Who is entitled?
by Baba Elombe Mottley
Whenever the policy of cultural development comes up, one has to always ask the question, “who is entitled to benefit from such a policy?” This is the question I asked myself in the months before Independence in 1966 and in the following years. The political leadership of all political parties took no interest in defining who the future Bajan was to be.
By this I mean, was it expected that we would continue to be the still-born children of colonialism or a proud new people building on our strengths and singular identity as Bajans? The result was that a people, left in limbo, had to put a new value to themselves. We had to elevate the people living on the Island, ourselves, to what it was to become as a nation.
Finding out what to do was easy. Other societies develop systems and opportunities through which they could define their culture. We too needed such a system. But no one cared to alter the status quo. Nearly everything at Independence was defined in Eurocentric terms hence much of what Bajans did was found all over the place.
A few local organisations like the Barbados Arts Council tried to establish itself as a beacon for artistic development but like the Government it was mired in accepting a Euro-centric bias in art and music. All other music forms and performing arts were treated with contempt by the administration. For example, Ivan Payne was recognised because the West Coast transplanted European icons (Ronald Tree, Edward Cunard, Oliver Messel, and Claudette Colbert) bought and exhibited his works in their mansions.
On the other hand, Karl Broodhagen, a teacher, was not entitled.
In music, the European classics were honoured and those who performed such were elevated to icon status. On the other hand, Shilling was dismissed as “too common” and not worthy of any such recognition.
The nature of our education and its Euro-centric biases stifled or delimited much of the fine arts expressions. There was disrespect for our indigenous music and black music in general. Theatre was riddled with race and class prejudice.
This disrespect for Bajan expressions by both government and public institutions such as the Barbados Arts Council forced a few of us to search every nook and cranny of Barbados for the music, the songs, the dances and the artists outside of the purview of these supposedly standard bearers.
In spite of this, many young people began to search for their identity, for their roots, but the majority still found ways to express themselves. I saw it for myself. I helped to establish the Barbados National Theatre Workshop for actors and Black Night for writers.
I worked with artists and helped to organise street exhibitions. I set up Yoruba Yard for artists, dancers and performers and brought all these art forms together in our own facilities in Fontabelle.
Many of those who made up the membership of the Barbados National Theatre Workshop were very successful students with “O” and “A” levels. Most of them stayed with the group for about a year before university studies or a bank job took them away. Most had access to transportation and could attend rehearsals.
Yoruba Yard originally started with mostly inner city kids, all within walking distance, consisting of school drop-outs especially from the “newer secondary schools and the older secondary schools”.
Others came from Christ Church, St. John, St. George, St. Andrew, St. Peter, St. James and outer St. Michael. The police surveillance of the Yard was sometimes accompanied by warnings about how many house breakers, shoplifters and budding prostitutes that I had in the group. That was none of my business because if they were, they changed into one of the great Bajan dance groups.
I bought a bus and used to take them home each night. I am very proud of the Yoruba People as I called them. They were some of the most talented, committed and disciplined friends I have had. They were brilliant.
Here were a bunch of people who had an interest and an opportunity to try their hand. They didn’t know if they had any talent until they tried and tried they did with great success.
I don’t want to single out anyone but I remember when I was introducing stilt walking in the group, none of the dancers wanted to try it. I heard a voice from among the many young boys who use to sit in the seats of the theatre watching rehearsals, “Baba, cud I try them.” That is how Ifie learnt the art of walking and dancing on stilts when he became a stiltman with the group.
For us to gain any success, we were guided by the philosophy that everyone was entitled to get the opportunity to be creative if they wanted to and to express it. We offered classes in art, drumming, and dancing. We took members across Barbados talking to and learning from elders. We discovered lots of music, ideas and stories about Barbados, stories that will fade from memory soon because they don’t appear in books or on television.
When CARIFESTA was held in Barbados in 1981, no one envisioned its impact on Bajans. Government was a reluctant host. I believe there was an attitude that thought it was like organising a “Singing”. The resulting shock that rocked many young people was that they din see nutten that they cun do.
Here are a few things that I discovered.
* There were different names for indigenous musics across Barbados.
* Many communities had their own songs and dances in addition to the ones they shared with other communities.
* There were different speech patterns
* Most of all people like to sing and had clear ideas about what they liked and disliked.
This sounds obvious but it is not so obvious when we look at the institutions under the aegis of Government and the role they played in fostering cultural (especially in the arts) development that will enhance this country and its people.
Cultural development is the process of expanding the consciousness of Bajans so they can do better for themselves and their families. It is not just about artistic development, but about the overall development of the citizens of Barbados, individually as well as collectively.
I don’t know exactly how the latter works, but you see it. It has never been defined as far as I know but the following institutions which are under the control of the government are responsible for carrying out those objectives.
