Hidden History Of The Dales 2007-Exhibition

Man on Hos Back
Oct 11th – Nov 15th 2007

Designed by Hughbon Condor
Portrayed by Charlene Smith

The significance and uniqueness of the 2007 Leeds carnival costume design directly reflects the theme of the bi-centenary commemoration and celebration of the abolition of slave trade.

The Leeds West Indian Carnival, which is celebrated as one of the best social events in the West Yorkshire has a forty year history of high patronage. It is an event that engages the attention of people from diverse backgrounds.

Hughbon Condor who has been designing costumes for the event for thirty-five years, vividly captured the theme of the bi-centenary commemoration through his unrivalled dexterity in costume-making. In fact this year’s costume pictorially portrays triumph over one of the most inhuman activities in the history of the world referred to as slave trade.

According to Hughbon, the costume also symbolises a tribute in memory of his late maternal grandmother Henrietta Walters whose favourite saying was “MAN ON HOS BACK NAR SEE DAY’, has been well illustrated in the design. This saying was used when someone was seen fussing over small details, which could not be seen from a far. His grandmother’s witty statement portrayed the master-servant relationship of the slave trade era. The saying is linked to the period when slaves worked laboriously on sugarcane plantations under the strict supervision of unsympathetic overseers who rode horses in the course of their duties. The slaves could getaway with momentary misdemeanor providing the man on the horseback did not see them.

The design shows a horse rider who in essence is not just an overseer, but a sad reflection of a whole authoritarian power whose main aim is to readily and wickedly whip any of his slaves who seems to be under-performing.

The costume also depicts a slave girl whose hands are tied and being dragged behind the horse to be punished. The slave girl managed to get her hands free from the rope when they got to the middle of one of the sugarcane plantations. She quickly mingled with other slaves who were working on the plantation and disguised her self by joining in the activities.

Having cut several sugar canes, she suddenly felt the urge to take off the garment of slavery and with a sense of self-realization decided to exhibit her true African nature. She courageously confronted the taskmaster riding the horse. The horse became startled and disoriented, as a result it rose up and the overseer fell to the ground. The girl quickly snatched the whip, which was to have been used in lashing her and began to whip her overseer. She jumped on his back and rode him like a horse. She felt so empowered that she managed to climb onto the raging horse and took control of the animal until it was tamed again. She then dismounted it and led it to an entirely new destination.

Having toured venues in North and West Yorkshire, gathering information along the way, this exhibition is returning to the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. It will feature archive material, never seen before, that describes the involvement of the Dales and Yorkshire in the British trade in enslaved Africans; that shows how many Yorkshire people in various capacities were employed in the trade and in the plantation economies which it supported; highlights how financially the area benefited enormously from it; that many Yorkshire abolitionists other than Wilberforce tried to end it and, perhaps most surprising, that from the 17th century onwards a number of Africans settled in the Dales and Yorkshire because of it.

Exhibitions about British Black History are rare and in North Yorkshire, rarer still, so it is an excellent opportunity to discover the links between people and places in the Dales, the Caribbean and Africa. Carnival costume from the Huddersfield and Leeds Carnival will also add a vibrant, colourful and telling element to the exhibition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Dales