on the forum: ‘National Festivals: Ethnic Fragmentation or National
through the still of Port-of-Spain one night after a lecture at the
Port-of-Spain library, something odd occurred to me: This has to be among
the most civilised countries in the world.
lecturers: Firstly: Where else in the world would a person of
indeterminate ethnicity and religion, like Burton Sankeralli exist. His
first name sounds Christian. A double barrel Hindu/Muslim surname was
never more appropriate as Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan make
nuclear bombs just in case the other side strikes..
Sankar: Hindu (probably originally Shankar,) and Ali (a Qur’anic
Ravi-ji, who says elaborate Namaste’s or Sita-Rams regardless of the
company he is in, is always dressed in traditional kurta-pyjamas and whose
knowledge of Hindi and the scriptures probably far outweighs that of the
average Indian from India was a key speaker at an “African” event.
Some of his 150-year-old traditions are so carefully preserved that they
are rarely observed even in Mother India. But hear that twang.
Trinidadian. He is a staunch Hindu but his presence at this African
Emancipation podium demonstrated that his religion has not made him blind
to the legitimacy and authenticity of other cultures and religions.
Kafra Kambon: His is the hardest job. He proudly carries an African name,
wears African looking clothes. He is a leader of a lost African tribe,
which, after being branded, like cattle, stripped of culture and language,
is still trying to “catch itself” and pick up the pieces of an
topic (in my words): What do festivals mean in this country which has
variously been called calalloo, rainbow, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic,
melting pot, to the point that people have stopped listening. They spoke
for 40 minutes each. They were honest, persuasive, brave, analytical, and
most importantly they were not boring, sanctimonious or predictable. In
the interest of clarity and cohesion I have culled the contents of their
Sankeralli: The concept of holidays is fascist since it was handed down by
the State. Under Eric Williams, this country’s first Prime Minister, the
State failed to recognise the diverse nature of society. Due to this
divisions have been suppressed under the surface of one love and calalloo
country. Each group has its own cultural and religious space, for
instance, the Africans have Carnival; the Indians, Divali; Muslims Eid;
Christians, Easter and Christmas. Almost all festivals are linked to race.
We have failed to create a truly national festival day, or musical or art
form without an ethnic agenda. As a result public holidays are just
another zone of contention. We need to have a shared festival to celebrate
us as nationals of this country regardless of our race and religion. This
festival or space has to emerge naturally and should not imposed upon us
by the State.
Ji: The British Empire brought together two old world civilisations, the
Ameridians and their own. Their alternatives were: a) genocide of the
existing group; b) conversion; c) hegemony. Our Euro-centric colonisers,
were not able to silence former slaves and indentured labourers with the
“tyranny of their calendars”, hence the rise of Baptists, Hindu,
Muslim, and other fringe religions and festivals. “Man needs festivals,
and if he doesn’t have one, he will create it, to provide him with a
womb, a space of his own.” The ethnic divide is no longer as sharp as it
used to be. Many Indo-Trinidadians participate in Carnival, and Christian
festivals. Similarly festivals such as Eid and Divali are now becoming
more national as people of all races don Indian national costumes, and
light deyas. Festivals can be either public or very private. In a society
such as ours with diverse ethnic and religious origins it is a basic human
right to be able to conduct rituals and festivals in privacy. Orissa
groups perform very private ceremonies, as do Baptists, Hindus, Christians
and Muslims. Private spaces should be perceived as an asset, rather than a
threat to “nation building”.
Kambon: Most festivals and holidays are linked to religion rather than
ethnicity. The State, journalists, and society is uncomfortable with
ethnic issues For example, in 1985 Emancipation Day was recognised as a
holiday. Ten years later Africans were about to lose it since the question
of an Indian Arrival Day came up and Government deliberated on having
neither. Winnie Mandela provoked self righteous anger with her statement
about black not being part of the rainbow. The idea of a “rainbow”
society is a myth. The “rainbow” idea is comforting only because
eliminates differences by pretending they don’t exist. Festivals force
us to re-examine that myth since we all react differently to different
festivals. Festivals force us as a nation to deal with our ethnic
differences. Emancipation Day for instance, questions the Euro-Christian
norm, is a reminder of the cruel practice of slavery. Despite the fact
that Emancipation Day is a vital recognition of our history it is still a
battle to celebrate it. It is gaining credibility but slowly. We get
caught up in our own battles and fail to see each other, engage one
another beyond the surface.
and Africans alike have faced the tyranny of the calendar. Indians however
had some remembered culture to fall back on, but because Africans didn’t
have a strong sense of self they are in danger of being swept along into
this myth of “rainbow” culture. 1833 ended chattel slavery. 1970
challenged European centred view of society. Indians built on 1970 but
many Africans were beaten back. Many Africans who rise in the eyes of
society want to become invisible. They don’t want to be seen as blacks
first. They don’t financially or socially support organisations such as
the Emancipation Support Committee which forces them to see that their
skin is black, and remember their history. This creates self hate.
Africans throughout the diaspora have to rebuild their shattered sense of
being. They are functioning below their potential because they face a
crisis of identity which was destroyed by slavery. Instead of denying our
differences under the screen of the “rainbow” society we have to learn
to manage them. Only when we freely express our heritage, will we be able
to have mutual respect and develop as a people. Festivals such as
Emancipation Day will help us to do that.
sums up the lecture. A silent horror, a quiet epidemic. In private
gatherings people who group themselves according to their race, class
religion or financial circumstances the rainbow lies shattered in shards.
Indians pat themselves on the back and say “look how far we’ve come,
and that’s because we’ve stuck to Indian values.” Africans claim
without them there wouldn’t be a Trinidad culture and don’t trust
anybody else. “French Creoles” or those of European strut about with
smug faces, an inherited rather than deserved sense of superiority.
make things more complicated our differences don’t end there. Apart from
this race thing, there is the class thing, and the education thing and the
politics thing and the jobs for the boys thing, and high colour and low
colour, and poor and rich and those who exploit differences, playing
“white”, “black”, “Indian” or “Rainbow”, UNC, and PNM to
suit their ends. The shattered “rainbow” is scattered like so many
bits of glass.
tiny twin state where virtually all races and cultures of the world, old
and new rub shoulders must inevitably give rise to neurosis, and paranoia.
To survive amongst so many essentially different people, most of us
develop multiple personalities, public and private, and like chameleons,
switch them around according to the company we keep.
those who claim to be rooted with remembered cultures and values from
China, Lebanon, India, Europe, have to come to terms firstly with the fact
that they are not there, but here, in the New World, secondly (and this
might be the more painful fact to face) they no longer have a place in
their country of origin. We are essentially a nation of displaced people,
thrown together in a hodge podge way, and even if the fact of rainbow
country is a myth, it is an essential glue until we all secure a strong
sense of identity as individuals, and communities.
a people we’ve been on the same metaphorical boat, and fought to keep
our dignity and so far, we’ve done it without persecuting one another,
bearing testimony to the fact that this hugely diverse but tiny country is
among the most civilised in the world, and can show mighty old continents
a thing or two about getting along together.