The remarkable Alwin Bully (1948-2023)

As the Office of the Prime Minister of Dominica informs, the official funeral for Dr. Alwin Anthony Bully will take place on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, at 10:00am at the St. Gerald Cathedral Chapel in Roseau. A cultural tribute to Dr. Bully, “Shapes in the Clouds,” will be held at 7:00pm at the Old Mill Cultural Centre.

Alwin Bully was a Dominican cultural administrator, playwright, short story writer, actor, and artist, who designed the national flag of Dominica as the island gained independence from Great Britain. Bully was bestowed with the Sisserou Award of Honour, the nation’s second highest honor, in 1985.

Here is a tribute by Honor Ford-Smith (Jamaica Gleaner), “The remarkable Alwin Bully”:

The remarkable Alwin Bully, Dominican playwright, and cultural activist died on Friday, March 10, after a long illness. His death is another in a series of losses of writers and artists committed to the decolonisation and reinvention of Caribbean culture and the shaping of humans able to do that work. Alwin Bully’s work criss-crossed the entire Caribbean, but it began and ended in Dominica, the island in the Eastern Caribbean that was the last to be colonised by Europe and the last to open to tourism in the present.

Alwin built opportunities where there had been none, and he shaped and mentored many. Dorbrene O’Marde, director of the Harambee Open Air Theatre in Antigua and Barbuda, attests to Alwin’s leadership abilities and his formation in the vibrancy of regional social movements of the 1970s:

“Alwin and I and dozens of students primarily from the Eastern Caribbean gathered at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (the Hill) during the late 1960s/early 1970s — the Black Power period, as it was dubbed. We were of societies emerging from a common history of enslavement and colonialism that had not been accurately told, the struggles of which had not yet been celebrated. The calls for creative thinking to inform new ways were strong. Alwin Bully came to the Hill as teenage playwright, actor, dancer, artist, and left it four years later as our inspirational leader . . . he inspired us to fill the gaps in Caribbean literature — especially Caribbean theatre — that were present after the grass-roots renderings of the Errol Hill/pre-independence generation of playwrights.”

Alwin became part of a generation of playwrights and directors who came to voice in the first decades after Independence. Like Rawle Gibbons of Trinidad, Dennis Scott of Jamaica, Henk Tjon of Surinam, Henry Muttoo and Eugene Williams of Guyana, and others, he transformed Caribbean theatre from colonial amateur theatrics to a place where the imagined community of nation could be explored. For him, performance was a place of entertainment and a public space for teaching and learning.

Alwin’s People’s Action Theatre (PAT) borrowed from carnival and calypso to create a forum for everyday cultural life. His plays combined popular realism, topicality, comedy, romance, politics, and music as tactics for opening access to the stage. He once said his goal was to create plays as popular as the American films that packed in people by the hundreds every weekend. As George Lamming was fond of pointing out, these films likely colonised tastes and desires, and so Alwin hoped that his Calypso theatre would run some interference with this project. He attempted this in plays like Streak and Nite Box without the enormous capital resources that fed the cultural industries of the north. This audacious theatre gave its audience a space for reflection. It dignified and amplified what they had created so they could recognise and refashion it with pride. This was needed because too often, Caribbean folks denigrated their own strengths and carried deep wounds as a result of a past wrought in violence of all kinds.

Alwin extended his vision off the stage to organise through the National Cultural Council, the Dominica Artists’ Guild, the Carnival Organizing Committee, the Komité Pou Etid Kwéyòl, the Nature Island Literary Festival, and more. Regionally, he was instrumental in the formation of the Theatre Information Exchange (TIE), and in Jamaica with the local chapter of the International Theatre Institute, the Jamaica Association of Dramatic Artists, The Company Limited (TCL), as artistic director and more. Through UNESCO he urged innovative policy and regional links. Meanwhile, he remained committed to his own practice: writing, drawing, painting, and directing.

He embodied the elusive dream of a Caribbean that serves all its people well —not just a few — a region that gathers strength from its common genesis in attempted genocide, slavery, and indentureship but which honours its differences as it moves beyond insularity. This dream seemed so near, so obvious back then, and so very far away now. One memory of him dramatises his commitment to regional inter-connectedness and his ability to problem-solve in a practical way. It is the 1970s – a period of unprecedented change in Jamaica. A troupe of Martinican actors and writers have come to Jamaica in search of links with the Anglophone region. They join in a forum on “A Third World Theatre Method” at the Jamaica School of Drama. They are dissatisfied with Papa Cesaire, their status as a province of France. To them, they are Caribbean, and they want to talk about this with us. But they speak no English, and we speak no French. Alwin, who will contribute to the development of Kweyol in Dominica and the Caribbean and who will also support Kalinago struggles for recognition and difference, walks into the room, watches, and then asks. “You speak French Patois?” “Oui,” “OK then. I’ll translate” he tells us. They present in Kweyol and Alwin translates. We learn a little about Martinique and Guadeloupe — for despite our education, we know almost nothing about them. We learn that there is a Kweyol bridge between many islands. We learn that boundaries built over centuries can be breached using the unrecognised resources that we have right here among us.


Alwin solved problems and built bridges like that between all our solitudes. Dorbrene O’Marde reminds us:

“Alwin never strayed from the considered revolutionary lot of creative artistes to fill the massive void in our personal and societal beings… Alwin called on us through his work to make personal decisions about the nature of our participation in this Caribbean society. ‘Fence-sitting’ or ‘do-nothing’ were never presented as options.”

Never arrogant, he sought out common ground in a quest to serve the region and especially its poorest. He did this by listening and avoiding polemics. His was uncompromising service grounded in community and dedicated to that “repeating island” as the Cuban writer Benitez Rojo controversially called it.

Alwin’s passing provokes us to ask, what do words like “region” and “decolonisation” mean now as opposed to the past? What has replaced the theatre as a space of collective cultural possibility and perhaps most importantly, what has replaced the value of committed volunteerism that he modelled and inspired?

Walk good, Alwin. Thanks for believing in all of us when we often didn’t believe in ourselves, for continuing to walk with us when there was no road, and for demonstrating that we make the road by walking

Honor Ford-Smith is professor emerita, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York University. She worked for many years at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica and as a director and actor.

For original article, see

For more information, see Office of the Prime Minister of Dominica, March 27, 2023

Dr. Alwin Bully – Artist, Educator, Social Engineer & National Hero
Gabriel Christian, Dominica News Online, April 2, 2023

Dominica’s cultural icon Dr Alwin Bully dies at age of 74
WIC News, March 11, 2023

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