Now that Carnival done, is there time and space to review
the cultural situation? Briefly on the subject of the Merry
Monarch (and how did this figure find a way into the twin-island
Republic), having perused the commentaries and analyses
of some of my fellow columnists and found a thread of prevailing
criticism (commercialism, State hijackery), Id like
to add this for the record.
Beyond the booge, bikini and bling ting, anyone who claims
creativity is alive in the shape of MacFarlanes band
obviously wasnt born or sighted when Peter Minshall
did all of this (and a whole lot more) in the 1990s. A mere
change of colour scheme cannot camouflage direct conceptual
imitation or derivation.
The cultural and socio-historical impulses that conceived
T&Ts 19th-century Canboulay and Jamet Carnival(s)
have been soucouyanted, sucked out by the usual gwo mangers
(sic)an excellent Haitian Kreyol term for the big
shots or big eaterswho are not content with stuffing
pocket and belly but want to turn everything in and out
of sight into product and profit.
Tony Frasers pre-Carnival column was only one of a
growing chorus of voices decrying what is essentially the
misappropriation and desecration of an historically rooted,
authentic peoples festival.
A propos of the true cultural gatekeepers, I want to refer
to a Trinidadian work of fiction, written by Earl Lovelace,
who remains unique in Creole writing as one of the very
few Caribbean-based practitioners.
His is not the comfortable or angst-ridden nostalgia, fantasy,
diatribe or exotic outing of the diasporic writer. The issues
Lovelace has embraced from his earliest work are all located
right here (where he continues to live), whether in history
or cultural memory.
So, to turn to The Wine of Astonishment, which deals with
the long-excluded and banned Shouter Baptist community but
also examines loss of cultural identity, language and authentic
creative expression, Lovelace traces how the spirit,
the driving spiritual creative energy that animated Baptist
worship and belief before the British colonial authorities
clamped a ban on the drum and the shouting (atavistic
and barbaric expressions to be extirpated at all costs to
bring the colony into line with the Manichean, joyless and
utterly hypocritical social mores of Queen Victorias
Great Britain) is suppressed and then lost.
Even after the ban is eventually lifted, the spirit is no
longer in the religion but has shifted or transferred to
the pan as a medium of indigenous expression.
Just as The Dragon Cant Dance is an imaginative engagement
with the role of Carnival in this ethnic and cultural goldfish
bowl, so, too, Wine is the kind of self-questioning, exploratory
text that cultural theorists in the Anglophone Caribbean
seem incapable of producing.
Every Carifesta rolls out the same-old, same-old symposium
on the Caribbean aesthetica discussion now long set
in the stone carving of the 1970s.
In the award-winning Salt, we find Lovelace continues his
discussion of Creole culture and where its going or
I think by now even the blindest, most obtuse or intransigent
among us cannot fail but notice that the spirit of creativity
has passed on from Carnival. The point is, with a multi-million
white elephant of a Performing Arts Centre now under construction,
where is the culture and, if we can locate it in its various
contemporary manifestations, where is it headed or should
it be headed?
These are serious questions for which I doubt there will
be many constructive or illuminating answers.
Id be very interested to see what the new centre will
be called. That, in itself, would be an indication of which
way the breeze is blowing. What about the Beryl McBurnie
Centre? Or would that rake over old guilts about the callous
indifference, which equates with a total lack of respect,
with which this grand dame of Creole culture was left to
end her days in drifting obscurity and increasing poverty?
For all of T&Ts undeniable and apparently bottomless
wellspring of creativity, some thing or things are just
not right. Excellence in the arts, like other social spheres,
is greeted here with a mix of envy, scorn and, the grimmest
reaper of all, indifference. When yuh too too good yuh better
This embrace of mediocrity is nothing less than an acceptance
of failure, a corrosive self-doubt left by the British colonists,
whose mental slavery flourishes at the expense of healthy,
Why is it that geniuses in their fields like Eric Roach
the poet and Devindra Dookie the actor killed themselves?
Surely there was more to it than unstable artistic temperament.
As another sidelined great, 85-year old jazz guitarist Fitzroy
Coleman, put it, to arse with everything. They doh