fortune to find themselves in Trellis Bay have a real treat in store upon meeting Aragorn and discovering The Studio.

"GLI GLI" A CARIBBEAN CANOE VOYAGE OF YESTERYEAR
by – Nancy Terrell

Some say the adventure is all there is in life. If so, Aragorn Dick-Read of the BVI and Jacob Frederick of Dominica have a head start on the game. The two have spent the last several years constructing a traditional Carib Indian 'gommier' canoe. Along with a crew of ten Caribs and a multinational film and support crew, the two recently sailed from Dominica's Carib Territory, down the island chain through the Orinoco Delta and into the river systems of northwest Guyana, where they are now making contact with the Guyanese Carib communities.

The project takes its name from the Gli Gli, a small, aggressive hawk that was revered by ancient Carib warriors as a totemic symbol of bravery. The 'Gli Gli" project is undertaking to create a valuable document of the ancient canoe-building technology which survives today in Dominica. The aim of the project is also to complete a symbolic and practical journey that will re-unite the Island Caribs with their ancestral and tribal homelands.

It is the intention of Jacob and Aragorn that their trip will help raise awareness and promote greater understanding and harmony between the Carib peoples and other indigenous groups living in the Caribbean and South America. Such a trip also provides a unique opportunity to research aspects of Carib culture that is now forgotten, such as language, dance, games and traditional medicine.

Jacob Frederic is a Carib artist from Salybia, Carib Territory, who incorporates ancient and mythical aspects of Carib culture into his work. He has twice been elected to the Territory's ruling Carib Council. He is very concerned that "Our identity is disappearing so fast that we can't afford to waste a single moment. We are the last of our race."

Aragorn Dick-Read, an artist born in the British Virgin Islands, has studied Tribal and Twentieth Century art for three years at the University of East Anglia in England. He has traveled extensively through Europe, southern Africa, Nepal, New Guinea and Thailand gaining knowledge, as well as techniques, that will bring to his copper and steel sculptures more of an affinity for nature and the natural environment.

Gli Gli' was conceived in August of 1994 when Jacob and Aragorn engaged Etien Charles (Chalo), a master canoe builder in Dominica, to oversee the canoe's construction, which began on the full moon in early December of 1995. The trees from which the canoe was to be made were chosen and felled. They were then carved in situ using methods that are typical of contemporary Carib canoe builders. Once carved, it took forty people two days to haul the 35-foot canoe down to the village of Salybia in the Carib Territory.

Early March brought the next phase of construction, which involved 'opening' the canoe with rocks, water and fire. 'Boardage' was applied to heighten its sides and framing to keep it open. The canoe sat, weighted down with rocks for several weeks. It was regularly doused with water. The heat of the sun and the weight of the rocks helped the wood to warp outwards and downwards. At the end of the month fires were lit on either side of the canoe, allowing it to open considerably.

The 'boardage' was then applied and the first ribs were screwed in. 'Gli Gli' was then transformed with rails measuring approximately four feet in height with a beam of almost six feet. She is the largest canoe to have been built in living memory according to Aragorn.

Eugene Jarecki, an independent filmmaker from New York, is now filming the entire project for television. David Fanning, Director of PBS' Frontline Documentary Series, is acting as Executive Producer, helping to advise and steer the film throughout the television industry in both Europe and the United States.

The CARMELLA, a 120-foot Dominican built trading schooner that once belonged to Anthony Agar, is the support boat for the expedition. This classic West Indian schooner is home for the film crew and other team members. The trip itself is taking an estimated two months. During the first month 'Gli Gli' sailed south from Dominica. This month is being spent motoring and rowing through the Guyanese rivers.

 All of the inter-island crossings are, up to now, taking no more than one day. Rest periods for the crew are providing the expedition for an opportunity to visit Carib Communities and archaeological sites, for meeting the public, the media and schools, and for buying supplies and selling Carib craft work. It is fortunate, indeed, that all present day communities, living within the Caribbean, have this worthwhile project to remind us of the past and its timeless link to our present.

Jacob and Aragorn are expected to arrive at their destination this week. NAUTICAL SCENE will report next month as more of their adventure, their findings and the response of the Carib peoples in South America.

UPDATE ON GLI GLI'S PROGRESS
By - Nancy Terrell

Several months ago I wrote an article for Nautical Scene concerning the 'Gli Gli' project. This building of an authentic canoe to sail to native South American villages is currently in progress. I thought that a copy of the diary, as actually written by builders and sailors, Jacob Frederick, of Dominica, and Aragorn Dick-Reed, of the BVI, might prove interesting to those of us interested in this project. The entire trip will be televised and aired as a documentary. The aim is to create a valuable document of the ancient canoe-building technology that survives today in Dominica. The desire is also to complete a symbolic and practical journey that will re-unite the Island Caribs with their ancestral and tribal homelands. The thrilling aspect is, that by the time you read this, Gli Gli may actually have reached its destination.

