Exploding the myths Pt 3
November 16, 2002
Coming under 'bap'
By Bukka Rennie
Myth No.4: "Carnival is a PNM cultural form, not a national one". How on earth anyone who grew up in this country could advance such a position is beyond comprehension.
Like the other three myths that this column has dealt with, ie "Eric Williams brought small-islanders to guarantee PNM victory at the polls", "Indians were forced into agriculture by Williams", and "the petro-dollars simply disappeared", this fourth one is equally preposterous and devoid of any historical sense.
Carnival is as old as Caribbean civilisation itself. Carnival is a "caricaturing" of the interplay of social forces within a said defined geographical space. It is a caricaturing that usually took the form of varied entertainment and types of parody though nevertheless representative of aspects of political battling, political juxtaposing and political posturing.
The moment back in the 1640s when a Gros Jean got up, most likely on a Friday night, to sing in patois, mind you, calypsoes about the white European slave-owners and the specificity of their social behaviour and mannerism, Carnival was virtually in effect. Those who cannot understand that understand nothing about Caribbean civilisation. It is the single, salient differentiation or characteristic that denotes Caribbean civilisation.
There are carnivals around the world, but not this Carnival. This is an indivisible oneness of dance, song, drama and portrayal that equates human stance in space wherein humanity itself was/is denied.
If as Lloyd Best intones, "limbo-ing" is negotiating space where there is no space, then Carnival, which is the bigger picture to limbo, is about negotiating humanness where humanity itself is disallowed.
And why is all this so important? It is important for the very reason that in the first 300 years of Caribbean civilisation, its early formative years, the key story is not only the story of humanity but precisely moreso the story of the struggle to free human capital which was by far the majority circumstance, so unlike the American situation.
Therefore the story of humanity in this Caribbean context, or to put it another way, the story of the humanisation of human capital, could only be one of subversion and revolution, and Carnival was/is its flag-bearer.
Is there any sign here in what has been said that this here culture is a culture of skylark, irreverence and profanity? Quite the contrary! When governorship banned the feared animal-skin drum, mankind created bamboo drums (ie bamboo-tamboo), assimilating the sounds of the cutter and the foule and the bass.
And when in 1931 the establishment was threatening to also ban bamboo because of its use in riots, mankind created pan, the musical wonder of the 20th century.
What could not be banned is the essence of man/woman. Now nowhere is such process better exemplified, this Carnival as medium of culture, as medium of subversive spirit, than in T&T, the Mecca.
It is absolute madness for anyone to assume that such a thing as culture can be managed, even legislated or far less owned by any single body or party like the PNM or UNC. What is put on stage and managed and ordered and sequenced is merely creative manifestations of culture and is not to be equated with culture itself.
The empty glitter that we see on stage from year to year is only a degenerate, commercialised form of Carnival. It is the form of Carnival chosen and easily entrapped by capital.
The PNM is very much a victim of this entrapment rather than the subject or purveyor of any set arrangement of people and things as this myth would seem to want to suggest. The true essence and genesis of Carnival as medium of culture are indeed a matter of an entirely different nature and of serious import.
So if the stance and posture of these island civilisations have largely been formed and fashioned out of and by the experience of a significant half of the population, how can anyone dare to declare that that "culture" is not national?
And the corollary likewise holds: who is to dare to say that the stance and the posture and material manifestations of the other significant half of the population are not to be also deemed national?
Nothing can be legislated. Nothing must be simply left up to the markets of capital even though the markets will have some bearing. So the only answer lies with education and the broadening of appreciation given time and the allocation of space.
Nevertheless, even now as we seem to rage against each other, there is no aspect of secular existence, no aspect of language and life and ritual, that has not already been cross-fertilised. "Siparee-Mai" is a case in point of shared experience.
In the East/West Corridor, for example, the husband of your wife's sister is your "saroobhai"; a youthful squatter of either ethnicity building his shack on the hills may very well tell you about his "shamba"(African derived) or his "cutia (Hindi); similarly one may easily find oneself in dispute with neighbours and describe it as "lacaray" or "jhanjat".
In which case it will not be wise to arm oneself with a "pooknie" (a homemade gun or galvanised pipe used to intensify ignition of fireside) for fear that the police will have no choice but to come to "manners" you or put you under "bap", the Hindi word for "father" that has so long come to mean "autocratic authority" throughout the Corridor.
What is it that those who talk about "culture" know, if they know not the ways of historic process?
Exploding myths Pt 1 | Exploding myths Pt 2 | Coming under 'bap' Pt 3
Exploding myths: responses