diversity the mother of creativity? If one were to look at
T&T one might be tempted to say that the evidence is overwhelming.
Here the values and traditions of many civilizations and cultures
intersect. It is at such intersections that the springs of
creativity tend to sprout forth and Trinis have shown themselves
to be past masters in bringing forth creations that are manifestations
of various permutations of the elements of our cultural milieu.
A prime example would be the artistry displayed in many of
the Carnival costumes. They are truly excellent examples of
ingenuity in design and material selection.
One is then truly puzzled by the fact that no formal systematic
approach has been made to capture the experience and skills
of these designers. Indeed, if we do not do so it would be
something we would live to rue. This in fact is what has happened
in other spheres of our cultural mosaic.
Ironically, the cultural community that ostensibly pays so
much emphasis on the preserving of traditions has been one
of the hardest hit. It should not try to lay blame anywhere
but at its own doorstep.
If we ourselves did not ensure that the appropriate mechanisms
were in place to ensure cultural continuity, then we must
be the ones to accept the blame.
Today I would be more than pleasantly surprised if there are
any practitioners of the Raja Harischand and/or Prahalad dances
that were performed on the cooking night (the
night before the wedding occurs in the Hindu tradition). The
skills of dancing, costume design, drumming, singing and dancing
have all become or are becoming extinct.
The situation is similar for birahar singing and drumming
and indeed classical singing and drumming.
All these were based on folk traditions that our ancestors
brought with them when they came from India and which were
adapted here in T&T.
Indeed, it is my view that this spirit of adaptation, which
is required to survive in any new environment and thus pervades
the immigrant mindset, is what provides the foundation for
innovation and creativity. In the case of Trinidad, this effect
is magnified by the very diverse cultural mix.
This spirit of innovation and creativity pervades the art
forms of many festivals and practices in the country and its
main practitioners are outside of the educational establishments
and their graduates. This cannot be allowed to continue if
we are to harness our potential to transform the economy so
as to eventually reduce our dependence on the energy sector.
The fact that our tertiary-level institutions seem in the
main to be insulated from society has not helped the situation.
Indeed, there seems to be some unwritten law that scholarship
must be separated from the general population or, put another
way, the community of scholars is distinct and different from
the community at large.
This is exactly the paradigm that has led to ivory-tower,
slightly useful institutions and the general failure of tertiary-level
graduates to impact in a significant way on social transformation.
There is a present, clear and urgent need to develop and strengthen
the bonds between the educational institutes, especial tertiary-level
ones and communities.
This would provide a platform for not only ensuring that our
university graduates are sensitised to the needs and expectations
of society but would also exert peer pressure on them for
the purposes of them fulfilling these expectations.
It would also provide mechanisms for capturing the ideas,
experience and know-how of those who have a track record of
ingenuity and innovation in various fields of endeavour for
the purposes of incorporating it in our syllabuses.
To give some examples: in mechanical engineering, design is
a core course. Some of the costumes of the kings and queens
of Carnival bands have won praise worldwide for their ingenious
use of materials and creative design.
To date, as far as I am aware, no costumer designer was ever
invited to share his experience with engineering students.
No wonder our record of invention of devices and machines
is so abysmal.
Is it not really astounding and mind-boggling that in the
same small country there can be so dazzling a display of creativity
in one field of endeavour and incredible sameness in another?
The transformation of the economy requires us to awaken that
latent sense of innovation and creativity in our technical
students so that we may also become great industrial innovators
and equipment designers.
To do so we must move away from these rigid and artificial
boundaries installed between science/technology and the arts.
A transformation is required in education at the tertiary
level to achieve this.
* Prof Prakash Persad is chairman of Swaha Inc