|THE BACHANNALIST OF THE FLAG WOMAN: WOMEN OF THE STEELPAN MOVEMENT
Makeda J. Greene
Global Gender Studies
Within cultural politics Caribbean woman as an identity has not fully benefitted from the historical nationalist movements of other global communities. Looking at this across the black diaspora specifically the Caribbean there is a remaining colonial class, societal structure and gender that frames the identity. Within the community to become visible the female as a part of the cultural politics of the Caribbean the visibility of women has been through Carnival. Carnival is an important part of the Trinidadian culture and the ability to challenge agency and identity through a masquerader playing mas, a pan woman, soca or calypso artiste or a sailor mas contender and a flag woman. A woman as part of the Carnival performance allows for a visibility and vivacity through her physical self.
Allowing for individuality it can be argued that these women although, part of the working class sector, are an example of the duplicity that lies within the Caribbean woman aesthetic. Female masqueraders, flagwomen, and Carnival participants epitomize their Carnival activity with their ability to be free and in control of their bodies and representation. Specifically looking at the flag woman this paper focuses on the conflicting identity of the challenges that are set forth for this woman as a Carnival participant. Focusing on her ability to balance her role and purpose as a member of not just the steelpan culture but a member of the black working class and a Trinidadian woman of the colonial period is the challenge of the flag woman.
Trinidad Carnival is a part of the Caribbean cultural sphere that uniquely unites art and politics, urban political engagement, tradition and the Caribbean aesthetic. Known initially as a festivity brought by the French during the African enslavement period it soon became an African Creole celebration of the post-emancipation period. As an important component of the national identity of most Caribbean islands, it allows for an expressive showcase of the history and also serves as a mapping of an idealized space for the making of a pan Caribbean diasporic citizenship. Settled within the discussion of Caribbean cultural politics, Trinidad Carnival is a blend of geopolitical urban engagement with the performance of and freedom of expression of the mind, body and soul. According to the Brian Meeks and Natasha Barnes of Cultural Conundrums: Gender, Race, Nation and the Making Of Caribbean Cultural Politics carnival is an imaginative space that is represented as a mode of political and gender resistance (2006). As a performance, carnival frames female identity. To become visible within the community, the female, as a participant of the Caribbean cultural politics, uses Carnival to locate her freedom and expression. Primarily seeing this in the Trinidadian woman, it is necessary for her to challenge her agency and identity through various performances and roles within the Carnival season, therefore, allowing for a unique visibility and vivacity through her physical self as well as bringing more understanding to the popular imagination of Carnival.
Individuality within the Trinidad Carnival and culture can be seen within the images and central representations of the African Caribbean woman. Specifically referencing the 19th century and mid twentieth century working class African Caribbean women, their role within the Carnival popular imaginary is significant as they challenge the images of black femininity and their displacement within the urban sectors of Port of SpaIn Trinidad. Locating them within the barrack yards of the city, these women were a part of the “Jamette Carnival” that roots the contemporary Trinidad carnival. Bringing in the discussion of Belinda Edmonson’s article Public Spectacle: Caribbean Women and the Politics of Public Performance, these historical images of 19th century African Caribbean women are significant representations of public performances that are still a part of the contemporary descriptions and stereotypes of the African Caribbean body. Allowing for individuality, it can be argued that these women of the working class sector are an example of the challenges that lie within the aesthetic of the Caribbean woman. Specifically looking at the flag woman as an example of the jamette, this paper will trace and elucidate the evolution of this woman and her conflicting identity, which complicates her public image. She is stigmatized within her class and spatial location as a black working class member but is at the same time a leading lady behind the Jamette Carnival and the steelpan culture.
Port of SpaIn Trinidad: The Barrack Yards
We start our journey of the evolution of the flag woman within her geographical location of Port of SpaIn Trinidad. Referring to them as barrack yards or gayelles, the barrack yards were a representation of the African Caribbean working class during the 19th century to mid-twentieth century. Located within the Port of Spain urban areas that extended from Henry Street to the River St. Ann’s, the barrack yards can be defined as a village (Liverpool 2001). It was home to not just native Trinidadians but also to increasing immigrant populations, especially those from Barbados, creating further urban development, employment and geopolitical territories in the growing city. Carving out their boundaries these yards stretched across a large open community sectioned off based on plantations, neighboring islands, and secret societies (Liverpool 2001). Claiming their group identity in these barrack yards, the African population built schools, churches, areas for graveyards and spaces for hunting and other activities (Liverpool 2001). The conditions of these new territories within the barrack yard spaces were also the site of urban and geopolitical conflicts that affected the African population. Due to the overcrowding and lack of privacy, there was an increase in disorganization among families, illegitimate children, unemployment and low marriage rates which resulted in these urban spaces being heavily concentrated with the poor working class society (Liverpool 2001).
The barrack yards as its own site of performance celebrated its own unique collective identity among its residents. Due to their status in Trinidad society they experienced isolation and discrimination from the middle and upper class populations. Maintaining their group identity, the barrack yards— despite all of its vices— was a place of camaraderie, familiarity, and comfort for the Africans. Strengthening their identities as people of the barrack yards, the Africans mobilized and used their environment for the cultivation of cultural traditions. The barrack yards became that place of solitude for the working class Afro Trinidadian. Taking the Carnival culture was the perfect way to create a socio-political response to their situation. Carnival for the African emerged as a powerful cultural resistance that gave the urban area a sense of power to resist and bring voice to the barrack yard life. Historian and Calypsonian Dr. Hollis Chalkdust Liverpool spoke of the Carnival culture within the barrack yards as a social unity and freedom of expression (2001). Giving the barrack yards life and locating it within its own space, Carnival allowed for every resident to be involved.
