COLUMN – Some good old rumshop talk . . .

Today's WomanOne of the elements of Barbadian culture which I enjoy immensely is liming. It is a tradition that has successfully made its way from generation to generation almost completely intact.

When I was younger, there were two major formats for liming. There was the rumshop gathering in the evening and on the weekend, when various folks would converge after a funeral, community event, or cricket match.

The second type of lime has not survived as fully. It was the house gathering, usually on Sunday evening, when two or more young married couples would meet in a rotation at each other’s houses to discuss politics and social issues as their children played and half-listened to the discourses.   

Having fewer outlets for the second format, I admit to gravitating towards the rumshop lime. The rumshops provide a very mixed social space where Barbadians of all walks of life socialize over food and/or drinks to “old-talk” and discuss the social and political issues of the day.    

Over the last few weeks, several of the proprietors of my favourite spots have been complaining about police harassment and curtailment of their karaoke and liming sessions. Since the increases in liquor licences and other business-related costs, such as COSCAP fees for music, many traditional rum shops have added karaoke or “marketed” limes to their suite of offerings to diversify and boost business.

In the cases where proprietors have drawn their concerns to my attention, there are no immediate residences where noise pollution could be a concern. They reported that while the police were indicating that karaoke sessions and limes should be concluded by 11 p.m., they were not giving reasons for the curtailment.

I am taking the word of the proprietors that all the necessary paperwork and fees had been paid for the sessions which can usually last up to midnight during the week and as late as 2 a.m or 3 a.m. on the weekends. While I would have to hear the justification of the Royal Barbados Police Force’s curtailment, I wish to indicate that liming is performing a therapeutic function in the current economic context.

Having the communion of a family, even if it is just “the rumshop boys”, is quite important in circumstances where people are fighting job losses, struggling with bills and other challenges. The limes also act as economic stimulus in an island where growth and economic activity are rare occurrences.

People make money selling food and other condiments to bars and patrons of limes and karaokes. Music men create circuits of shops in order to have a week of steady work for themselves.

Some karaokes have been successful in getting sponsorship, and the best singers are sometimes paid for their efforts. Additionally, taxis or route taxis are sometimes used to transport patrons to the larger of the events or limes.

I do not wish to overstate the importance of the activities, but I believe that if there is curtailment in the rum shop sector, then the stakeholders should be engaged so they at least understand the reasons for the actions they see being played out.

On the business aspect of this, several women have been able to runrum shops or the cookshop sections in rumshops to send their children to school or supplement other forms of income. The informal entrepreneurship sector has always been an important feature in Barbados, and it is no surprise to see it revved alive in a context where people are losing jobs and trying their best to navigate their commitments.

For years, the informal entrepreneurial sector has been easier to navigate than the formal. Whereas people can find the money to turn over stock or set up a basic trading enterprise in an informal business, the formal business sector requires upfront money or what we refer to as “old money”.

This lack of access to “old money” is one of the fundamental determining factors in how businesses which are black-owned and those “other”-owned on the island are established.

Although there are several agencies that have been set up to assist entrepreneurs with the start-up of businesses, it still seems as though most of the more successful businesses grow up from the informal sectors. Some are able to eventually transition from the informal sector, and still others operate for years just at the basic level of being able to turn over stock and support a sole proprietor and immediate family.

All is not lost, however, because where these business usually died with the sole proprietor, some of them are finding themselves into second and third generation ownership.   

This suggests to me that if we spent a little more time studying these businesses and creating solutions that actually support them as they are, instead of requiring them to immediately meet unattainable standards, we may be able to create a solution to the dichotomy of the formal and informal business sectors. Of course, in order to do that, we also have to be willing to talk about the entire informal sector in Barbados, including how the cultivation, sale and social network in the growing of marijuana is linked to the larger informal sector.

Like how we deal with other challenges in this country, simply curtailing rumshop limes as they evolve and diversify does not fix the problem. The tension on this island can already be cut with a knife and I do not see what taking away the people’s enjoyment does to assist that.

We need evidence-based solutions and leaders who see the bigger pictures in their action or inaction. Why are we celebrating The Garrison and crying down the rumshop? Whose culture are we really using to create the industry?

And are we surprised that some movements are growing and bursting at the seams, while others seem stillborn –– at best, personal playgrounds for a few well-connected but out-of-touch overlords?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email:

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