14 June, 2002
Clifton Dupigny forgotten
The news that the name of the pioneer of universal education in Dominica, Clifton Dupigny, is to be stripped from the title of the proposed unified college at the Stock Farm/Bellevue Rawle, reflects a typical example of national ignorance about those who helped to build the foundations of this nation state.
When I enquired as to why the name of Dupigny had been swept aside and replaced by the bland title of "Dominica State College" (State Prison, State House), I was told by persons in high places: "Well he was not so important, he just gave the land for the college." Where did they get this erroneous information?
He did not give the land, although, as a member of the Legislative Council, he encouraged its purchase from the Potters as part of the larger Goodwill - Roseau expansion scheme. His contribution was far more profound, involving tireless and outspoken demands in the Legislative and Executive Councils from 1944 to 1954 for education for all, and years of unpaid service on successive Boards of Education. His work towards achieving the Federation of the West Indies and representation for the development of agriculture must also be taken into consideration. But it appears that there is complete ignorance as to who Clifton Dupigny was, and what was the role that he played in the development of a modern education system for Dominica. On a personal level, he ensured that his two girls received the highest education to become lawyers, in the face of what was then a male dominated profession.
While elsewhere in the Eastern Caribbean, island colleges, similar to the one that we are trying to create, proudly proclaim the contribution of their pioneer educationalists with names such as Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, St.Lucia; Fitzroy Bryant Community College, St.Kitts and Nevis; Laverty Stoute College, BVI; T.E. Marryshow Community College, Grenada; and there are other examples. But obviously we reject our own.
Perhaps I too am to blame, for when a notice appeared inviting suggestions for the naming of the college, I assumed that people in those positions would be aware of his contribution and that it would simply be composed of some new combination that included Dupigny in the title. And so I let things be. Obviously I was wrong.
In the 1970s, the now defunct schools broadcast programmes run by Mrs. Merlyn Jno.Baptiste, highlighted the contribution to national development of people, including Dupigny, in a series called "Lest We Forget." Obviously we have forgotten.
At Dupignys funeral in October 1967, secondary school pupils lined the entrance to the Anglican Church in respect. His lifes work was highlighted in the speeches delivered at the groundbreaking ceremony in November 1970 and at the opening of the college buildings some two years later. A school "house" at DGS bears his name. In my book, The Dominica Story, I mention him in relation to the Federation of the West Indies as well, and his work for education has been featured in the current series, "A- Z of Dominica Heritage" published in this paper. Obviously I write in vain.
To maintain the name of Dupigny would give the college some depth in time, taking it back to its very roots. But perhaps certain people want to give the impression that this is a newly sprung thing and try to forget that it is an idea that goes back at least to the 1970s. Read the relevant sections in the book by former Minister of Education, H.L. Christian: "Gate Crashing into the Unknown". The portrait of Dupigny and others such as H.L. Christian, during whose tenure the first buildings were erected, could be displayed in the halls.
But there is a belief, encouraged by certain journalists, politicians and educators, that no one made any meaningful contribution to Dominica before 1961. Yet let us remember that when people such as Dupigny were in the Legislative Council in the 1940s there were no lavish doses of foreign aid and loans being dished out for high profile projects as in the 1970s to 1990s. Every cent was procured by hard bargaining and with some opposition.
Take the incident of Dupigny speaking in the Legislative Council on his ideals for universal education. Across the table, H.D. Shillingford interrupts and says: "That is all very well, Dupigny, but when you give everyone an education, who is going to collect the limes?" Given the current disregard for Dupigny and the present state of the agricultural economy, cynics would say that perhaps Shillingford was right, although to be fair, he himself donated land for the government school at Colihaut.
But perhaps the influence for this new "State" name also comes from our current infatuation with the United States and all things stateside such as Penn State University etc. It is not for nothing that V.S. Naipaul called us "mimic men".
So rest in peace Clifton Dupigny, because the Dominica that you and other early nationalists had envisioned, and for which you sacrificed your time and effort, has turned its back on you all. Erase the name of Clifton Dupigny, put a watermelon or a pumpkin on the plinth at the Federation Drive roundabout and call it C.E.A. Rawle. Who cares? Not many.
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