The barrack yards continued to be a site for the Carnival preparations for the African. From music to dances, kings, and queens, masqueraders became the features of the gayelles. This brought forth a space for the women of the barrack yards to participate in this socio-cultural response that was the central focus for the Carnival. These women were known as jamettes— a derogatory term used by the French to locate the African Caribbean revelers in the 1860s and carried into the mid-twentieth century. The jamettes were seen as having low character and an indecent social level as street loiterers. The term was specifically for the working class African woman of the barrack yards, which included prostitutes, female stick fighters, singers, and dancers (Liverpool 2001). Based on the discussion of Samantha Noel in De Jamette in We: Redefining Contemporary Carnival Culture, the jamettes were known for exposing their bodices, calling for attention from middle class men and having an uncaring attitude towards their indecency and public displays (Noel 2010).
The “Jamette Carnival” is a fusion of the West African culture and the colonial society of the 19th century that was originally located in the barrack yards of Port of Spain (Liverpool 2001). Creating a public spectacle the jamette can be seen as a root and foundation to the freedom of expression and visibility for the African woman during Carnival. It is important within the African culture as class, structure, and gender frames their identity. The behavior of the jamette is due to her need for visibility and empowerment from her world in the barrack yards. The jamettes were a force within their own agency as they were determined to be visible within Trinidad society and used their voices to recreate their oppression and objectification through their body. Engaging in public indecency and lewdness these women brought attention to themselves with ostentatious promenades, organized bands based on barrack yard territories and on the streets of Port of Spain.
The emergence of the jamette and her carnival space can be dated back to her lived experience and displacement in the plantation culture. For the African Caribbean woman, the discussion of herself, visibility and empowerment was always seen through construction of her body. The Caribbean female body has been historicized and viewed through an invisible lens. Within Caribbean slave societies, social construction of race and gender were as follows: the black woman produced, the brown woman served and the white woman consumed (Shepard 1995). According to the research of Hilary Beckles Sex and Gender in the Historiography of Caribbean Slavery, black women in the eighteenth century were represented as unable to care for their children, with no loyalty to their male spouse and no concept of family or kinship structure— but were used for sexual pleasure for the slave master (Shepherd 1995). To combat this representation, the slave woman had to reconstruct their own experience, identity and consciousness through their own creation. Connecting to black femininity, Katherine McKittrick discusses in her text Demonic Grounds that the black women’s sense of belonging is bound within the context of Western binaries and physical and reproductive labor (McKittrick 2006). Identifying the black female body as part of the gender blind construct of the slavery era, McKittrick analyzes that the space between the legs symbolically, materially and physically systematically inscribed the Black woman’s captivity and limitations (2006). The bodily geography of the Caribbean woman was intersected with race, sex and hypervisibility (Pinto 2010). Leading to black female subjectivity of later periods in history, the body became tarred with sexual desire and capital production labor as the working woman. Within the discourse of Caribbean history, black women combined their post slavery, colonial and post-colonial gendered representations to create an epistemic voice of their physical meaning. The cultural historical component of Caribbean woman’s history reaffirms her agency in the public through control of her body and indecency within the community.
Responding to this construct of the black female body, specifically from the third contemporary Caribbean movement, relies on the female body as an important part of the cultural politics of the community. Allowing for visibility through the matrifocal lens, the woman is limited to these binds. As noted within the shared lived experiences of the black feminist thought, the geographical mapping of the body is seen within the Caribbean since the female can narrate her story and social status through her body. Creating their experiences through the physical, the Caribbean feminist discourse asserts the body as defying the traditional Victorian Eurocentric woman and challenged their existence as a working class woman of African descent (Noel 2010). Although she was by default apart of the matrifocal space that was constructed for the Caribbean woman she individualized herself through her body as a way to voice agency within society. Therefore, a woman as part of the Carnival performance allows for visibility and vivacity through her physical self.
The Rise of the Flagwoman— From Barrack Yards to Jamette Carnival
Aside from their agenda to be visible within a society that cast out their presence the jamettes were also the backbone of the men in the gayelle. Although laundresses, domestic servants, and prostitutes to the middle and upper class men, these women took care of their men by giving them food, and protecting them when necessary. Part of that protection was within the barrack yards in the steel pan culture that was emerging in the mid-twentieth century. The flag woman culture began in the 1930s in concert with the steelpan movement. The sexuality that these women brought to Carnival, to the flag, and to the steelpan movement was seen as scornful within the community as it was part of the “Jamette Carnival”. As visible contenders of the culture and celebration, the women who performed in public as flag women were treated with disrespect. For example, a flagwoman as a jamette was a woman of lewd behavior since she boasted her skills by creating a scene with her body in performance and in indifference to the law and to the church. She vividly challenged her role and purpose as a member of not just a black working class woman but as a Trinidadian woman of the colonial period. She and her fellow queens were so proud to display the band as they paraded themselves in the streets flag in tow. The lewdity of her art led to her being cast out from society and her reality.
These working class women used their bodies as their open space for expression urbanizing the culture of the flag woman and their role in Carnival. The flag woman was more commonly the black woman, the woman of African descent. As a black woman she was stereotypically seen as erotic, sexually desirable and ugly for her skin’s complexion. The urban culture that the flag woman embodied and lived was scorned upon and was a threat to the Trinidadian woman and to the community as she continued her defiant behavior and thinking. As the leading women of the barrack yards, the flag woman had the support of the men in the community. The men in the steel pan orchestras also known as the badjohns and sagaboys were known for protecting these women from their chosen reality. These men were sometimes the pimps that lived off the flag women. For example, leading flag woman, Bubulups and steel pan composer and arranger Tempo Smith lived together until her death in 1992 (Mohammed 2002). Although not married, Tempo Smith protected her from the scorn and discrimination of the public’s social commentary (Mohammed 2002). As members of the community these men allowed the women to further express their sexuality and public display through not just flag waving in the bands but commanding and leading the orchestra and followers through the streets from the pan yard to the savannah.
The flag woman constantly questioned her existence through her body and sexual performance on the stage. Connecting to the masquerader, the flag woman was a part of what defined the black woman. As a part of the barrack yards they can be seen as partners in performing and rebelling the colonial Trinidad ideas of how a woman is to act publicly. They were rebellious in their expression: the women challenged the need for the silencing and restriction of women’s bodies within this society. Defying the public and agency with her body and flair caused questions and concerns about the identity of the working black woman. As the self - proclaimed “first lady” of the steelpan movement, the art of the flag woman is her style— her shape, sexuality, and her rhythmic dance as she leads the pan yard to the beat of the bass and the melody of the tenor bass. These women have their own type of culture and form. Alongside the masquerader, the flag woman publicly participates in using her body as a domain for spectacle and sexuality. The flag woman as a focal part of the Carnival steelpan experience represented the black working class woman’s playground of visibility. As in sequence with a sailor mas contending for King and Queen or the masquerader at the judging points, the flag woman has its own dynamic culture. As they elegantly wave those flags around the orchestra, these woman show off the flair of what it means to be a classy flag woman. The flag must never touch the ground, as the woman dances around the band. The flag is an important tool and has to be of good height and weight for the woman. The woman controls the flag and the skill of the flag with her flexible wrist. The flag woman shows off her one-hand turns or even using both hands to make the flag more dynamic when thrust into the air. The flag woman can never stand still. She is constantly chipping: dancing, gyrating, and in command of her presence with her sexuality. The flag woman is always in the center of the orchestra, always moving— sometimes with a partner helping her entertain the band and audience. As the first lady of the band, the flag woman is the crowd pleaser. She leads the band in putting on a show as she captivates the crowd with her costumes, waist movements, and choreography.
The flag woman brings out the band and without this the band would lose its touch. As she parades and leads the band, the flag woman steps into her own, individualizing each step and chip in her movement. In contemporary post colonial Trinidad, the art of the flag woman has no age limit and is free to most. The culture of the flag woman allows for the experience to be magical in every performance as no performance is the same!
The flag woman, although known for her flag waving and style, is also known for her representation as a woman of Carnival. Carnival is an important part of the Trinidadian culture and the ability to challenge agency and identity through a masquerader playing mas, a pan woman, soca or calypso artiste or a sailor mas contender and a flag woman. There is no other woman that can lead a band like a flag woman and for this the “Jamette Carnival” will continue to exist within contemporary Trinidad carnival. The flag woman makes flag waving an experience to remember. The performance of the band and the story of the melody and harmonious rhythm of the pan would be lost without the display of beauty in the performance from the flag woman. A woman of the barrack yards and a woman of the “Jamette Carnival” commands her identity throughout Trinidad society, creating her own lived experience that will always remain a part of the bacchanal of Trinidad Carnival.
Barnes, N. 2006. Cultural Conundrums: Gender, Race, Nation and the Making of Caribbean Cultural Politics. University of Michigan Press.
Cowley, J. 1996. Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso: Traditions in the Making. Cambridge University Press.
Edmondson, B. 2010. Public Spectacle: Caribbean Women and the Politics of Public Performance. Small Axe 13: 1-16.
Liverpool, H. 2001. Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago 1763-1962. Research Associates School Times Publications, Chicago.
McKittrick, K. 2006. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. University of Minnesota Press.
Mohammed, P. 2002. Gendered Realities: Essays in Carbbean Feminist Thought. University of the West Indies Press.
Noel, S. 2010. De Jamette in We: Redefining Performance in Contemporary Trinidad Carnival. Small Axe 14: 60-78.
Public Identities, Public Conflicts: The Troubles on Parade?
Laura A. LeVon
Does media coverage of the annual July Twelfth parade in Belfast polarize identities in Northern Ireland— or just report polarizations? Are these identities a continuation from the Troubles or new post-Troubles identities? Using publicly available sources including broadcasts, newspapers, and websites, I investigate whether media reporting of the 2005-2010 Belfast parades— and of the related conflicts in north Belfast— reifies the myth of bicommunalism or focuses on differences of identity within the Protestant and Catholic communities. In analyzing the representations of religious, ethnic, and political identities in the Northern Irish media, I argue that social constructions of violent historic events play a key role in three ways: through direct references, through indirect references, and through silences. I conclude that understanding how identities in Northern Ireland are publicly positioned will aid in better understanding how these public identities relate to public conflicts.
Even before the creation of Northern Ireland, parades celebrating July Twelfth often led to conflict between Protestant supporters of British government and Catholic supporters of Irish home rule, especially when the Protestant marchers wanted to parade through Catholic neighborhoods (Farrell 2000). In contemporary Northern Ireland, the majority of parades and the related protests now occur peacefully. Yet each year there are certain flashpoints where violence is expected and often experienced— and it is these places, like the capital Belfast, Armagh, and Derry/Londonderry (a town with a Catholic name and a Protestant one), on which the media focuses its July 12 coverage. Using publicly available sources including broadcasts, newspapers, and websites, I investigate the positioning of identities in media reporting of the 2005-2010 July Twelfth parades and the related protests in the north Belfast neighborhood of Ardoyne, showing how the focus on conflict reifies the myth of bicommunalism and makes all protestors look guilty of violence by association. In analyzing the limited references to historical events included in media coverage, I argue that these silences speak louder than words in a province where peace is still a process and where memories of recent historical violence are linked to both the symbolic and physical landscapes of daily life (Feldman 2003). Forgetting the bloody Troubles is impossible so soon, especially when media framings of identity reflect a continued Protestant bias despite the current emphasis on equality.
