We Bahamians are considered such philistines around the region. They laugh at us for stooping so low as to blow up our own culture, and that’s not a joke – it actually happened in 1987, when the government demolished Jumbey Village with explosives.
The village was an offshoot of a community festival launched in 1969 by musician and parliamentarian Ed Moxey. An earlier and more ‘cultural’ version of the fish fry, it featured music and dance performances as well as displays of arts and crafts, and local produce, and was aimed at locals as well as tourists.
In 1971 Moxey persuaded the Pindling government to let the festival take over a former dump site on Blue Hill Road and build a permanent facility. In the period leading up to independence in 1973, there was a lot of buzz about a popular enterprise promoting Bahamian creative arts.
“We put the homestead site up and in ’73 we had a meeting with all the teachers. And they agreed right there that all the teachers in the system would donate a half day’s pay and every school would have a function…and we came up with $100,000 in the space of three months,” Moxey recalled.
“We put up a special cabinet paper, cabinet agreed, and when I pick up the budget, everything was cut out. Everything.” Moxey told University of Pennsylvania researcher Tim Rommen in 2007. “That was a little bit too much. Village lingered, lingered…just kept on deteriorating until they came up with this grandiose scheme to put National Insurance there. And when they ready, they blow the whole thing down.”
via Bahama Pundit.
So last night I was watching TV—a British show called Hustle which is a very well-made, complex-charactered, witty cousin of the TNT show Leverage—Hustle came first, and I can see no acknowledgement in the official record of the connection between the two, but come on now—and at one point (not for the first time) the characters disappear into an office somewhere. I turned to Philip and said: “What is it with these glass offices that you see on TV these days? When did people start working in fishbowls?” (I don’t think fishbowls was actually what I said—in fact, I know it wasn’t—but it was in my head, so I’ll put it out there.) He turned back to me and asked: “Why are you obsessed with offices? This is the fifth time you’ve asked me that question.”
And you know, he’s right. I am obsessed with offices. And I have asked the question often. I ask it every time I see a new TV show with a new set of offices.
People in the USA in particular seem to have taken to working in, yes, fishbowls.
Kareem Mortimer listed as one of the “ten filmmakers to watch in 2010” put out by the Independent Newspaper, UK:
DAY TWO of TEN – KAREEM MORTIMER
Bahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer shakes up his homeland’s homophobia with Children of God, which debuted last month. Read what his mentor, Steven Beer, had to say about Mortimer’s savvy handling of actors and a limited budget, only on Facebook.
Read more. And congrats to Kareem!!
We love to believe in the uniqueness of our traditions. Well, let me correct myself. We love to believe in the uniqueness of Junkanoo. The heartbeat of a people, we’ve called it. Festival of The Bahamas. The cultural pinnacle of our selves, our lives, our work (I trust my priests will forgive me for this). If I were to collect up the tweets and FB status updates* I found on Junkanoo this year, I could make a book of them. And that book would be smug. And purring.
We tend to forget — or, more probably, we don’t know — that Junkanoo in the Bahamas is not unique. It is expressed uniquely, to be sure, though what the modern parade has become is a fascinating mash-up of African-American and Trinidadian elements, many of them eclipsing the traditional core (though it survives in pockets here and there). We tend to ignore the fact that our Christmas carnival (yes, I use that word advisedly) is one of several such John Canoe festivals in the so-called New World. And perhaps most of us don’t know that the most studied and written-about John Canoe festival may still be Jamaica’s Jonkonnu, and not ours (though that is rapidly changing).
So in the interest of broadening horizons, then, a taste of what happens in Jamaica at Christmas:
Screams pierced the air like sharp knives, high above the sounds of fifes and drums and even a grater that created music for dancers in colourful costumes. Children, teenagers and even adults were sent running; they were afraid.
One little boy could not manage the excitement. Scared of the men in the masks, he escaped the grasp of a guardian and ran into the arms of another, in an attempt to get away from the taunts of a dancer. There was no gruesome end to the story though, as the Kayaea Jonkonnu Group performed on the streets of downtown Kingston recently.
The group had just finished a stage performance when they took to the streets, giving many an experience they had never had before – though the tradition is more than a few decades old. Some pretended, as part of the excitement, but many in the crowd watching the festivities were genuinely afraid of the antics of the dancers who charged at them aggressively, while all the time demonstrating a variety of dance movements.
Behind the masks and the costumes, there is much happening.
So here’s my question. When does change become too much change? When do we adapt so much that we no longer recognize ourselves? I’m not sure myself; I’m tossing this idea out to provoke thought. Or not. As you wish.