* The National Cultural Foundation
* The National Sports Council
* The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation
* The Barbados Museum
* The Ministry of Culture
* The Ministry of Community Development.
* The Ministry of Education
* The Ministry of Information
* The Royal Barbados Police Force.
The only one that’s offers formal education is the Ministry of Education. All the other institutions can and do educate the public informally providing the longest contact all through adulthood. For most of the time their objectives are not the same. Let us put it another way. If these institutions collectively defined objectives on their being, how come lateral lines to allow each to benefit from the other are non-existent or marginally operational?
Let me explain what I mean. Take the Barbados Museum. Why hasn’t the Ministry of Culture demanded free promotion on CBC through the Ministry of Information for the Barbados Museum? The Museum is financed by the government who appoints two-thirds of the directors. What is its purpose?
Is it just a warehouse for storing artifacts or is it an institution for educating us about ourselves or a place for tourists to visit? What is it effectiveness if it cannot reach the majority of its constituency, the people of Barbados, and have that constituency visit the Museum?
So why aren’t there more extensive television programmes on the contents of the Museum? They are many stories to be told and retold, so why isn’t it being done? Herein lies many stories that would be perfect fodder for NIFCA. The Museum should not reside on the periphery of our consciousness but should become part of the knowledge tree that gives us a better understanding of our heritage.
Speaking of NIFCA let me expand a little. One of the major goals of NIFCA should be to release whatever talent there is out there by providing the opportunity.
It is the major entry point for cultivating young writers, dancers, choreographers, artists, singers, musicians and videographers of tomorrow. Why isn’t the Ministry of Education more involved by incorporating NIFCA as part of the curriculum of Primary schools and Secondary Schools?
This could be in the form of short stories, poems, arts & craft work, and singing of traditional songs. The second or third week of the first term should be allocated to completing these entries?
This involvement would also mean that preliminaries can take place at the community level at the Primary Schools where parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, siblings and cousins could see and hear the children. This is not an unnecessary expense but a means of developing an audience for Bajan talent.
Members of the community can help to serve as judges and in so doing improved their knowledge on what constitutes quality and help to define a Bajan aesthetic.
I believe very strongly that everyone has the ability to be whatever they want to be. Opportunity and recognition are important. I also understand that. Yoruba Yard created a Landship group with the children from Hindsbury School to perform in NIFCA in the late 1970s. They were all successful in getting into the top secondary schools. The headmaster of Wesley Hall Boys School told me the same thing also happened with members of the Wesley Hall Boys Choir.
Are these objectives out of harmony with the Ministry of Education’s policy of Primary Education? Should they not be harmonized so that by Easter students would know the themes for NIFCA? Why not appoint a teacher for NIFCA in each school who would have the responsibility to coordinate the participation of students in NIFCA?
In 1984/85 NIFCA preliminaries took place in the community with performances at the primary school so that parents got the chance of seeing their children’s work. Some parents even served as apprentice judges so that the professional judges could explain the process of judging and the elements that constitute quality.
These community performances were filmed so that people could again see their children as well as themselves on television. How else do you build an audience in today’s age and give everyone a chance to be? Our hope is that adults would also take the courage and enter their own works. When people set aside the time to reflect on life and express it in a creative way, we will be a very rich society.
One more! Barbados is 166 square miles. It has a population of just under 300,000 people. Check this.
* CBC /Barbados Government
o Four radio Stations
o The only local television Network
o The Government Information Service
o Educational Television, only in a few schools
o Wireless Satellite Network
o Owns three radio stations
o Three/Four newspapers
* The One Caribbean Media Group owns
o At least five newspapers including the Nation with the widest circulation
o Five radio stations two of which are in the top three stations in Barbados
o Satellite television network distributor.
o A televisions station supposedly for tourists
o A radio station that pays no license fees
o A radio station that scorns deejays
The Government of Barbados through The Ministry of Information is entitled to 10 per cent of all this broadcast time according to the license agreements. Why is this access not used? But more importantly why should so few have so much? No one else has the right to operate a radio station or a television station? One Caribbean Media can only operate one radio station and one television station in Trinidad and Tobago. Why do they five in Barbados?
The late Prime Minister David Thompson did not think that there was a need for Government to establish a Public Broadcasting Service and provide the kinds of programmes I outlined above that will allow Bajans other than politicians, sportsmen and business people, to see themselves.
Why is it that Government has allowed CMC-TV, SportsMax out of Jamaica, a Tourist Channel, the Weatherheads (do they still have a licence?), and Mr Elias to have licences? I would like someone to tell me where to go to find out — Bay Street or White Park? Maybe someone can tell me how to buy one!