Upon leaving Dominica -

Day 1,
All crew of the Gli Gli and support ship Carmela had a successful crossing of the Dominica-Martinique Channel under strong wind (20-25 knots). It was a long day and strenuous start for the Gli Gli - which sailed reefed (partially rolled up) for most of the way - causing us to slip down below Martinique a few miles. We were fortunate enough to get a tow by a fisherman into St. Pierre before dark, where we awaited the Carmela.

Day 2
We spent the day relaxing and sorting out the stores on Carmela.

Day 3
Our day began gently sailing down the leeward side of Martinique and stopping to help fishermen haul their nets to get us some fish. The winds picked up as we entered Fort de France Harbour and put Gli Gli through her first and hopefully last capsize experience.
No damage was done and nothing lost except Jacob Frederick's glasses. As the Carmela was within sight and the seas were clam, it turned out to be an extremely useful exercise in rescue and recovery - both of which were accomplished within half an hour, allowing us to row safely into Fort de France habour. The rest of the day was spent selling craft work and provisioning the ships.

Day 4
Although sailing was smooth across the bay of Fort de France, coming around the point of Dimond Rock in the Gli Gli we found the head winds too much to cope with and gladly took a tow from the Carmela up to the bay of St. Ann.
After a peaceful sunset sail down to St. Luce, the generous Cargan family and members of the Association Gommier A Cours welcomed us. Some of the team slept in St. Luce.

Day 5
The morning was spent relaxing and sorting out stores on board the Carmela. Frederick paid a visit to some petroglyphs in St. Luce. At midday the whole team took a bus to Anse Arlet on the west coast to watch the finish of the first Gommier race of the banana cup. It was a great sight to see gommiers sailing in under enormous sails - with all the 10 crew linking out poles to stabilise the narrow canoes. The Carib canoe gliders were much inspired by the racing canoes.
We sold crafts and played drums on the beach until dusk. The next morning we successfully sold crafts around the boats.

Day 6
The day was spent on board the Carmela - some of us went fishing on the over-fished reef. The winds were high and the forecast bad - threatening the possibility of crossing to St. Lucia.

Day 7
Good winds - from the north east - confirmed the decision to cross the channel to St. Lucia. Gli Gli left at around 8 am and made good speed even under the lateen sail (triangular sail). Swells from the east made the trip a bit rolley as a squall mid-channel sped up the crossing greatly and caused no trouble. We reached St. Lucia at about 12:30 pm to a warm welcome from the St. Lucia National Trust at Pigeon Island.
Patricia Charles and Victor Eudoxie had arranged an amazing reception with T.V. cameras, live radio broadcasts, lunch and showers.

Day 8
After another successful morning hussling around the two boats at Pidgen Point, we sailed beezily against the current to Castries in St. Lucia. As the wind totally died at the harbour mouth, we gladly took a tow from a fellow Gommier into the harbour.
Some of the crew spent the afternoon selling craft alongside the canoe and others went to the Folk Research Center, where we showed the video of the Gli Gli's construction and slides to a selection of students from five schools. The response was excellent and the students asked intelligent questions.
We did our best explaining of the regional importance of Carib culture and started the job of breaking down standard myths about Caribs that have been propagated over the past 500 years. It was an extremely satisfying experience and, although spontaeously put together, served as a good trial for what we would like to accomplish - to educate peoples of the region about Caribs and Carib culture.
In the evening we received sad news that Son, the basket maker of the expedition, had to return to Dominica because his child was seriously ill.

Day 9
The morning was spent in Castries organizing Son's departure and using The National Trust's ideal office facilities. Local businesses gave us a generous supply of chicken, juices and fresh vegetables. In the afternoon we sped over the flat water down the leward coast enjoying the beautiful scenery and, as usual, watched for gusts.
Tim, a friend from Tortola, passed on advice he read from an 18th century sailing guide for the windwards, which suggested either sailing a mile off shore or within a "pistol shot" of shore. We can confirm the value of the pistol shot theory. It seems the coastal current is not so strong, except on the points, and the breeze, although sometimes gusty, is more forthcoming close to shore.
The sail into Souffriere Bay was one our most spectacular and amusing so far. The beautiful town - set deep in the bay north of the Pitons - had the whole population of school pupils out to greet us. The beach was black with children all screaming and wailing.
As we neared the jetty the children's exitment grew, but as the Gli Gli turned to use the wind to guide it in (thus facing the other way) there was an instant lull when the childern wrongly thought we were headed for the other dock along the beach. In an instant there was mass rush to the other dock. When we turned back to glide into the original spot they had been waiting, they swarmed back to meet us!
Carmela came into the bay as the sun wassetting and we settled into a peaceful night after the buzzing crowd disapated.