*Not at all sure that these links will remain active OR visible by people who don’t tweet or do facebook …
Tomorrow, the spanking new $518 million National Academy for the Performing Arts around the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, will officially open. But a few blocks away, at the corner of Roberts and White Street, Woodbrook, the historic Little Carib Theatre will remain boarded-up and shut. The restoration of that historic theatre, which was founded by local dance legend Beryl McBurnie in 1947 and which has played a key role in the development of the arts in this country, has stalled for about two years.
The problem? Reportedly a lack of funding, with an additional $2 million needed to complete the restoration not forthcoming from the State. The same State that can pump $2 million into a flag around the crumbling Hasley Crawford Stadium and which can build arts academies apparently at the snap of its fingers.
It sounds all too familiar — white elephants being created by decision makers more interested in showing off, attracting foreign investment, or negotiating cool perks than in building a nation for real. Of course in Trinidad, where oil money confers delusions of splendour, the showing off is of the glitziest kind.
The context: the T&T government has built, with Chinese money, something it is calling its National Academy for the Performing Arts, which is fancy, and which can ensure that the T&T government can have something that can be plastered on glossy magazine pages as evidence that the Caribbean is not home to transplanted savages and native beachbabes clad in Lion of Judah hula skirts and floral arrangements. At the same time, though, as is common with us all in Caribbean societies, the things that have made central contributions to the development of the arts are left to languish, perhaps because they’re not glitzy enough, or because they mean nothing to the philistines who far too ordinarily get themselves elected to positions of power, or because they represent too much competence, outspokenness or creativity for the individuals who have been given charge of the government departments responsible for implementing government’s policies. In Trinidad, the Little Carib Theatre and the Trinidad Theatre Workshop share fates that are not very different from the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts here in The Bahamas, which is being eaten from top to bottom by a very happy army of termites, or from any of the so-called “National” performing arts entities, not one of which has an adequate home:
Examine, for instance, the traumas of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW), once housed at the Old Fire Station Building on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain. The TTW, whose founder was Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, was housed at that historic building for ten years from 1989 to 1994, when Walcott won the Nobel, and then to 1999.Yet, after a swanky restoration, and the construction of a National Library around it, the TTW was quickly booted out of the building and left to find accommodation in a small gingerbread house on Jernigham Avenue in Belmont. To date, despite its name, the TTW has no real theatre of its own, with a small space at the house in Belmont acting as a performance area. The Old Fire Station is used for such things as press conferences by the Ministry of Information as well as hosting administrative offices.
There are times, indeed, when I’m thankful for the studied and deliberate contempt paid to Bahamian artists and arts in this country, thankful for the fact that the turn-of-the-century $3 million gift the Chinese government earmarked for our own Centre for the Performing Arts was not spent the way the Chinese wanted it to be spent (i.e. on renovating the NCPA on Shirley Street so that it could actually house performing arts, rather than function as it has been doing for the past 9 years now, as a glorified church hall). PLEASURE blog shows what might have happened:
The new academy was designed without any real consultation with the local artist community whatsoever, according to artists. The design was done by a Chinese firm, built by a Chinese contractor in accordance with Chinese building codes and specifications.
The building was supposedly inspired by the national flower, the Chaconia. But that is a loose association; the structure looks more like an imitation of the Sydney Opera House. Or a kind of sophisticated alien space-craft. How it fits into its environment also seems to have been an oversight by the designers, as the building looks away from the green of the Savannah and its environs, instead of paying tribute to them. This week, as preparations for tomorrow’s opening continued with curious members of the public strolling around the academy, Chinese workers who will never be afforded the luxury of attending the swanky performances inside worked overtime to the sound of Chinese techno music playing from speakers housed in large wrought-iron boxes around the building’s perimeter.
Questions have been raised about the adequacy of the steel used to build the structure, as well as the suitability of the design for performance. One Government minister has even pubically admitted, at the hearings of the Uff Commission of Inquiry, that some aspects of the building may be unsuitable to “performance” and more suitable to “training”. And the myriad of concerns over top-level corruption looming over Udecott, the State company that handled the project, go without saying.
Despite all of this, in the face of it, the arts in Trinidad and Tobago are flourishing, thanks to individual action in the vacuum.
It is a crowning irony that throughout all of this, some have managed to find fertile places for art in the most unexpected of places. For instance, the million-dollar, shimmery structure that will open tomorrow may be an audacious sight, but it may never compare to what is happening at smaller spaces like Alice Yard, which is a few blocks away from the neglected Little Carib Theatre on Roberts Street.