While the Troubles themselves are over— the IRA has disarmed and this May, the current devolved government will celebrate its fourth year without a British suspension by holding elections— many citizens of Northern Ireland continue to self-segregate by conflating various religious, political, and ethnic identities— or presences— into one unifying division of their society: bicommunalism. They are not alone in this, though. Media and academics contribute as well— even the growing body of literature on post-Good Friday identities falls back into discussing Catholics and Protestants. I struggle with the same problem— how to discuss divisions without falling into the too simple trap of us versus them? This ambiguity is clear even in the structure of the annual survey Northern Ireland Life and Times— in the 2005 survey there are 24 possible answers to “In what religion, if any, were you brought up?” yet the results are displayed using the same four categories as the rest of the survey questions: the overall percentages for each response and then a classification of the responses by gender, by age, and by religion (Northern Ireland Life and Times [NIL&T]). The religion breakdown offers only three possibilities: “Catholic”, “Protestant”, and “No Religion” (NIL&T).
These categories are self-referents, not simply academic labels, so I will treat them as such in this paper, referring to two subjective— or as Anderson (1983) would say, imagined— communities identified by overarching religious identities while at the same time focusing my arguments on objective examples of identity positioning, such as the 24 different possible religious responses to the 2005 NIL&T survey. My ethnographic focus will be the media framings of identity through the coverage of commemoration and protest. As Gillis says, “modern memory was born not just from the sense of a break with the past, but from an intense awareness of the conflicting representations of the past and the effort of each group to make its version the basis of national identity” (1994: 8).
In Northern Ireland, it is not just modern memory but modern identities and modern conflicts that reflect this awareness of collective legitimization through links to the past. In a province where mural-covered peace walls still separate interfacing Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods and where government is a careful balancing act not only between political parties but also between nations, the summer parading season is an annual reminder of a troubled past— especially the Orange Order’s commemoration of July Twelfth, which is one of the most-protested parades every year and one of the most widely covered by the media.
For many Northern Irish identifying as Protestant, loyalist, and British, the July 12 parade plays a central role in their cultural heritage, while for many identifying as Catholic, nationalist, and Irish it is an offensive act of “triumphalism” and “sectarianism” (Ross 2001: 58). In 2006, these celebrations received a new name— Orangefest— and a makeover to render them more inclusive and more interesting to tourists (Geoghegan 2009), an angle the media certainly delight in exploring through both broadcasts and newspaper articles though the name “Orangefest” has yet to replace “the Twelfth” in media reports. Despite the addition of bouncy castles and the stricter enforcement of alcohol restrictions, the core symbols of the commemoration remain the same and as such, the protests against them continue. Parade-related violence also continues to be an almost annual tradition— in recent years many of the violent acts have been committed by youths between the ages of 15 and 20, though many public figures have suggested it is adult paramilitaries who are behind the youth recreational rioting, using language similar to that of Detective Chief Inspector Little, who blamed “sinister elements” who are “hiding… in the shadows” and who use “our local children as ‘sand-bags’” (Police Service of Northern Ireland [PSNI] 15 July 2010) for the rioting in Ardoyne which began on July 12 and continued for another three nights. This north Belfast neighborhood is a notorious flashpoint and as such will be my main research focus for this project. During the July Twelfth celebration in 2005, the British army had to intervene to restore order (British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] 2006), and last year “approximately 55 officers were injured during the disorder” (PSNI 13 July 2010). Before I continue however, I must make something clear.
The majority of parades and parade protests occur peacefully each year in Northern Ireland. During the 20042005 parading season there were 3,342 parades, 229 of which the Parades Commission categorized as contentious— not quite 7% (The Parades Commission 2010). The 20082009 season had only 221 contentious out of 3,801 parades— not quite 6% (The Parades Commission 2010). Just like parades, any related protests must be registered with the Parades Commission— the two forms are listed one after the other on the Commission’s website— and with the PSNI. Community Stewards are drawn from both the Protestant and Catholic local communities to help maintain public order during contentious parades, and the protestors themselves, aware of the bad image the riots have given them, demonstrate their intentions through visuals like white t-shirts which read “Peaceful Protest” and white placards which read “WE ARE RESIDENTS NOT DISSIDENTS”. Surfaces along the contentious parade routes will often bear signs such as “GREATER ARDOYNE RESIDENTS COLLECTIVE: NO PARADE VIOLENCE”. Yet riots do continue to occur and to dominate public awareness.
The continuing occurrence of these riots leads me to my research questions. I intend to analyze the ways in which the media position such concepts as identity, history, and conflict through narrative frames. Wolfsfeld posits the news media as an arena for political power struggles, arguing that the variable role of the media in political contests must be examined “along two dimensions: one structural and the other cultural” (1997: 5) to determine not only which political antagonists gain access to what media, but also in what ways these antagonists and the media frame conflicts to influence their audiences. However, his model is missing an important aspect of the political power struggles in Northern Ireland— the interplay of history and memory that Beiner terms “deep memory” (2007: 370) and that memory studies usually terms “collective memory” (Kansteiner 2002: 180).
