Changing our culture?

by Adonijah

I was intrigued by the title of a recent panel discussion — Threads of Scarlet, Bowling, Sushi: Is it time to redefine Bajan culture? There is so much that seems to be suggested within that title that I couldn’t resist taking a look at it.

There seems to me to be a suggestion, however vague, that in some way some people could think that Bajan culture is being threatened by a rock band, a sport not indigenous and a food equally not indigenous.

Let me make it clear that I’m not saying that the panellists thought in that way. Indeed, some of the quotes in the report on the discussion make it clear that was by no means the case. Most of all, having the discussion was a good and positive thing. We need to speak more openly about things rather than letting them fester in our collective breast, only to burst out in uncontrollable ways.

Questions of culture are often vexing, primarily because it means so many different things to different people. For example, do numbers play a part in determining what is part of a country’s culture? In other words, in a country of say 10 000 people, if only 50 are devoted fans of classical music and expose their art as often as they can does the fact that the other 9 950 are sworn devotees of dancehall mean that the latter is part of the culture and the former is not?

What establishes the bona fides of a practice, or art? Does it have to be “high culture”? And if something is designated as “low culture” is it still not culture?

If we accept that the things a people do naturally make up their culture, do we then accept that Bajan culture now includes spreading vicious unfounded rumours and scavenging to send the most graphic photos of incidents that cause others pain, as in the case of the woman who jumped from City Centre? A lot of Bajans certainly do these things.

My take on the whole thing is that, first of all, culture cannot be static because people, who determine and embody culture, are not static. That’s with the exception of a certain fella I know. So while some things are traditional it can’t be that these and these things alone make up a culture.

For example, food is a significant part of a people’s culture. One of the most fascinating experiences is to observe how different people deal with the same ingredients. Because of their history and culture, the ingredients can be combined in far differing ways.

Here in Bim, we used to say proudly that cou-cou and flying fish was our national dish, an important part of our culinary culture. Now, as Rawle Eastmond correctly pointed out in the House recently, our national dish is macaroni pie, establishing some curious link with Italy, of all places. The flying fish get so vex they left and went to Tobago and don’t seem to be interested in coming back. Last I heard, it was $25 for a pack of 10.

In other words, as a people’s practices change, so does the culture. Yes, there will always be the instantly recognisable traditional elements, such as the under-appreciated tuk band, but what about more recent developments?

Returning to the title of the discussion, is redefining culture a natural thing or is it something to be resisted? Should we not welcome and embrace well-crafted artistic outpourings of all our people, whether or not their genre is that which is mainstream? And talking about mainstream, judging from radio play, hip hop, R&B and dancehall are mainstream music on this rock.

In as much as bowling is not an artistic expression which comes out of the soul of our people, I would honestly find it hard to accept it as a part of our culture. Rock music, though, is a bona fide cultural expression, something that comes out of Bajans. It’s by no means as popular as other genres but if our people create it, it’s part of us.

Which leads to an excellent point made at the discussion by Dr Deryck Murray, who stressed that many misguidedly confuse ethnicity and culture. He used the example of The Merrymen, and there are few better in the local context. It is hard to find a body of music more intrinsically Bajan than that of Emile and the fellas. Yuh could want something more Bajan than “frog en got nuh right in salt water and uh plan to live til uh dead”, from Too Deep Too Blue? That is pure Barbadiana.

Still, the group’s skin colour marks them as “white Bajans” for most of us and for some that leads to the assumption that, in some way, they aren’t “real Bajans”. Error! They are as Bajan as Baxter’s Road, Potato Mout’ and Pompasetters.

So just in case anyone out there is developing a bunker mentality and feeling threatened to the point where a call has to be made to circle the wagons and protect this thing called Bajan culture from the threats of what our own people produce, wheel and come again.

We’d be a lot better off dealing with the daily onslaught carried out on the flat screens.

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