Changing face of Crop Over
Somehow I’m losing interest in Crop Over. The 2015 edition is almost over and I haven’t felt the urge, at least thus far, to attend a single event –– not even the free ones like Pan Pun De Sand. A far cry from previous years!
Maybe I’ll finally catch the fever this weekend when the festivities enter the last lap.
Crop Over’s appeal, at least in my case, is no longer as potent as it used to be. To begin with, Crop Over seems to have lost a lot of the originality which gave it a distinctive Barbadian flavour and caused it to stand out from other street carnival festivals in the Caribbean.
Born on the plantation during slavery to celebrate the end of the sugar crop, and redeveloped in the early 1970s as a tourist attraction to boost arrivals during the then slow summer months, Crop Over in many ways back then reflected authentic
As a third form Foundation student back in 1974, I was fortunate to witness the relaunch of Crop Over in its present incarnation. What still stands out most in my mind about the inaugural edition was the delightful experience of sitting around a table, in the middle of Broad Street one afternoon, sipping Earl Grey Tea, eating crackers and chatting with other students.
That event was the test-run of what subsequently evolved into the highly successful Bridgetown Market. As our group chatted, a tall, slim gentleman with a white beard and sporting a straw hat stopped by to say how pleased he was to see the interest of students. He explained what Crop Over was seeking to achieve and said he hoped to see us at other events.
As I found out later, this gentleman was Julian Marryshaw, a Grenadian residing in Barbados, who was assigned the task of bringing the historic harvest festival back to life. From then, I became an avid Crop Over follower, eagerly looking forward every year to June to see what new would be in store.
In those early days, the decorated donkey and mule cart parade through the streets of Bridgetown used to bring out a large crowd to see the amazing creativity of top-notch local designers like the late Winston Jordan of Bajan Belly Laff fame. Another popular event was the plantation fair which used to be held either at Fairy Valley or Spencers Plantation.
There was also the spectacle of the burning effigy of Mr Harding to climax the festival which, at the height of sugar’s dominance of the economy, symbolized the return of hard times for sugar workers and their families until the next crop. These events, which were steeped in Barbadian culture and tradition, are now history for various reasons.
For example, the virtual disappearance of donkeys and mules from the Barbadian landscape killed the Cart Parade. With the abandonment of these original events, the festival gradually started to move away from its original emphasis on showcasing Barbadian culture with a noticeable shift towards entertainment in the form of fetes.
Calypso, the lifeblood of Crop Over, has itself undergone fundamental change over the years. Biting social commentary on the issues of the day, as opposed to party music today, used to be the focus of early calypso competitions which were staged at Elombe Mottley’s Yoruba Yard in Fontabelle.
Yoruba Yard was an important focal point for Afro-Barbadian and black culture during the 1970s. This project made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of Barbadian consciousness but remains largely unrecognized. It is time for Elombe to be given his due.
From my perspective as a proud son of St Philip, the biggest development in Barbadian calypso, undoubtedly, was the establishment of the Conquerors Tent and the subsequent rise of Stedson Wiltshire, Red Plastic Bag, to national stardom after he blew away the competition at the National Stadium to the win the crown for the first time in 1982.
It wasn’t only an historic victory, in personal terms, for this humble lad from the village of Bayfield but a triumph for the whole of St Philip that had powerful symbolism. For years, Philipeens had been the butt of jokes mainly from City folk. They made fun at our distinctive accent, found fault with how we dressed, called us “country bumpkins”, and generally suggested we were a backward people.
RPB’s 1982 victory, from a symbolic perspective, provided country (St Philip) with a triumph over City (St Michael and urban communities). Turning the tables on The City, the win brought pride and respect, avenged the trampled dignity of Philipeens and provided a significant boost of confidence.
City folk have naturally had difficulty understanding why RPB has enjoyed an almost cult following of red plastic bag-waving fans who come down from St Philip to give support whenever he performs in competition at the National Stadium or elsewhere. It is because of what Bag represents in the eyes of St Philip people, especially their fighting, indomitable spirit.
Kadooment bands back then were authentically Barbadian in their representations. The parade started at Weymouth, I think it was, and ended at The Garrison. With designers like the late Robert Weekes and Winston Jordan, Tony Graham, Marcia Chandler, Barbadians saw images of themselves in the presentations.
Following the entry and gradual increase of Trnidadian influence, Barbadian culture has receded in the background as costumes moved to a standard bikini and top with glitter, beads and feathers –– which can also be found at other regional street carnivals. No matter how talented, Trinidadian designers are incapable of authentically representing Barbadian culture. It is alien to their experience.
It was refreshing to hear veteran designer and costume bandleader Reggie Cave calling earlier this week for a revamping of Crop Over to bring it back to its roots. The 32-year masquerade veteran said Kadooment, as originally conceptualized, was meant to reflect “Barbadiana” and provide a “totally local experience”. To achieve this, a limit clearly has to be placed on the extent of foreign influence and involvement in Crop Over.
Authentic Barbadian culture emanates from the soul of persons born and/or raised within the territorial space which is our island. It is a fruit of the spirit coming from the deepest reservoir of a people’s collective consciousness and experience relating with their environment. Only a Barbadian can genuinely represent Barbadian culture, in the same way that only a Trinidadian can represent Trinidadian culture.
Anything else is fake. Crop Over today is presenting a Barbadian culture which is not authentic but manufactured for commercial purposes. It is putting Crop Over at increasing risk of becoming irrelevant over time. Reggie Cave’s call is therefore timely. It is time to go back to the drawing board, not only in relation to Kadooment, but also
to rediscover the original idea of the Crop Over project.
As writers like Frantz Fanon and Cees Hamelink have emphasized, national culture is a priceless but fragile asset which must be jealously guarded to protect a nation’s identity. This is indispensable for a nation’s full development, especially in the present context of globalization which is undermining national cultures to achieve a single global culture through a process of homogenization.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist.