Monday 2nd June, 2008

Prakash Persad
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No to rum culture

The truth is a bitter pill to swallow. Is this why there was a furore recently about an advertisement showing a river lime and in which one of the limers was struck down with chest pains? The complaint was that only one ethnic group was featured in the advert and thus, presumably, they were being shown in a negative light.

Well if it fell into that particular garden then so be it. A more appropriate response would have been to initiate a campaign to reduce and possibly stop this obscene and excessive drinking for it is unhealthy and contributes to the many social ills that afflict the particular community and the country.

Come on! Who sang “rum till ah die” and who is singing “bring it in ah bottle, bring it in ah glass…” and where are these songs being sung and who constitute the listening audience?

At a “shaving ceremony” in Caura River, not to long ago, it was virtually impossible to hear the mantras being said by the mahapaatra. Why? Because firstly, the limers, yes them again, were not content with playing music for themselves. No, they came with a huge speaker box on the tray of a pickup truck and of course being full of “spirits” they were blasting away.

Not to be outdone, another group, near to where the religious ceremonies were being held, were drinking, splashing and speaking in a loud raucous fashion.

Oh, did I forget to mention that on the banks on the Caura River there are designated public facilities for the Hindu community to perform the after-death ceremonies. Apparently the rum culture drowns out all sense of shame and propriety.

By the way, the folks mentioned above, in case it is not yet crystal clear, were almost to a man, woman and child descendants of those who “arrived.” Talk about “lajjaaheen,” raakshas behaviour!

The successful 20/20 cricket competition final, which was played in the South, was an eye-opener, both for the standard of the cricket and the amount of alcohol being consumed.

Television audiences were able to see “live” how some spectators were not only on an emotional high from the exciting cricket but also from the liquid “refreshment” they were drinking directly from 40-ounce bottles and especially so when the cameras focused on them.

As the batsmen were hitting the ball with vigour, so too the descendants of those who “arrived” were “hitting” the bottle, but with even more fervour. It was obvious that the latter were hitting harder.

The rum culture that has come to be associated as a part of Indo-Trinidadian culture did not come with our ancestors. It is a destructive, anti-social and self-inflicted social disease that emerged here and it is not a cultural inheritance.

In the past it could have been excused, not condoned, on the grounds that life on the sugar plantations was indeed difficult and that there was a lack of recreational facilities.

But nowadays, with a wide variety of recreational and sporting opportunities and formal social support and counselling services, one would think that the rum culture would die a natural death, or at least diminish in adherents and significance.

Interestingly, the reverse has occurred. So what is driving and giving renewed life to it? Chutney—not that of the tamarind or mango variety. That of the vulgar, intellectually sterile variety.

To enjoy the nonsense that masquerades as lyrics, one has to be not in a sober frame of mind. So chutney shows and alcohol intake are like hand and glove. You do not believe me? Then tell me which chutney show you have gone to or heard off in which there was no alcohol being consumed—and in huge quantities too? See you can’t!

The dancing and shameful behaviour that occur at these shows are the very antithesis of the cultural values and mores that our ancestors brought with them to this land. This rum culture is no part of and has no place in Indo-Trinidadian culture and, as such, concerted efforts must be mounted to jettison it. It is going to be difficult but the option of not dealing with it is not one we can afford.

The Indo-Trinidadian community is not well known for identifying, debating and implementing solutions to the many problems facing it. Do not confuse the whining on the various radio talk shows as a debate. In fact, conferences and workshops organised by Indo-Trinidadians to discuss and debate are as scarce as indeed are the audiences that actually attend the few that occur.

Being partial to the siege mentality, it would make sense for us to self-analyse and self-police our cultural activities and to push it in the direction in which we would like to see it move.

In this regard, we need as a community to send a clear message to the radio stations, singers and lyricists that we would not be listening to songs with nonsensical lyrics. To the chutney promoters, we expect entertainment but that we are not prepared to descend into cultural barbarism.

As we enter into the 164th year of the arrival of our ancestors to this land, we can lift ourselves, by our bootstraps, from the cultural and social morass we find ourselves in or we can sink into cultural hell.

*Prof Prakash Persad is the director of Swaha Inc

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