Reflecting on objects to understand our past helps us to navigate our present and imagine a better future
This tea set is decorated with a logo in gold, which fuses together images of a sailing ship and a book. This is the logo of The Empire Café, a space dedicated to discussing Scotland’s links with transatlantic slavery during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The cups are decorated with fragments of poems commissioned from Caribbean and Scottish poets to spark curiosity and conversation around our shared history.
Malika Booker is one of the poets quoted with lines from her work Yonder awa awa, which reflect on the euphemism ‘yonder awa awa’ (meaning the West Indies) quoted by a character in Walter Scott’s novel of 1817, Rob Roy. Booker’s words highlight the immense distance that the phrase represents and how this vague reference allowed people to ignore or to forget this aspect of Scotland’s past:
and so it was that those long sea
journeys became yonder awa awa
Since the early 2000s, a greater understanding of Scotland’s involvement in and profits from slavery has slowly continued to grow, fuelled by activists, historians and reconnections with the Caribbean. In 2020, the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement into wider popular consciousness has brought the painful legacies of ‘yonder awa awa’ squarely into view.
Header image: Items of Wedgwood porcelain from a set created for The Empire Café project, 2014.
Lisa Williams is the founder of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association, promoting the shared heritage between Scotland and the Caribbean. She is a Research Associate at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh.