Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Steelpan, pan men were victims of socio-cultural cleansing in TnT

'Whey pan reach?'

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
September 24, 2005

In July 2005, erudite steelpan historian Norman Darway argued in his seminal book titled Stories in Steel that "the steelpan was not 'born' in Laventille, but that its original birthplace was at the corner of Newton and Tragarete Road, St. James, next to the place called 'big yard.'" (TnT Sunday Mirror, 3 July 2005).

The purpose of this article is not to agree or disagree with or to denounce, refute, argue with Darway's historical finding.

On the contrary, this article contends that the location of the origin of TnT's steelpan, whether St.James or Laventille, is the raison d'etre why the steelpan and pan man were always in danger from their birth.

This writer postulates that the steelpan was 'born' in the wrong place and by the wrong people.

These two entities were cursed from birth by TnT's society. This cultural duo was ostracized, marginalized, frowned-upon and forced to live on the periphery of society.

All strata of society looked down on the steelpan and pan man---rich and poor, upper and middle class, white and quasi white and even dark-skinned (Afrikan) Trinbagonians.

A steelpan man from Laventille or St.James was anathema to almost every family in TnT. A mother of Afrikan descent would kick her daughter out of the house if she were to get involved with "those people", "those fellas" who beat pan.

In such a scenario, the steelpan was the pan man's socio-cultural leprosy while the pan yard was his socio-cultural leprosarium.

Society neither cared nor was concerned as to how the pan man felt at that time. Maybe, society thought that it was the right thing to do----keep "those people" down who beat pan in "those areas."

Society felt that Laventille and St.James were stains on its elite body fabric and thus wanted no cultural partnership/comradeship with them.

In other words, there was an undeclared "superior" vs "inferior" psychological war between society and the steelpan and pan man. It was not so much a war between the "haves" and "haves-nots" because quite a number of the "haves", so-called well-to-do, participated in and supported the steelpan movement 100 per cent; there were also some among the "have-nots", so-called not-so-well-to-do, who viewed the steelpan movement with 100 per cent disdain and disgust.

The stark reality is that during the early years of their history, the steelpan and pan man were the victims of socio-cultural cleansing in TnT. They suffered this fate because they were born in the wrong place and by the wrong parents.

As a result of this prolonged cultural cleansing, these entities were branded as cultural "bastards".

There was never a close sense of acceptance, identity and equality between society and "those people." Yes, they were residing in TnT; society couldn't physically decimate them but society could and did put a muzzle on their social progress and upward mobility. The crucial question today is : Has socio-cultural cleansing of the steelpan and pan man ended in TnT?

The thesis of this article is: If steelpan was not 'born' either in Laventille or St. James then it would have been accepted, appreciated and embraced by TnT's society.

Put another way, as a result of its ethnic origin, the steelpan has been given an uncivilized birth delivery stamp because of its uncivilized, uncultured parents in Laventille or St.James.

The thesis continues: Maybe, if steelpan was 'born' in a hoity-toity, bourgeois area, as in the right place, and its parents had the right hue, then, it would not only have been accepted, appreciated and wholly embraced by society but it would also have been given a civilized, high-cultured birth delivery stamp.

If this were the historical reality, steelpan and pan man would not have been in danger then and now .Indeed, with such a prestigious socio-cultural parental heritage, the societal clarion call by all and sundry would truly have been : "The steelpan : We ting."

The fact of the matter is that since steelpan was 'born' in the wrong place and by wrong parents, the word "We" is not and never will be inserted in its life's story/history.

The reality is that either by accident or design, TnT's society fell into the trap of adopting a Euro-centric mind-set toward the steelpan and pan man.

The inherited, implanted and imposed Euro-centric education is the venomous, divisive culprit that conditioned, fashioned and formulated TnT's society attitude toward the steelpan and pan man.

Euro-centric education thought process suggests that nothing came out of Afrika but powerless, defenseless, primitive, uncivilized, barbaric slaves who had no history nor culture. It further opines that Afrikans contributed nothing to world culture and civilization.

The Euro-centric thesis is: Nothing original came out of Afrika invented by Afrikans. Original high culture and civilization came out of Europe (Grecce) invented by Europeans.

It is as a direct result of this massive indoctrination/brainwashing 24-7-365, that TnT's society subliminally transferred this Euro-centric - driven Afrikan nothingness to "those people" in Laventille or St.James.

Ergo, in this specific case, TnT society's inevitable Euro-centric conclusion had to be that nothing original came out of Laventille or St.James but powerless, uncivilized, cultureless Trinbagonians. "Those people" made no real , lasting , appreciable contribution to TnT's culture.

A la European supremacy, TnT's society sought to deny Afrikan-Trinbagonians any sense of originality. As a procedural first step, this society has relegated the steelpan and the pan man to the ashheap of our country's socio-cultural history.

The question as to whether the steelpan and the pan man are still cultural "bastards" or genuine, equal members of TnT's cultural family must be answered. In this way, history can absolve their place of birth and society's Euro-centric mind-set toward them.

Steelpan and the pan man are on cultural death-row in TnT because of the original sin of location committed by their parents. The sad reality is that the sin of their parents (inventors) is haunting their off springs today.

Indeed, the malicious, inhumane, superficial, insensitive and incredulous treatment of steelpan pioneers/icons/innovators, Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall, by the PNM government speaks volumes as to the extent to which Euro-centric mis-education has done an excellent, self-hate job on the subconscious mind of Afrikan people toward their own kit and kin.

The historical love-hate relationship between society and these two entities still exists unabated, unresolved and unrecognized.

This society continues to languish in open-ended denial; that's its comfort zone. As such, it is totally asinine and etnocentric to give the steelpan and pan man a token "Pan Day"; their Stories in Steel demand that they deserve a Pan Year.

Truth Be Told: The pan man believes in the instrument to which he gave birth; it is now left to be seen whether or not his native land , TnT, believes in him.

To paraphrase deceased US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy: "Ask not what steelpan and the pan man have done for TnT but what can TnT do for the steelpan and pan man?".

It is this valid, historical-cultural contradiction that compelled social commentator Winston "Cro Cro" Rawlins to ponder in song: "Whey pan and de pan man reach?".

In the final analysis, it is okay for this society to deceitfully boost that the steelpan is the only musical instrument invented in the 20th century but a reality check reveals that such a boost is only vacuous societal ex tempo and "Trinis just talking." Time to get real, TnT.

Shem Hotep (" I go in peace").

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani Labour College and University of the West Indies.

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