Festivals and, yes, festivals!

Today's WomanBarbados celebrated its 49th anniversary of Independence on Monday. I trust whatever you chose to spend your time doing that it was gratifying and rewarding.   Today’s Woman celebrated its one-year mark –– a smaller but significant anniversary coinciding with the national milestone.

I want to say thank you to my Barbados TODAY family, first for creating the space for me and then for their support in the venture. I also have to express gratitude to what has become that little group of readers who greet me weekly and share feedback and ideas. I see sharing my thoughts on some of the softer issues, that tend to become obscure among the bigger concerns such as economic growth and restructuring, as a part of my national service.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of conducting an analysis of Dominica’s World Creole Music Festival. The festival was added to the Dominican tourism calendar in 1997 as a part of the run-up to the Dominica Independence Celebrations in November. While the specific aim of the festival was to boost tourist arrivals to the island, it did not overtake other events which were traditionally held in the month of national significance.

As I tried to reconcile these myriad parish carnivals now springing up in Barbados, I found myself considering Dominica’s experience.

The celebration of a month, week and day to recognize and mark the French Creole history of islands that shared common retentions from their interactions with French colonial masters started in earnest in the 1980s. The efforts which had led to the development of these activities had started in the previous decade as a part of the work on identity and language, done in the Independence struggle in islands like St Lucia and Dominica.

Scholars like Mervyn Alleyne and Lawrence Carrington and community practitioners like Marcel Fontaine and Dame Pearlette Louisy joined to host conferences on Kwéyòl, the official name given to what had been known as “French patois” or just “patois” until then.

All of the islands and territories where Kwéyòl was spoken and French customs retained came together under various group names, and a calendar of activities and preservation strategies were created to ensure the heritage of these places was not lost.  So that when Dominica added the World Creole Music Festival to its celebrations in October, it was not done as a “pop kite” activity. Dominicans were building on an institutional history that was at least as old as their Independence movement.

This is the fundamental difference between the World Creole Music Festival of Dominica and the random parish carnivals of Barbados. The carnivals have been “dropped into” the national psyche of the island without any cultural or philosophical reference point.

When it is time for the World Creole Music Festival, Dominicans who live as far as the proverbial Timbuktu find flights to return to their homeland, because they are not just going to “hold a wuk-up”. They are going to wear their national dress and eat their traditional foods.

They are going home as a personal and national signal that their heritage is significant, and that they will do their best to uphold and support that heritage.

The business aspect of the World Creole Music Festival is not just restricted to the nights of music and revelry. The calendar around the festival is planned in such a way that various stakeholders can partake in various activities.

The schoolchildren take part in poetry competitions and best national dress pageants.  Special tours comprising sightseeing and food tasting are prepared for tourists, and there are also events such as Creole In The Park (which is an enormous reunion just outside of the capital Roseau) hosted for locals. All these activities give the World Creole Music Festival way more than the “jump-up” dimension of these carnivals we are now welcoming into Barbados.

All these activities make the World Creole Music Festival considerably more manageable than these carnivals that we now have popping up around Barbados.

Another difference between the activities in Dominica and what we see unfolding in Barbados is that the World Creole Music Festival was the product of policy planning and community mobilization. In other words, the World Creole Music Festival was a bottom-up project and not the plaything of any one politician or political party.

I am not naïve enough to believe the World Creole Music Festival had absolutely no political influence in its creation or development along the way. It must have. This is, after all, is
our Caribbean.

The takeaway, though, is that the politicians and all others involved saw the usefulness of leaving the World Creole Music Festival as a national affair. In the case of the Barbadian carnivals, I see Members of Parliament speaking almost in public relations capacities with respect to the events. There seems to be a blurring of party machinery and festival machinery, and this, as I see it, is another hindrance to the festivals adding any real cultural or social value to the communities in which they take place.

The carnivals have been taken from the communities in which they originated to score cheap political points.

Semantics matters; there is a difference between a festival and a carnival. Perhaps at our 49th anniversary of Independence it was easier for Barbados to “throw together” a few wuk-up carnivals. This may have been easier because we have not paid attention to the preservation and development of the heritage around which festivals can be built.

We had a Chief Education Officer for some years in Barbados who refused to accept that we had a Barbadian Creole language. We have generations of schoolchildren who feel ashamed about the way they speak. So it is easier for them to go to a carnival and “buss a wuk-up” than journey anywhere to any festival that celebrates Barbadian lexicon and patterns.

Apart from Frank Walcott’s efforts at creating word lists of the lexicon of Barbados, we have only had one recent effort, as far as I know, in How To Be A Bajan by Harold Hoyte (2007). We
are reaping what we have sown. I hope we are happy.

Our National Cultural Foundation does not have a historian on staff. If history is at least more acceptable as a discipline, certainly a linguist would not be on staff if a historian did not make it!

We created a brand new Tourism Product Authority –– again no linguist or historian insight; but we are creating events for people to attend. Are we surprised when these become wuk-up orgies? These carnivals seem to be what we wish to create: activity for activity’s sake; big music for big music’s sake.

When we add the big music and the restless unemployed segments we have across this island, we end up with two dead and one severely stabbed. Happy Independence, nation of my birth.
I hope wunna watching good, good!

Do not daresay you do not know how we got there when we reach our collective destination!

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the Unviversity of the West Indies. Email mhindslayne@gmail.com)

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