Kansteiner locates collective memory in “the interaction among three types of historical factors: the intellectual and cultural traditions that frame all our representations of the past, the memory makers… and the memory consumers” (2002: 180). Kansteiner’s memory makers may at times be the political antagonists in Wolfsfeld’s (1997) model, but they may also be the media themselves, who, as Wolfsfeld (1997) argues, actively frame their representations to produce narratives attractive to their audience, the memory consumers. Yet there is another aspect to this model as well— Wolfsfeld argues that the media use “established concepts and practices” (1997: 34) in framing their narratives, and while the majority of these come from media or political sources, the audiences have influence as well through the “norms, beliefs, and routines” (1997: 5) they accept and expect. It is here that Wolfsfeld misses the significance of historical context. In fact, media is generally silent when it comes to historical context, as Valibeigi (2009) points out in his study of CNN and BBC coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in 2006. It is easier to make a story about good and bad guys when the bad guys have no historical justification for their actions. Ireland, though, as Beiner points out, “is deeply troubled by evocative memories of its past” (2007: 366).
According to Beiner, “historical investigations of modern memory need to take into account deep memories embedded in traditions that predate remembered events” (2007: 370). He analyzes how narratives and commemorations of previous events such as the Battle of the Boyne influence later events such as the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. These deep memories are Kansteiner’s cultural traditions, and they are what shape the norms which then in turn shape the media’s established frames. Of course, the media frames then shape the norms, which may then transform cultural traditions, as Monahan’s (2010) analysis of media framing in the American narrative of 9/11 seems to show. We have what appears to be a cycle— or at least a two-way street.
In this complex arena of competing political and historical frames, my guiding light will be Kansteiner’s deceptively simple point: “memory is valorized where identity is problematized” (2002: 184). Beiner’s deep memory is so important because of the “conflicting perceptions of both trauma and triumph” (2002: 389)— like the July 12 celebrations. They are contentious because they commemorate Protestant victories and Catholic defeats. But the role of forgetting must not be left out of all this memory work, either. Carsten argues that “the way in which people forget, and what they forget, are not random but systematic and patterned. Forgetting… is part of a collective construction of identity which focuses not on the past but on the present and the future” (2001: 331). The Protestant commemorations of the Battle of the Boyne reflect this process of forgetting, as does the media coverage of the parades and the riots.
Since my research includes the presences of historical as well as contemporary identities, I will pause now to outline several of the historicized events which play such a large role in the Orange Order’s contemporary commemorations, as well as to discuss the Orange Order and the July 12 parades and protests, so as to provide a wider historical framework for understanding some of the long-term influences that have helped shape concepts of identity in contemporary Northern Ireland. Then I will continue on to my analysis of the media representations of the holiday from 2005 to 2010.
So who exactly are these two populations who refer to themselves as Protestants and Catholics? The Catholic identity is rooted in origin— they are the Irish Gaelic natives, the colonized, the oppressed— and religion. These two foci became tied into a third political one with the rise of nationalism in Europe, leading to the early twentieth-century wars and debates over Irish home rule and, in 1922, the establishment of the Republic of Ireland and the subsequent partitioning of the six northeastern counties (the area traditionally known as Ulster) which resulted in the creation of Northern Ireland (Ruane and Todd 1996). This act of partition was engineered by the Protestants, who root their identity in their British origins (mainly English, but also Scottish), their Protestant religions, and their political ties to the United Kingdom— linking these foci to their colonial planter ancestors who settled in Ulster in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to farm large plantations worked by the local Irish natives (Ruane and Todd 1996).
It was King James I, continuing Queen Elizabeth’s treatment of Ireland as a potential enemy, who lay the foundations for Northern Ireland in the early 1600s by encouraging English and Scottish settlers— Protestants of several denominations including Anglican, Presbyterian, and Quaker— to start plantations in Ulster (Shepherd 1990). These colonists were privileged with a large percent of the lands appropriated from the Gaels and a monopoly over “the army, the law, the government, and politics” (Shepherd 1990: 5). Ruane and Todd argue that this created a self-reinforcing “system of relationships” (1996: 290) much more complicated than simply native vs. settler. Differences of religion, ethnicity, and colonialism all intertwined to produce two polarized communities, with individuals deciding for themselves which of the differences was most important to them while still maintaining the division. In the nineteenth century, ideas of nationalism also became a divisive issue. But throughout the history of Britain and Ireland, these differences between the communities operated within “relations of dominance, dependence and inequality” (Ruane and Todd 1996: 11).
The Protestant monopoly in Ireland endured for centuries excepting the reign of King James II, a converted Catholic who felt he could trust the Irish Catholics more than his mostly Protestant British subjects (Shepherd 1990). James was deposed in 1688 by his Protestant daughter Mary and his Dutch son-in-law, Prince William of Orange, but he escaped to Ireland, where with the aid of King Louis XIV of France James set about raising an army to take back the English throne. While the newly crowned Queen Mary II held Court in Westminster, her husband and co-ruler King William III led the English army across the Irish Sea to permanently settle whatever threat his father-in-law posed to the throne (Shepherd 1990).
The two year war in Ireland, called the Cogadh an Dá Rí, or War of Two Kings, began in 1689 when Williamite forces broke the six month Catholic siege of the Protestant-garrisoned town of Derry, turned in William III’s favor with his win at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and finally ended in 1691 at the Battle of Aughrim when the remaining Irish Catholic forces were routed following the death of their commanding officer, the Marquis of St. Ruth, due to a cannonball to the head (Shepherd 1990). Each of these battles is a part of Protestant identity, and thus commemorated, but the main focus of the annual July Twelfth commemoration is what is now called the Battle of the Boyne, which took place on July 12, 1690. But even a historical fact as simple as this is more ambiguous than it appears. In 1690, Europe was still using the Julien calendar so the date during the fight was July 1— it was only after the switch to the Gregorian calendar that the date became calculated as July 12 (Beiner 2007).
In 1690, on July 12/July 1, William III led a largely Protestant army composed of English, Dutch, and Irish planter forces against the army of James II, which was a largely Catholic mix of Irish Gaels and French reinforcements. Despite its ultimate importance to the Orange Order, this Battle of the Boyne— won by William’s army and triggering the flight of James to France— did not mark the end of any war but rather a turning point in several wars, including the Nine Years War in Europe (Merriman 1996). It was this continental war to stop Louis XIV’s expansionistic policies that truly interested the Dutch Prince of Orange— he wanted to settle the Irish war quickly so he could then devote English troops to the fight against France. Louis XIV, on the other hand, wanted William kept busy in Ireland and thus away from France’s coast, so he sent James II French troops and French money to continue his Irish war (Shepherd 1990). However, this historical context is largely forgotten in the Northern Irish Protestant commemorations.
Every year, in accordance with a tradition predating the partitioning of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland, a group named the Orange Order directs the preparations for the Twelfth parade. The Loyal Orange Institution takes its name directly from William III’s title, Prince of Orange, to honor “his victory over despotic power” as the website for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland proclaims. They are “a Protestant fraternity” which “opposes tyranny and despotism in Church and State” (Grand Orange Lodge 2006), swearing loyalty to the British throne and opposition to “the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome” (Roberts 1971: 271). For the Order, parades “are a witness for our faith and this is evidenced by parades to and from public worship” (Grand Orange Lodge 2009)— any criticism of their reasons or routes for parades is “an attack on the legitimate traditions and culture of a people and a denial of basic civil liberties” or “a repression of a legitimate expression of culture” or “an attack on all the parade and its participants represent and believe in” (Grand Orange Lodge 2009).
To the Orange Order, William III is King Billy, white knight rescuer of all Protestants in Ireland (Beiner 2007). Rather than a Dutchman seeking to consolidate his fledgling reign in order to free English troops to keep France out of the Netherlands, King Billy is a true Christian defender of Church (the Protestant ones) and State (the British one), riding a white horse into battle at the Boyne, leading his Protestant English (meaning all loyal Englishmen, whether born in Ireland or mother England) army to a victory over the barbarian Gaels bent on an ethnic cleansing of the isle of Eire. In the Protestant mythic narrative, only King Billy’s victories saved the Protestant planters from sure destruction of life, liberty, and culture (Beiner 2007)— it is this salvation which is commemorated every July 12.
However, July Twelfth parades do not operate solely in Protestant neighborhoods, and this is a continued source of tension and at times violence every summer. There is a reason many Catholics and some Protestants leave the cities of Northern Ireland over July 12 (Bréadún 2006). The distaste of Catholic residents for Twelfth parades is quite understandable, especially considering the militaristic symbolism of the marching bands and the marchers themselves, dressed in bowler hats and orange sashes with stoic faces and aggressive postures (Tuite 2000). With all of these explicitly Protestant symbols commemorating a fragmented view of the past in which Protestants must constantly fight against barbaric Catholic threats, it is no wonder the parades are often described as examples of “triumphalism” and “sectarianism” (Ross 2001: 58), or as a protestor put it, “nothing more than a provocative sectarian coat-trailing exercise to stoke up tensions” (Breslin 2009). Yet the media coverage of the parades differs dramatically from these viewpoints.
My analysis is based entirely on publicly available on-line sources since my investigation focuses on how identities and conflicts are framed by the Northern Ireland media’s coverage of the 2005 to 2010 July Twelfth commemorations. Overall, my dataset included 46 newspaper articles and 18 television broadcasts, plus two radio programs— one on RTÉ News Radio and one on BBC Radio 4. The broadcasts came from the websites for the three main news providers in Northern Ireland: Ulster Television (UTV), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which has a branch in Northern Ireland, and Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ). The latter two are both public broadcasters while UTV is a private media company. The news articles I drew upon come from four of the main new sources in Northern Ireland: the Belfast Telegraph, the BBC website, and Sinn Féin’s An Phoblact as well as the Unionists’ News Letter.
I also used several other websites extensively as comparative references to contextualize the media data. These sites include the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Parades Commission, and the Northern Ireland Life and Times, an annual survey of the populace with its results posted on-line. I then used a combination of Grounded Theory and Critical Discourse Analysis (Le 2006) to analyze the media content at two levels: that of the individual speakers by focusing on the terms and phrasing used by journalists and interviewees, and that of the reports themselves by focusing on visual presentation styles and narrative structuring.
Divided Frames: Parade vs. Protest
The ways in which media frame their reports tend to follow pre-established narrative structures— this increases the efficiency of constructing reports (the obvious comparison being that old capitalist cliché, the production line) while at the same time making it easier for the audience to understand and relate to these reports (Wolfsfeld 1997). These frames thus have a certain influence not only on the media audiences as memory consumers, but also on the producers, journalists, and editors as memory producers since the narrative structures themselves draw upon cultural norms and traditions. In my analysis of the various medias’ July Twelfth coverage, two very different styles of framing emerged which are telling in themselves but even more so in their divisive application.
The first media frame is what I call a human-interest narrative. This style of reporting tells a story by focusing on individuals, inviting viewers to empathize and identify with these individuals by highlighting personal details and often their triumphs or losses. One-on-one interviews are common, though in shorter pieces these are usually edited into brief anecdotes. In the Northern Irish coverage of July Twelfth, the human-interest frame of the parades focused overwhelmingly on the commemorative parades and celebrations, highlighting three aspects: the multigenerational family tradition, the tourist draw, and the celebration of Protestant culture. Each of these aspects highlights personal relationships to the July 12 holiday, whether as a first-time tourist or as a long-term marcher, and is meant to draw the audience in to these snippets of other people’s lives, creating empathy for this happy celebration. One article in the Belfast Telegraph quoted both a Chinese tourist on her first trip to Belfast, who described the parade as “a surprise” and “very nice”, and a north Belfast native who has been coming to the parade for forty years and described it as “a family affair”, pointing out she not only had a nephew marching in the band but was also accompanied by her one-year-old grandson who was experiencing the parade for the first time (Belfast Telegraph [BT] 13 July 2010).
