Crop Over & Carnival – What is Caribbean Culture? What Does it Mean? Where Are We Going?
Submitted by Pachamama
We are working with a few ideas.
The people who seem to know, like to consider a culture as the beliefs, enactments, values, mores, stories and maybe traditions of a people. We always talk about the dead-endedness of the political and economic cultures in the Caribbean but it is also difficult to measure any higher level of vibrancy in any other aspects of the general ‘culture’. This is true from Trinidad to Barbados, as we will argue, if we are permitted to use Carnival and Crop Over as metrics.
The project to create a new Caribbean identity is no more visible in Jamaica than it is in St. Lucia and it is doubtful how festivals contribute. The radio call-in programs seemed to have served their purpose of absorbing critical public expression, as a release valve, like these festivals, but not much more. The market share of church attendees maybe more and more consolidating into a business organizational revivalist camp. They take their orders from elsewhere. In all this, it is difficult to reconcile the visionary, even hopeful, articulations by eminent Caribbean statesmen/women of yesterday, people like CLR James, Lloyd Best, the Great George Lamming, William Demas, Derrick Walcott, Rex Nettleford, Michael Manley and others, with what is happening today. Thankfully, none of these could have sung the praises of the queen and accept a knighthood.
Maybe it is a function of age but none of the carnival festivals in the Caribbean hold any particular excitement any more, seem chronically staid, represent a ‘monotony of a sameness’ year after year, unable to transform themselves far less their societies, but pass for the most popular cultural expressions still. And we seem not to be able to break out of this downward spiral. Disconnected from the visions which our leading sons and daughters held for us. We can no longer see the wisdom of writing another social commentary, as a calypsonian.
Or the value of expending the energies on another Demarche Gras. Or walking aimlessly up and down Gros Islet on Friday nights. What is all this about, but wasting time? And yet, most places we go in the Caribbean the environment is more and more polluted by useless noises for more and more days in a year as these cacophonies represent industrial complexes of nothingness.
None of these ‘conversations’ have anything to do with the collective vision from the independence period, as best interpreted. Is this all we are about, keeping noise? Maybe the vision was wrong. Maybe the strategic interpretation was imprecise. Maybe we as individual Caribbean people haven’t done enough to make the ancestral guidance reality. Could this be all our great ones bequeathed to us – a cultural cul-de- sac? Could the hopefulness of the pre and post-independence periods be lost forever? Is there a possibility to rekindle the spirit of independence? We are doubtful. It is a neo-colonialism at work and the festivals make a lot of pretense but in the end only play into the dominate culture.
At least the people who retreat to the Pentecostalists get the same chance of enjoyment while supposedly praising somebody up there. They too keep their fair share of useless noises, adding to environmental pollution. And most of their songs are old time. But in the calypso arena we see no songs that could be written that could say anything much different than what the greats from the past have already said. And even if this were possible, what is the utility of ‘talking’ more when all the ‘talking’ from the past was just a lot of hot air? Why would we want to keep singing about women, or politics, or partying or economy when there is little or no affect?
In the past we had people signing about ‘government boots’ but we still see more and more jackbooted thugs running rampant. And Tommy dead and gone but another one could still come again, like a second coming. And he coming, and he coming, and he coming! And even so, the new mother country that a Johnny once sang about is heading straight to oligarchy. Some say fascism. A man once posited that a Mr. Harding could not burn and more and more hard times still coming. And dey coming, and coming and coming. All kinds of men use to sing nationalistic songs to win the prize money but the constitution is yet to be repatriated. This more and more is a mere pipe dream. Not even the great Ossie Moore cud’nt get the ‘community of interests’ to give him permission to turn the country into a republic. We find it extremely difficult to envision another great one like Sparrow, Lion, Chalkdust, Gabby, Grynner, Arrow or Bag will rise again. But even if he/she did dey cud sing til’ deh voice sore, they will be no more than court jesters bou’t hey, that’s all.
We hitting at the ‘music’ but all the other art forms that were to be generated around the festivals never seem to translate to brick and mortar or internet industries, real businesses. Cultural expression from the festivals seems not to have extended to the law, for the outdated libel and slander laws remain on the books. So an old time law dictates an uncertain future. Oh los’, we lost. Yuh would never think that calypsonians were cussing people for over 30 years and when we see TV news the only points of references could be the BBC and CNN, channels which presents a narrow view of the world. So why continue cussing? Like the calypso and the festival, we could miss them for 20 years and in one single night be brought up to date. These should tell us that something is wrong, but you can’t even kill this, wid a gun!
Well, there can be no argument that the Caribbean doesn’t have a culture/s, all people everywhere meet the general definition. The real questions relate to how did we get here and where are we going. Certainly, everything we seem to want to do seems to be impromptu (picong). There’s no 100 year plan anywhere, not even for Crop Over or Carnival.
The Caribbean more generally and Barbados in particular has never had a tradition of incorporating the ideas of radicals into the body politic. In fact, the reverse is true. Enormous pressure are exerted on people, at the margins, in all spheres of activity to conform to a set of social norms which the people in charge have come to believe represent the ideal. So if we have a child for instance who could manipulate any set of numbers in his/her head but can do or does not want to do anything else people will still want to see an 11-plus exam result that fits a mean. And there are endless examples how a culture that irrationally demands conformity limit progress. We judge that the mal-development of these festivals could have been guided by a wrong culture. Until some real radicals are dug up and made to be part of our societies no amount of Crop Over Festivals nor Carnivals will make any difference in real terms.