Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Pigmented Spectacles": Conversations with Dr. Ian Ayrton Earle Kirby

"Pigmented Spectacles": Conversations with Dr. Ian Ayrton Earle Kirby

David Chesterton's fascinating biography of "Doc" Kirby is not quite finished, but he brought copies down to St. Vincent so that people who knew Kirby could take a look at it. "Doc" was not above pulling people's legs on occasion, and whether or not he left "Doc"'s version stand, he wanted to know how other people saw the same incidents. If you have an anecdote about "Doc", there are copies of the biography in the library to compare it to, and if you have a correction that you'd like considered, email me at
[karlek76@gmail.com] and I'll see that David gets it.

If you didn't know "Doc" Kirby, you missed something. I met him at his little museum in the botanic garden the first time we visited St. Vincent, and I tried to drop in whenever we were down. He was always interesting to talk to, and it was doubly interesting when another visitor came by. "Doc" always used that as an opportunity to learn something new, or teach someone something new about St. Vincent, or both at once.

I miss the opportunity to visit the museum when "Doc" was there. As it is now located in the Carnegie Library Building, under the auspices of the National Trust, it is more formal and the exhibit cases are more dignified, and the exhibits are probably safer, but "Doc" gave them personality.

However, if you didn't have a chance to know "Doc" before he passed away, you can still see his portrait in the museum, study the exhibits that he collected, and now read about his life in David Chesterton's fascinating book. When David told "Doc" that he was going to write about him, "Doc" said: "To tell my story you'll have to see the world as I see it. As a Vincentian and very proud of that, I see everything from an islander's point of view. To understand that you'll have to wear pigmented spectacles".

As far as I can tell, and we've only known St. Vincent for 15 years or so, David's spectacles have a noticeable vincentian tint. There may be more accessible documentation about "Doc" in Canada, and even in Scotland, but "Doc"'s life was mostly in St. Vincent and reading the book you will not only get a sense of the person that "Doc" Kirby was, but the environment he grew up and lived his life in. David's book is not a travelogue, but you will get a stronger impression of St. Vincent than from books scribbled after a brief visit.

And "Doc" was a man with original ideas that are still ahead of his time. He was convinced that the African component of the Garifuna genetic inheritance was not principally from escaped slaves (as the slaveowners and their apologists chose to believe) but from expeditions from Mali in the 1300s. I'll dig out some migration maps that "Doc" gave me and put up a blog about that in the near future.

In the meantime you can go to the library and ask to read the proof version of "Pigmented Spectacles", and when the corrected edition comes out in a couple of months you'll be able to buy your own copy at Gaymes Book Centre on Grenville St.

Click on image to enlarge