What is missing from all this human-interest and heritage is any mention of parade protests. These are the focus of the second style of media framing, which I refer to as battlefield reporting. In this type of narrative, the focus is not on individuals but rather on the scene and the situation in which the reporter is located, highlighting not only the possibility of violence but its unpredictability, as well. This creates a tense atmosphere, drawing viewers in not only through a desire to see what happens next (with a clear assumption that whatever happens will be violent in nature) but also through apprehension for the reporter’s safety. The information in the report itself is usually detail-oriented in describing the present situation, but simplistic overall (Wolfsfeld 1997)— the conflict is structured as a story of good versus evil, with the heroes clearly distinguished from the villains (Valibeigi 2009). In Northern Ireland, this battlefield reporting style frames not just any riots that may occur, but also the peaceful July Twelfth parade protests themselves.
In these narratives, it is the performances and report structures which speak louder than the reports themselves. Unlike the human-interest parade coverage, there are no one-on-one interviews with protestors. The only people journalists speak to are politicians, who comment on the situation as representatives of their various political parties and constituents, not as individuals— usually after the fact, once the parade has passed by the protestors or once the police service has contained any violence. The focus of the report is, as I said earlier, the possibility of violence— often in spite of protestors representing themselves as peaceful through visual cues such as folded arms and seated positions, or via their “PEACEFUL PROTEST” shirts. The behavior of reporters on the scene adds to this expectation of violence, as they often evince anxiety or hyper-awareness through raised voices and frequent shifting of position or looking around. One BBC reporter, Chris Butler, ended his coverage of the peaceful 2008 protests in Belfast while shouting over the blaring sirens of several armored police vehicles driving by, despite the fact that his segment was pre-recorded, not live, and thus he could presumably have waited two minutes for the sirens to fade before then filming his final words without shouting (BBC 12 July 2008).
Another trend that continued across media types and news companies was the reification of bicommunalism, the popular but overly simplified conception of Northern Ireland as composed of two concrete, unified, and opposed communities. There was no mention of the growing immigrant populations who are more and more often another favorite target of sectarian paramilitary groups (Jarman and Monaghan 2003), nor an acknowledgement of cross-community marriages (Muldoon et al. 2007) or the exodus to the countryside each July Twelfth by the many Northern Irish who prefer to avoid the whole parade issue (Moriarty and Keenan 2006).
Instead, the majority of journalists and the people they interview— whether individuals on the street or politicians asked to comment— emphasize bicommunalism through not only linguistic and spatial divisions, but through assigning blame as well. A 2006 article in the nationalist newspaper, An Phoblacht, reflects the way the concept of bicommunalism conflates religious and political identities. “A nationalist family living in the predominantly unionist Waterside area of Derry were intimidated out of the area following a gun attack on their home last week” (An Phoblacht [AP] 28 April 2006: 1). The story continues, “It’s not the first time the family has been targeted. ‘It’s because we are Catholics,’ Seán told the media. ‘It’s a form of ethnic cleansing.’” (AP 28 April 2006: 1). In a UTV broadcast on the 2010 riots in Ardoyne, reporter Marc Mallet states: “There are calls from both sides of the divide for calm ahead of this evening’s parade” (Ulster Television [UTV] 12 July 2010).
Aiding in this reification is an attitude members positioned on either side of the community division share— that the lack of peaceful resolutions on parading issues is the other side’s fault. Frequently, the other side is blamed for intolerance through references to human rights. Parade participants and organizers frequently argue that protestors do not respect their right to “to express their culture” (News Letter [NL] 29 June 2010) nor their right to “ ‘attend their place of worship and leave that place of worship and return to their homes’ ” (Bryan 2000) as the Reverend Ian Paisley described parades in his speech on July 10, 1995. Protestors usually retort that marchers do not respect their right to refuse to have “an anti-Catholic organisation… marching through areas where it is clearly not wanted” (AP 11 July 2006).
This focus on bicommunalism has two interesting exceptions. First, while the politicians and political groups involved in the devolved Northern Irish government each have a place on one side or the other of the peace walls, there are two government bodies positioned in the space between the communities— a reflection of their growing success as peacekeepers. The Parades Commission regulates all parades in Northern Ireland and thus makes all decisions regarding contentious parades and parade routes while the officers of the PSNI have the unenviable duty of donning full riot gear and enforcing public order. The second exception is Sinn Féin’s frequent blaming of protest violence on minority groups unfamiliar to the neighborhoods were the public disorders are staged. An RTÉ News Radio broadcast on the 2009 Belfast riots included a comment on the issue by Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin MLA, who blamed the violence on dissident “micro groups” (Kelly 14 July 2009) like the Real IRA and stated that of those involved in the riots, “the vast majority were from outside the area” (Kelly 14 July 2009).
Loud Silences: References (or naught) to Historical Events
My discussion of positioning identities has so far been spatial and symbolic, but in Northern Ireland there is a strong emphasis on temporal positioning as well. Like many other presences in the province, time is structured into binary opposites: the past is portrayed as backwards and threatening, with an emphasis on sectarian violence, while the future is portrayed as progressive and ultimately peaceful. Rather than its own third space, the present is divided into the other two times. The majority of Northern Irish citizens are repeatedly described by journalists and politicians— as well as the PSNI Assistant Chief Constable— as forward-looking and strongly in favor of the peace process while a small minority is positioned in opposition to this bright future; a minority described as violent, sectarian troublemakers stuck in the past. As the ACC, Alistair Finlay, put it at a press conference on the 2010 July Twelfth riots, the violence is “totally unrepresentative of the vast majority of people who have embraced a peaceful and vibrant future” (PSNI 13 July 2010). This focus on the future while positioning the past as something clung to by only a dwindling minority of sectarians clarifies another pattern to emerge in the July Twelfth coverage: the very noticeable lack of references to past events.
The few direct references made to older historicized events in the news coverage are brief and explanatory in purpose, and the even more limited indirect references are ambiguous. In fact, it is the silences on the past that are the most telling. The few direct references to past events most frequently cited recent outbreaks of violence in the same place or over the same issue as any current violence being covered by the media. Ardoyne offers examples of this through both direct verbal references and the visual replaying of footage. A UTV report by Rita McNulty on the 2009 riots discusses the Ardoyne shops area, a “flashpoint” and “scene of violent clashes in the past” (UTV 13 July 2009), while a BBC broadcast by Mark Simpson includes footage of violent clashes in 2004 between protestors and police with the voice-over: “Trouble has been a big problem in Belfast in the past. This was five years ago in the north of the city after nationalists objected to an Orange parade” (BBC 13 July 2009). The one older historic event referenced in coverage was unsurprisingly the origin of the July Twelfth holiday, the Battle of the Boyne, but agaIn no details were given. Stories on the parades merely stated they were being held “to celebrate the 320th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne” (BT 13 July 2010).
The indirect references are ambiguous by nature. Without being able to interview actual Northern Irish individuals about these references, I cannot definitively attribute them. However, the trend is worth considering here since even to an outsider with no memories of the Troubles, the few uses of the adjective “trouble” stood out dramatically in media discussions of sectarian violence. In 2005, reporter Tommie Gorman discussed the large police and British army presences in Ardoyne, declaring that the combination “ensured… there was no trouble, unlike last month” (Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) 12 July 2005). The other televised reference is from 2009, when BBC reporter Mark Simpson, in his coverage of the holiday, does a voice-over during footage of the 2004 Ardoyne rioting: “Trouble has been a big problem in Belfast in the past” (BBC 13 July 2009). The newspaper reference is from a 2010 article in the Belfast Telegraph, which states “yesterday’s trouble followed a night of rioting” (Henry 13 July 2010).
Unlike the limited trouble references, the lack of historical context and complexity in discussing Catholic and/or nationalist protests stands out strongly. It is quite simply the elephant in the province. Of the 46 newspaper articles, 18 television broadcasts, and two radio programs I analyzed, no media content so much as mentioned, let alone discussed, the possible rationales behind the protests or the historical treatment of the Catholic community as second-class citizens. There were no references to Catholics being crowded into slums and dependent on welfare because of past biases in housing and employment (McCafferty 1988), nor of the fact that is was illegal for them to parade in Northern Ireland until only a few decades ago (Jarman 1997) while Protestants held literally thousands of parades every year (Bryan 2000). The closest anyone came to speaking of this history was to reference Sinn Féin’s past links to the Irish Republican Army— but only as a way of critiquing the political party by hinting that it could be involved in the contemporary violence.
The police themselves are another aspect of this silence, since media coverage reveals a strong trend towards characterizing police officers as victims. Yes, policing contentious parades is dangerous work and despite all their protective riot gear, PSNI officers are still injured every year on July Twelfth. But rather than focusing on these injuries as occurring in the line of duty, many of the media stories use them as part of their battlefield-style reporting, framing officers as victims and the protestors as aggressors without distinguishing the small number of aggressive rioters who participate in the public disorder from all the peaceful protestors and bystanders. Coverage of the 2010 Ardoyne riots clearly reflects this trend in such phrases as: “Nationalist youths assembled and began attacking the police” (RTÉ 12 July 2010), “more than 20 PSNI officers were injured during the rioting” (RTÉ 12 July 2010), “Police were also attacked with paint bombs, missiles and at least five petrol bombs as a feeder parade passed the Ormeau Bridge” (Henry 13 July 2010), “a man with a shotgun wounded three officers” (RTÉ 12 July 2010), and “A policewoman suffered head injuries during the violence” (BBC 12 July 2010).
Amongst all these different trends, the two which are most troubling are first, the division between media framing of the parades and the protests, and second, the positioning of police officers as victims of violent protestors. According to Wolfsfeld’s (1997) arena model, the media are a battle site between political groups and in Northern Ireland, as we have seen, people still categorize each other and themselves using the concept of bicommunalism— this means the two political groups consist of the original authorities, the Protestants, and the original challengers, the Catholics who didn’t have representational voting rights until after the 1968 civil rights movement. In Wolfsfeld’s (1997) arena, the combination of media coverage framing Protestant parades as human-interest stories with battlefield reporting on Nationalist protests in which the police are victims of attacks is significant. Especially considering the overwhelming media silence on possible historical motivations of the protestors, since both Beiner (2007) and Kansteiner (2002) argue that current practices are influenced by memories and traditions based in the past. These structural media biases reflect a broader continuing cultural bias in favor of the Protestant community— and their continued political strength outside the arena of the media. The Troubles may be over for the majority, but the struggle for legitimacy continues.
It appears that in Northern Ireland, at least, the silences are the exact opposite of Carsten’s (2001) forgetting. The Troubles are too recent— only children under the age of twenty do not remember at least parts of those bloody years—and by not referencing them, or if so without detail, the silence is deafening. Especially with the possible indirect references when journalists sometimes use the adjective “trouble” in describing protest violence. No one can forget and thus, the shared future framed in the media is not one of shared identity but shared desire, of striving for peace across walls. The majority of Northern Irish citizens may desire peace, but as Cuchulainn shows us, such a concept can mean many things to many people.
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