Before Dr Quito Swan was a globetrotting intellectual superstar, he was my friend. There were countless hours of reasoning, building, writing, listening to music, discussing art, playing dominoes, football, and basketball on Bermuda’s various outdoor courts – mostly Point Mart. I lost more games of chess to him that I care to disclose, but – I think he’ll admit – I had a slight advantage over him in dominoes.
We built Neno Letu together (along with Lauren Francis), we worked on Dr Pauulu Kamarakafego’s autobiography, Me One, together, and we performed spoken word masterworks together – on many international stages.
My boy is now a historian of Black Internationalism, and Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University Bloomington. He is a deeply Bermudian hero, whose political worldview was engrained in him from birth. Dr Swan recalls the various influences that shaped his radical intellectualism while growing up in Bermuda:
“I write about Black Power in Bermuda because my father and his close friends, and our godparents, were members of the Black Beret Cadre. So, while the subject of Black Power was marginalized in Bermuda’s colonial school system, I heard whispers about the Movement from my brother, father, and those close friends.
“It was another Beret, Michelle Khaldun, through whom I first met Pauulu Kamarakafego. He had a massive influence on my political development after my undergraduate years at Florida A&M University.
“While in school at Prospect Primary, I learned about the meaning of the red, black and green colours on the African liberation flag, and other things of that nature from my uncle, in my grandmother’s home, on Pond Hill.
“There were books that my mother and father had in the house – Chained on the Rock and Mind the Onion Seed.
“Bermuda’s Rasta community had a big influence on me. Sound system culture, and sessions across the island – Spanish Town, Dub City, and Rude Boy International were spaces where I also learned about the cartographies of the Black world, and the significance of Africa.
“Berkeley Institute – our entire high school marched to Liberty Theatre to see Cry Freedom; those kinds of moments I remember like yesterday.”
After Florida A&M, there was some time in Bermuda, during which the projects mentioned above were completed. Then it was back to the U.S.
Dr Swan taught at Howard University, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and authored his first book, Black Power in Bermuda, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan, in 2010. This tome brought Bermuda’s era of black enlightenment, and black consciousness, to new light, and its release was a celebrated moment both locally and internationally.
Dr Swan was quickly becoming an authority on the peculiarly African aspects of Bermuda’s culture; he was becoming a culture creator. We were all militant, having been shaped by the teachings of Cyril Packwood, Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Mutabaruka, James Baldwin, Burning Spear, KRS-One, Pauulu Kamarakafego, Sizzla Kalonji, Franz Fanon, Garnett Silk, Cornell West, Nellie Musson, bell hooks, Ayi’kwei Armah, Fances Cress Welsing, Fela Kuti, Nikki Giovanni, Haile Gerima, Saul Williams, and countless other bastions of black love, black art, and black freedom. Quito was extending our fledgling militancy further now – he was creating something we were told we never had:
“Culture creator – that’s an interesting phrase. When we were young the mainstream narrative used to say that Bermuda ‘did not have culture.’ I am glad that perspective has changed. I am here to build vibes, so I guess it’s cool [to be called a culture creator]. I do feel that I am an amplifier of Bermudian and Black culture.”
Of course, this creation, this extension of Bermudian black culture was cultivated in Bermuda, while indulging in his favourite elements of local culture:
“Sound Systems, music – Gombeys! Cup Match. Kicking Ball. Sitting off by the water. Fish. Being outdoors. Our language patterns, word play, vocabularies, linguistics, and vicious ability to build community via ‘chanting’ and ‘performative insult.’ Technical innovation. Aquatics. I love the visible, and invisible, reminders of our connection to Africa, and the African world, whether through soundscapes, aesthetics, foodways, ecologies – I am here for it all.”
They say that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Dr Swan does what he loves – speaks truth to power … and takes names! When he’s not fighting the power, his time is spent indulging in those same African-informed activities we grew up loving:
“Juggling tune – I’m building a sound system (Holla!). Chess. Dominoes. Kicking ball. Outside – imagining I’m working out like I used to. Youths. I love competitive sports in general.”
Africa is in everything Dr Swan does; a lesson we learned well while sitting at the feet of the venerated Dr Pauulu Kamarakafego. Pauulu always told us to take over the world, and raise Africa – this did not go unheeded by Dr Swan.
Pauulu’s Diaspora: Black Internationalism and Environmental Justice, Dr Swan’s second book, was published by University Press of Florida, in 2020, and received the African American Intellectual History Association’s 2021 Pauli Murray Book Prize. The book also received the 2021 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, the 2021 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship Book Award Prize, and was a finalist for several other prestigious awards.
Pauulu’s travels led Dr Swan to the South Pacific, where he researched and produced his third book, Pasifika Black: Oceania, Anticolonialism, and the African World, which was published by New York University Press, in 2022.
“Pasifika Black: Oceania, Anticolonialism and the African World is a finalist for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History’s (ASALH) 2023 Book Prize. ASALH was originally established by Carter G. Woodson in the 1920s, and is the organizational founder of Black History Month.”
Dr Swan’s next book project will bring him full circle to those nights spent in the dancehall when we were young. Born As A Sufferah: The Insurgent Soundscapes of Dancehall Music, explores global Black politics through the sonic insurgencies of Reggae, Dancehall, and sound system culture.
Recently, Dr Swan worked on the 2020 Bermuda Government Commission of Inquiry into Historic Land Losses with Dr Theodore Francis, and he comes home to build vibes, and create culture, regularly.