Day 10
All day we were in the hands of the National Trust representative at Suffriere who organized school visits and more school visits - all of which we managed to pull off with conviction.
We also had an interesting visit to Pralin, a town on the south east coast, where Carib-style Gommier canoes are still made. Chalo, Morlin and Prince took a keen interest in their techniques but found them to be a little different from their own. The canoe makers of St. Lucia make a longer pince to their canoe .
Although gommier trees are left in St. Lucia, an increasing amount of fiberglass boats are being used. Building Gommier canoes seems to be a dying art even though it is still a source of pride for the few communities involved.
After stopping in Vieux Fort, we had an inspiring visit to the Carib pottery makers on the south west tip of the Island. They demonstrated their ancient techniques amongst beautiful wattle daub (wickerwork plastered with mud or clay) huts. To make their pots, they dig, clean and pound the clay on the spot at their pottery studio and at once handbuilt them (no pottery wheel). The pots are then dried and burnished - ready to be fired in an open fire.
 
The older mixed-blood Caribs in this community were happy to meet their fellow tribesmen and had much to talk about. We found out that they had once been great canoe builders (though there is not a tree in sight these days). They passed on useful advice about sailing across the channel to St. Vincent and warned us of the strong currents coming down from Vieux Fort. It was hard to leave them.
That evening we bathed by moonlight in the incredible hot springs under the Pitons. - completing the magic of our stay in St. Lucia.

Day 11
An early start in the Gli Gli took us down past the awe inspiring Pitons as we set out under full sail. Watching for the heavy down blasts that come off the mountains, we sailed into a strong current as we began the crossing. After a couple af hours we cleared the current and could ease off a bit and head for St. Vincent's volcano. It was a long but peaceful crossing in ideal conditions, even though we didn't catch any fish.
We reached the leward coast of St. Vincent as the sun was going down and instead of going into Chateaubelair, we decided to take a tow from Carmela to Kingstown.

Day 12
On waking up in Kingstown we began by organizing the expedition up to the Carib community in Sandy Bay. Pat Frajer, leader of the Carib cultural group, gave all of the Carib crew and three of us non-Caribs a warm welcome.
The rest of the afternoon some crew hung out in the village chatting and making friends with the "Black" Caribs and others went fishing in the heavy Atlantic swells. The Black Caribs are known as such because when a slave ship wrecked on the shores of St. Vincent before Europeans colonized the island, the survivors became part of the Carib community. Their spirit of apartness and "Caribness" is still strong.
The evening was spent with the Carib cultural group drumming (we bought some of our own) all around the village. The atmosphere was fantastic and the brotherly/sisterly feeling between the two groups of Caribs was strong and binding...like the rum!

Day 13
The St. Vincent Caribs took us on an amazing drive in the back of a pick up along the cliffside road to the village of Fancy. We passed the "Bloody Bridge" where the famous Carib leader Chatonyer was killed by the British during the Carib Wars in the late 1700s. His legacy lives on and the glimmer of his spirit of resistance can be felt.
This is a rugged area and clearly a last desperate stronghold of a people forced from their tribal lands. The hillsides are cleared (sadly,no more Gommiers here) and planted in near vertical terraces of peanuts, arrowroot, cassava and tomatoes. The visit to Fancy was quiet but interesting. We saw stone tools that villagers had discovered in their fields.
In the afternoon we cooled off by the Salt Pond - a saltwater pool set in the rocks on the rugged coast. The Caribs of the group spent the night at Sandy Bay while we non-Caribs returned to Young Island where the Carmela and GliGli was awaiting us. The connection has been forged and friendships made that will hopefully strengthen the unity of the Carib tribe in the future.

Day 14
We gathered provisions in Kingstown and awaited the return of our Carib crewmembers. New crew arrived from Tortola, by boat and plane.

Day 15
We got an early start as a good breeze sent Gli Gli flying across the channel to Bequia. On entering Admirally Bay, we met the biggest flottilla yet with much horn blowing and cameras snapping. After a speedy and gusty sail up the bay we rowed in under escort to the Frangipani Hotel where an amazing reception was organized for us by Otmar Schaedle, Tom and Sally Erdle and other generous residents of Bequia.

We drank, partied and sold crafts the rest of the day. In the evening we were entertained in splendor surronded by the rubbings of the St. Vincent Petrogliphs at Schaedle's hotel "The Old Fort" - an amazing night which topped off a wonderful day.

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