March 28, 2000 Dhantaal Responses

The story of the dhantaal


Anyone familiar with the writings of this female journalist, together with the open contempt she holds for Steel-pan and Calypso should be amused at the ongoing search by these racist Indians for something to rival the development of the Steel-pan by the African community. What's next? Are we going to make claims about bottle and spoon, or Hubcap played in steel pan music and other musical art forms? The dhantaal is a straight piece of iron tapped as part of their percussion section. It is similar to the hubcap, bottle and spoon, and the biscuit tin. Are they willing to embrace the teaching of the Steel Pan in the Hindu schools if they are credited with inventing something in Trinidad? I bet there will be more about this.

On her other point about the willful neglect of Indians by the PNM, she really has to be kidding. After a large portion of the Indian community maintained a clannish lifestyle, after not willing to protest with other people for improvement, they enjoy the benefits of improved working conditions and wages. There were numerous calls from the African community for Africans and Indians to unite but that was met with an unwillingness by the Hindu leaders to encourage their fanatical followers to lobby together with the Africans to get betterment for us all. There have never been such calls from these Indian leaders. In fact, they were trying to get a portion of this country to be set-aside for them alone. They were never about togetherness.

They did not participate in building the services of the country then turn around and cry discrimination. They forgot that there were colonial height and size criteria's set up by the British for joining the police and army services, which most Indians did not fulfill. They forgot that most Africans only accepted employment in the public services because they were forced of the agricultural land. The Indians were given the land. They forgot that they came here as scab labour during the period the Africans were striking for better conditions. They forgot who were their teachers and who took care of them, as they were often ill. They forgot that it was the careless, ignorant, PNM that gave them access to the state media to propagate their racial exclusivity.

I will bet in a few years to come that there would be claims that the football teams discriminated against Indians. They will make this claim when they become interested after seeing players make big money and when they feel people forget they were not interested in that sport.


Off course the majority of Africans in Trinidad are just as ignorant of their history which is the reason opportunists like Sat Maharaj and Ramlakhan can get away with that amount of diatribe.

You can comment on the other parts.


Roti rhetoric

Express March 29, 2000
By Terry Joseph
IN an unprovoked demonstration of see-through separatism, Express columnist Rajnie Ramlakhan on Monday managed to hammer the dhantaal, a hitherto harmless musical instrument, into a divisive, double-edged political weapon; then sharpened it for use in an argument about ethnic discrimination.

The dhantaal, which was featured in its fullness on the cover of Section Two of the last Sunday Express, comprises a steel rod, struck by a horseshoe (or similarly shaped metal ring). It plays only one note, a tinkle, whose resonance can be affected by intermittently grasping and releasing the rod.

The dhantaal is used in the rhythm section of bands playing Indian music, although not exclusive to such groups.

Yet, Miss Ramlakhan sought to compare the plight of the little-known dhantaal, with the global recognition of pan. And in her desperation to shore up a patently weak argument, went way beyond half-truths and innuendo, conscripting instead, a string of outrageous misconceptions. She then appointed mischievous political motives as the main reason for the disparity, all in a very falsified run up to bowl the discrimination ball.

Her article was the quintessential work on malice aforethought. It contained verbal gymnastics of Olympian quality throughout. Then, as if to outdo herself, Miss Ramlakhan ended the story of the dhantaal by likening it to the story of the mainly rural-based Indian community in Trinidad, describing both as "a story of shameful and wilful neglect by successive governments, but mainly the PNM".

Among the other reckless conclusions she preferred to call "evidence" of discrimination, Miss Ramlakhan argued that the development of pan was funded by the State, while the dhantaal suffered for recognition; all because it was an Indian invention. Fact is that pan development has never been at government's expense, the instrument being embraced by nationalist politicians long after its validity had been proven by those pan pioneers who had been cast as outcasts even among their own. Nor is even this unusual since Miss Ramlakhan must know that chutney music has also risen to star status, without any help from the State.

But the basic misconception was but a minor ripple, compared to the river of other examples which Miss Ramlakhan dredged for even more spurious monsters to sic at the steelband movement. For instance, she declared that, as a consequence of past governments overtly favouring steelbands, frustrated dhantaal players felt forced to defect to the panyards. And all the while the vituperative piece rambled on, Miss Ramlakhan simply could not bring herself to write the word "pan" or "steelband". She referred to it as "that other instrument" for the duration of the piece.

"And so crushed into anonymity by the powers-that-be," her diatribe continued, "the dhantaal waits in the wings for its day. But its spirit is strong and defiant and its sound will not be silenced. It will be heard."

Rallying words for sure. But what rubbish is this? A dhantaal? How far can you stretch the politics of divisiveness, Rajnie?

In any event, were we not led to believe all the while that the harmonium, originally an Alpine instrument, was the preferred argument from Indians seeking to ensure that pan enjoys no unfair advantages? So now you want a Dhanorama competition for the one-note dhantaal band? A Dhantaal Arrival Day? Full reparation?

Clearly, Miss Ramlakhan was offering nothing more than rum-shop rhetoric, in her bid to bash the PNM. But she went on (although it began to sound as though she had confused the dhantaal with chimes or tubular bells). "Can you imagine with some fine-tuning and amplification, and being produced by the hundreds and played by an equal number of hands or more, what its (the dhantaal's) impact could have been? Who knows?" she asked.

Well, it's your lucky day, Miss Ramlakhan, because I know. The pan and dhantaal were both invented here, are metallic and are classified musically as percussion instruments. And that is the absolute extent of their similarity. Unlike your imaginary dhantaal band, Rajnie, a properly constituted steel orchestra can reproduce all but 12 of the piano's 88 notes.

I do not have to deny the pioneering role of blacks in the invention and development of pan to make the point that, in time, other groups came to embrace and contribute to it, a point not lost on an overwhelming majority in the Indian community who, according to a SARA poll, had no difficulty in embracing pan as the national instrument.

So, in the event you ever see a need to revisit the topic, Miss Ramlakhan, try to factor in the established truths including the fact that these days calypsonians are helping to bring the dhantaal into the mainstream by including it in their orchestration. Such an approach, should add a tremendous amount of credibility to your text.

Archives / Trinicenter Home