Trinidad and Tobago


For God and country

February 7, 2001

IF Christianity didn't deliberately purchase exclusive rights to Carnival 2001, it is certainly getting one hell of a free ride.

For it came to pass that at every calypso tent, soca show or pan presentation, proceedings were routinely opened with prayer, invariably one that ends with: "All this we ask in Jesus' name."

Small wonder then that people believe every whisper about payola, given the suspiciously high rotation of Jesus' name, in a country where any audience is guaranteed to have its fair share of Hindus, Muslims, Orishas, Rastafari and, for that matter, agnostics.

Mark you, this prayer comes immediately after the singing of our national anthem, during which we lustily croon: "Here every creed and race finds an equal place and may God bless our nation". It is useful to note this is the only line of the anthem its composer felt warranted repetition.

So, having already asked God twice in 20 seconds to bless the entire nation, we now have a cleric disturbing the Almighty afresh, to ask that He specifically consecrate the venue, cleanse and purify the bar, anoint the audience and sanctify each performer. And believe me, some of these prayers are so long-winded, they justify a separate intermission.

Therefore, not only does the anthem render however brief a prayer superfluous but, as earlier pointed out, the supplication is often dismissive of all those other creeds that did not have the good sense to convert to Christianity before show time.

Exactly what appreciable effect either ritual has on the ensuing proceedings is not clear and I suppose, may only be accurately measured in the breach.

But it is difficult to imagine that, purely on the basis of divine intervention, the quality of some performances I have had to sit through could improve at such short notice, except the opening prayer sent a coded request for an outright miracle on the scale of a resurrection.

The anthem assures every race will enjoy equal respect and the cleric asks all performances be done in Jesus' name. Singers then mount the stage and encourage us to wine and jam on a plump lady's bottom.

And as for the race thing, I have heard many a calypso in which the singer wages war against French-Creoles, Indians and Syrians from his first line, all under the guise of a wake-up call to predominantly African-Trinidadian audiences.

It was perhaps coincidental (but certainly noticeable) that the priest who said the opening prayer at the premiere of the Yangatang Tent, got up and left during a patently distasteful offering from one of the performers, delivered quite early in the show.

Indeed, the entire anthem and prayer routine is rendered farcical by much of what it prefaces. Neither national unity nor increased spirituality is evident in the wake of the ritual and in more than a few cases, quite the opposite conditions unfold. In the majority of instances, the anthem is not even performed at the lively tempo indicated by its composer, but rather as a dirge; presumably to imbue us with greater depth of feeling.

The very procedure is ludicrous. Event organisers frequently encourage audiences to arrive early, allowing patrons enough time to get truly sloshed before the curtain rises. Consequently, several are caught with glasses full of liquor, lighted cigarettes and other inappropriate or less than godly items, when the uplifting process begins.

Sometimes there is no announcement. The drummer starts a roll on his snare and audiences, thoroughly schooled in this Pav-lovian drill, stand and sing.

Specially invited guests at the Calypso Spektakula opening rose for the first audible drum-roll, only to discover it heralded a dance sequence, which preceded both the national anthem and the prayer. They sat down again, only to spring to their legs one more time for the singing of the anthem, only to sit again at its end. And since no one asked them to stand again, they calmly sat through the opening prayer, drinking, chatting and completely disregarding Madame Priest.

Sister Judy Weekes prayed virtually alone which, to my mind, significantly devalued her petition. In any event, why does the priest need to put in a personal appearance to pray for the show? Surely we don't have to go to Gujarat State to pray for Indian earthquake victims there?

For that matter, why didn't the National Carnival Commission (NCC) simply hold a massive inter-faith service at the start of the season and give God a copy of its programme? Or, if we are going to keep faith with this awkward tradition, why is it taking the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) this long to come up with a generic three-line prayer that covers all bases?

Frankly, from where I stand, all this anthem singing and opening prayers amount to little more than a fashionable masquerade. What is worse, is the possibility that through sheer repetition, the anthem may lose all significance and respect, becoming an anathema instead, while potential converts are driven further away from the collection plate by this frequent overdose of detailed invocation.

For large-scale national events, the anthem may be quite relevant, but some standard should inform us as to its appropriateness at the start of every village rum-shop weekly extempo competition.

If we are doing all this for God and Country, then let us do something a little less hypocritical, where people who come to drink liquor and hear kaiso and pan, are not forced to continue feigning interest in prayers and gung-ho pretences.

God will get us for that.


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