Soldiers and Bredren: How Men view Friendship

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Women can call their friends honey, babes, or chick, but let a man use a ‘soft’ word to hail out a friend, and he’ll be jeered at for the rest of his life.

Thankfully, the Trini man’s vocabulary gives us a wide range of terms, which connote the appropriate level of respect and affection, for our male friends.

Terms like hoss, homie, pardna, and dan are often used, as are soldier and bredren. Lately, I got to thinking about the last two. ‘Man-speak’ for the quality of friendship among males, they carry heavy weight, and, as such, shouldn’t be taken lightly (pun intended).

Some might assume that they are equal in definition. Some might notice a difference in the tone of voice used when calling someone soldier, as opposed to bredren. On further observation, however, I realised that the difference between these two titles wasn’t that obvious. It also didn’t help when I thought about the exchanges I have seen between people who were unfamiliar with each other. Consider this scenario.

“Bredren, that’s my cardboard box… leave it right there!” said the shirtless man. “Touch it and I will buss your head.”

“Soldier, why you think you seeing the box there in the first place,” said the man with the soiled jersey. “Is I who take the cardboard and make it into a box in the first place. Steups!”

Bredren and soldier. What’s the real difference? (because, for me, there is a definite difference).

“Soldiers are associates of convenience, while your bredren are friends who seek your best interest”

Thanks to the help of some young men at the Youth Training Centre (YTC), I believe I have figured it out. To be honest, they had problems wrapping their heads around it too, until someone used the issue of debt, as an example. The relationship between soldiers is one where no action is taken without expecting the soldier to pay it back or return the favour in the future. You see, what essentially divides the sheep and the goat – ahem, I mean the soldier and the bredren – is that soldiers are associates of convenience, while your bredren are friends who seek your best interest.

The soldier, as the name implies, is a person who will be obliged to do your bidding when you call on them to do so. Soldiers do things for each other because of a mutual understanding of loyalty and respect, but the concept goes no further than this. The dark side of it is everything that is done for a soldier is unfinished; it must be paid back, even if it exceeds the initial transaction.

Thus in a criminal gang, if one member physically defends you in a fight against an attacker, then it is expected that some time later on he will remind you of his deed in order to get something in return: money, reprisal killing and more. The relationship between soldiers is essentially a relationship of convenience. No wonder that Dudus Coke was able to call his Tivoli Gardens soldiers to arms for a bloody display of his own influence or rather, his own investment options.

So what of bredren? Well, the clear consensus among the YTC lads was that bredren were few, and hard to come by. Terms such as ‘blood’, ‘caring’, and ‘love’ were showered upon bredren. Clearly, they were friends worth keeping around. Upon further reflection, we realised that the relationship between bredren required no transactions; they look out for each other freely – expecting nothing in return. Bredren, after all, comes from the word brethren, and retains the same meaning.

“He will do the right thing for you, even if it hurts you”

The tough part of having a bredren at your side is that he will do the right thing for you, even if it hurts you. To paint another scene, the bredren will not give you money, if he knows you are going to buy a gun neither will he hesitate to voice his discontent about you doing anything that will bring an end to your life.

In other words, your bredren seeks your best interest first. His reason for being close to you is based on genuine concern. He doesn’t see you as a means to the end, as is the case between soldiers.

This is why I can quite safely say that you cannot be my bredren, if I stay quiet about the fact that you are beating your girlfriend, or if we happily knock back a few beers every Friday on the Avenue, and it’s obvious that you’re firmly on your way to becoming an alcoholic, and yet I don’t intervene. Being bredren isn’t about laughing at the latest Youtube clip of a girl beating her boyfriend (in his own car!), and remarking, “Only in Trinidad… only in Trinidad”.

Sadly, it’s not only in Trinidad we see this sordid example of male bonding.

In exploring how men identify each other, you can’t help but appreciate how this can be useful for how we view all our relationships. I don’t think anyone wants to be around people who may try to be manipulative. Even the most corrupt among us want to feel comfortable in their relationships, since such relationships can never be useful in times when you need an honest assessment of yourself or a given situation (which makes me wonder what kind of associates would convince someone to call a snap election, a soldier or a bredren?; but I digress).

Soldiers may stand with you in a fight against enemies, but it’s your bredren who will go to all lengths to ensure you come out alive, without asking for anything in return. Like the term from which it originates, bredren will always consider you as family, taking care to warn you before you take a wrong step and look out for your best interests. Your bredren will also laugh at you, if they ever hear you calling another man babes.

Author bio: Nyron Rolingson is a Theology major at The University of the West Indies. He is also a creative writer who is still wondering why his skills cannot be maximised in a local television industry that continues to see the development of quality sitcoms, cartoons, dramas and sci-fi programming as financial kryptonite. While awaiting this paradigm shift, he enjoys working with young people and talking about movies.


1 Comment

  1. Camille Winchester

    April 2, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    fuh real inno. Heard of a guy referring to another as a ‘thick darky’…the end result, I heard, was not nice

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