At Alice Yard, a simple backyard has, over the last three years, done more for contemporary arts and discourse in this country than any $518 million mega-project can hope to do. Could it be that the State’s neglect has actually engineered the conditions for true artistic creativity?
The answer, apparently, lies in taking matters into one’s own hands, in not waiting for the “government” to deliver what one needs. (Hail Rik and Idebu!) So here’s to us, artists. Artists of the Caribbean, unite!
Lynn Sweeting, that is.
Science can make her able; art and poetry make her super-able.
O brave new world, that has such creatures in it!
I’ve already blogged about why I think that our government’s cancellation of CARIFESTA was a bad idea. (I think the word I used was “terrible”). Now the rumours I am hearing about the future of Bahamian culture and its development are as bad or worse. Rather than serious investment in the development of our cultural identity, “economics” appear to be inspiring the exact opposite — the dissolution, real or effective, of the Cultural Affairs Division of the Government of The Bahamas.
Now there may be not much wrong with a government’s decision to gut the only agency that is even vaguely (if poorly) equipped to deal with cultural development. At the very least, it moves us one step away from the hypocrisy that has inspired cultural decisions throughout the 21st century (lots of lip service paid, no money, personnel, or real plans to back it up) and allows the Bahamian people to see the true value of our culture and identity to the people who we have elected to make decisions for us. There is something to be said for ending the pretence; honesty is good, and encourages honest decisions.
However, it betrays once again what the cancellation of CARIFESTA made clear: that our politicians and our leaders, the people who make those decisions, have no comprehension whatsoever about the world, about history, or about what will keep our nation successful.
Just in case people think I’m making this stuff up, here’s a little something-something from Canada, where the citizens have sussed it out better than we have. (The highlights are mine).
“Today, all countries face a profound crisis: financial, economic, and social. In addition, particularly for developing countries, there are climate, energy, food, and human security crises. Current policies on development cooperation do not respond adequately to the challenges of sustainable development. We must, therefore, rethink our approach to development. And, without wishing to overstate the power of culture, we are convinced that, as already stated by Léopold Sédar Senghor, ‘culture is at the beginning and the end of development.’
“Many surveys and studies show us that culture and art is one of the most dynamic economic sectors in terms of employment, economic growth, and wealth creation. It also promotes social cohesion and democratic participation in public life. Finally, unlike mineral resources, social and cultural capital is a renewable resource. Regarding North-South cooperation, it can not succeed without the improvement of human rights, democracy, and governance. By stimulating individual and collective imagination and creating links between communities, culture and artistic creation contribute to the establishment and development of democracy.
“Because culture contributes to economic development, well-being, and social cohesion and impacts other sectors of development, we, artists, professionals, and culture entrepreneurs are making three key requests:
- First, that culture be the subject of public structural policies at national, regional, and international levels
- Second, that the cultural dimension be taken into account by other sectoral policies and defined in a integrated approach to development
- Finally, that artists and creators be fully recognized as actors in development and have a professional and social status adapted to their own context
Download the PDF here.
The story I’m about to share is nothing new. It just happened, but the complaint is an old one round here. I’m going to put it side by side with another one, a different one from a different Caribbean nation. The problem isn’t just with the fact that the incidents happened. The real problem lies in the fact that we not only let them happen, we appear to invite them. And the real problem also lies in the fact that I can guess how the issue will be received by some Bahamians, and what discussion will follow; over the past several months we have appeared to be more than happy to twist history to fit the prejudices of a few white people. Why not twist the future to fit a few more?
It’s the story of a qualified young woman who went for an interview at the biggest plantation of them all, the one that calls itself Atlantis and invents for itself its own history, a history which is not ours, and from which Bahamians are excluded fairly routinely unless we agree to pay for access to it, or unless we can pass for tourists.
Now this young woman had the qualifications to get the job. She went on an interview with the Human Resources Department, and sat before two Bahamians, and impressed them; she was offered the position right there and then. But before she could take up the position, she was contacted by the HR manager — who was not Bahamian, but from the UK, to say that the job was hers — if she would cut her hair.
The young woman, you see, has locks. And locks, apparently, are not respectable enough to be worn by Bahamians who will be in positions where they can be seen by the tourists.
