The Oistins Fish Festival is having a Kanye West moment. All will recall that this popular Hip Hop artist Kanye West changed his name to Ye but it has never caught on and the public has not missed a beat in referring to him by his given Christian names.
Many were in shock and disbelief when in an Easter Sunday recording at the Festival, the Chairperson of the Oistins Festival announced that the name of the festival had been changed. It appears that the name was changed 2 years ago. This name change does not resonate well with the public from the outrage that was expressed in the comments to the live recording so it is unlikely that this name will ever catch on, making it indeed a Kanye West moment.
To me, both Oistins and fish are inseparable, both are nostalgic as they take me back to another era. In my primary school years, every fishing season my brothers and I would trek down to Oistins from Cane Vale to wait for Nobby to come in. He was a fisherman and my grandmother’s cousin. We spent many evenings waiting behind the old fish market waiting for him to come ashore, help take the flying fish out of the nets and get our supply of fish. I don’t even have to close my eyes to remember the splendor of those evenings long ago. There was the sound of women from the front of the market saying “fish! Fish! who calling? get yuh flying fish! 10 ah dollar! There was the peace at the back of the market broken by the cries of sea gulls as they occasionally scooped down in search of fish guts and the sound of waves gently lapping on the shore. As the evening sun lowered its gaze, casting shades of bright orange in the sky, and with the backdrop of pink and white sands on the shore and a shimmering blue sea, the place looked magical. It was away from the hustle and bustle at the front of the market that I looked out at those moses coming near and waited for Jesus to appear. To the child in me it was the Sea of Galilee.
At Emancipation, many of the former enslaved persons from the nearby Plantations came to Oistins and became fishermen. There used to be houses on the beach belonging to the fisher folk and all are now long gone. The old fish market too is long gone and has been replaced by another one, but it has remained the most prominent fixture in Oistins. One cannot think of Oistins without thinking of Fish. Fish is still the common thread in the community. Oistins was where young people would meet. Almost everyone’s father, grandfather or great grandfather was a fisherman. Without having to ask anyone, all you must do is to view the baptismal records from Christ Church Parish Church of a few generations ago. So, if you ask me, it was fish that created genealogies.
Long before the first fish festival was created. My grandmother told stories of going to Oistins at night to get fried fish and I am sure it was happening long before her time.
So why change the name? Although the name Oistins is unique, what happens there has nothing to do with its name. It is a fishing village but by Bajan standards we call it a town. It is one of the last strong holds of Barbadians on the Southcoast of Barbados that has not been overtaken by tourism. It is a place where the people congregate. They came to buy fish. It is what made it popular. Fish is the brand of Oistins. Brand identity must be consistent. The change from Oistins Fish Festival to Oistins Festival is like removing the main character from a novel; like a chef removing a popular main course from the menu.
The Oistins Fish Festival has never concentrated solely on fish. In her address the chairperson expressed that the name change would allow them to get more sponsorship to do more not just concentrate on fish. Sponsorship should not change a brand’s name. The sponsor agrees to a sponsorship because it is a way for him to get exposure by attaching himself to a well-known product or event. It is therefore a win-win situation for all, The sponsor, the company, and the consumers. Under normal circumstances a sponsor’s name usually comes before the event and at times after it. Sponsors usually showcase or sell their products at the event but there is no change in the name of the brand as this will cause it to lose its identity and appeal.
It was not stated what would define the new brand. It leaves one to wonder if with the new name of Oistins Festival that the festival will take on a more historical outlook. Perhaps they are going to showcase the Austin Family. Oistins is a corruption of the name of that prominent family who owned most of the land in the bay.
Perhaps it will take on the significance of a colonial festival with a reenactment of the signing of the Barbados Charter which was negotiated and signed at the Mermaid Tavern in Oistins in 1652.
Yet again the focus could be the history of black entrepreneurship as it is a fact that the town was one of the locations in Barbados that created the earliest black entrepreneurs, but this still leads back to fish.
Oistins, is not a resort town like Holetown with its many hotels so one cannot say that the aim is to successfully create a festival that is predominately for the tourist.
One is at a loss as to what the name is to connotate since the Oistins Fish Festival has never concentrated solely on fish. There is also an abundance of arts and craft, music, and entertainment.
Truth be told, the Oistins Fish Festival is now a national treasure of our cultural heritage that has outgrown its private ownership. One thing that I wish to state is that back in the mid-seventy’s night life in Oistins was hanging on to a thread and the Oistins Committee branded and enhanced an activity that was already there and turned it into a successful cultural festival with several other attractions. So perhaps now that the committee is at the crossroad and devoid of ideas to take the festival forward, now is the perfect time to pass the baton on to the National Cultural Foundation for that body to take over and take the festival into the future.
One thought that comes to mind, is to have fish festivals during the Lenten Season in other fishing communities. One up North, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast and the grand finale on the South Coast at the Oistins Fish Festival on the Easter Weekend.
While there is always room for brand improvement, there is a lot to a name and as the second last line of the national anthem states, we must be “strict guardians of our heritage.”