Now I have a feeling that there are some people who will rise to the defence of this position — many, presumably, since this policy has been in place since 2000 and no one has spoken out against it in a strong enough voice to have it reviewed or changed by the resort. (This includes, clearly, five years of government by a political party that purports to champion the welfare of the Bahamian of African descent, as well as by a political party that does not purport to do so.) The fact that we accept, and have accepted, this policy, without much of a murmur, tells us more about ourselves as a people and as a nation than it does about the resort or our governments.
It shouldn’t surprise us that this happened at Atlantis, which has invented for itself its own space that functions, ironically perhaps, or predictably perhaps, rather like the so-called South African “homeland” in which the brand was developed — Bophuthatswana.
OK, so you may be thinking, what’s the relevance of that twenty-year-old video to The Bahamas today? Well, nothing really, except that the brand that is Atlantis was invented there and transplanted, with some adjustments, here nine years or so after the above video was made. And because of that transplantation, Kerzner was able to remake its image and to whitewash (pun intended) its name.
And I wouldn’t be so concerned about things that go on over there if the resort weren’t still functioning in many subtle and economic ways the way it did in the place it was invented. Like if, say, the black people that it hired were permitted to express their blackness in ways that they — and not the South Africans who run the resort — deemed appropriate and acceptable. As for the young woman who’s faced with choosing between the way she has decided to express her identity and a middle-management job: this is a young Bahamian who was fortunate enough to travel widely while she was being raised and who came into contact with intellectuals and other successful individuals who were not afraid to embrace their culture by dreading their hair. She is questioning the so-called “dress code” because she’s arguing that the way she wears her hair should really have nothing much to do with the job she is called to perform.
And the situation is as subtle as it is destructive. Her hairstyle didn’t stop her from being offered the position, but is enough to stop her from being permitted to take it. The choice has become hers, not the resort’s. (This is only true, by the way, because she is not a Rastafarian; if she were, she would not have to make the “choice”; the “choice” only comes into play in the case of aesthetics, not in the case of religion.) And in forcing her to make it, the job is forcing her to regard as equal two issues that are not. In a free country, identity and employment should not be linked. One should not be dependent on the other.
But are we really free?
Ian Strachan, like many other intellectuals, regards tourism — or the practice of tourism as it takes place in the Caribbean — as a revival of the plantation system in contemporary times. And indeed, the resort business as practised here shares many similarities with the plantation.
You don’t believe me? I’m going to share another story. This one’s from elsewhere in the Caribbean, and it’s told by a Caribbean woman. This time, I’ll use her own words:
Things that pissed me off recently
1/ the hotel guest who screamed at me three times, each time increasingly louder and slower “More coffee. MORE COFFEE! COULD I HAVE MORE COFFEE!!!” while pointing at cup.
That’s the way it happened… despite the fact that i was sitting at the table waiting for coffee myself as a guest of the hotel just like she was.
When I told her, “I don’t work here,” she said…nothing, no apology nothing. And her husband kept looking back at me as though he was afraid I was going to draw a razor blade from under my tongue.
And if this were not enough, it’s spreading. Here’s what BBC Caribbean has to report about The Bahamas Department of Customs:
in the Bahamas, two customs employees are facing the threat of dismissal because of their hairstyle.
Their dreadlocks have been deemed “unacceptable” by Customs authorities, who insist that the rules and regulations as they apply back that position.
Welcome (back) to the plantation, my friends.
First things first. This post
is being was written in the knowledge that it might never get posted, simply because it’s going to be critical and in contravention of my terms of employment — in other words, flying in the face of General Orders. So if you’re seeing it, (a) I’m no longer a government employee; (b) I no longer care what the consequence is; or (c) I’m dead. Or all of the above.
But I’m writing it because it needs to be said.
‘ve been was a civil servant for five years. The specific position I hold is held was part of the problem, but it’s not all of it. The political persuasion I hold held, real or perceived, is was also part of the problem, but not all of it. The fundamental problem was that the system of government that is responsible for the development, promotion, sustaining and honouring of Bahamian culture is, quite simply (and I say this, borrowing unashamedly from other people’s military and begging forgiveness for all those who are offended or outraged by “Language”), FUBAR.
Here’s how it works, or doesn’t.
Everything worth doing requires money. This is especially true for culture, which, in spite of popular misconceptions about it, is in many ways a business that has been around for centuries. And as with anything else, in the cultural field, you tend to get what you pay for. That’s not always true, of course — a Brent Malone painting during his lifetime was far more reasonable a purchase than a Chan Pratt painting during his, but that was due far more to the philosophy and sensibility and target audience of the specific artists than much else, and the two prices may adjust themselves now that both painters have sadly passed on. But in most cases, it is true.