Cultural Diversity and CARICOM
February 20, 2007
RECENTLY, some concern has been raised in the press about the inclusion of a particular phrase in a CWC booklet highlighting Guyana's "distinct Indian heritage."
It has generally been accepted that whatever the intentions of the author of that phrase, it was a politically incorrect and insensitive thing to do considering our infamous ethnic divisions.
Not that Guyana's Indian heritage is something to be thrown aside. Along with Trinidad and Suriname, the Indian cultural influence has lent a certain richness to these spheres of the region, not so much in itself, but because it intermingles and is also influenced by the other cultures present.
However, the question of the representation of Indian culture within the regional context within the last decade has been a burning one.
With CARICOM arguably discovering its "Indianness", and with Indians in the region only recently discovering their own "Caribbeanness", determining the degree of representation has presented a specific problematique.
Writing in a Trinidad newspaper last July, Indian cultural activist, Ravi Ji stated that, "Carifesta for me has always been an important landmark to measure the positioning of Indian culture in the Caribbean space. For me it reveals how few are there to articulate Indian Culture, how little its ethos is understood and how under prepared Carifesta is to accommodate the nature of the Caribbean diversity. "
In an article, published a few months later, the Chutney Foundation, the oversight body for the popular Indo-Caribbean musical genre in Trinidad, claimed to have been slighted by Minister of Culture and the person with overall responsibility for CARIFESTA IX, Joan Yuille-Williams.
The article claims that the Foundation participated in all CARIFESTA meetings and submitted all requested documentation in its bid to have a chutney booth at the Grand Market.
Not only was the booth not granted but the group's requests to produce a chutney super concert, junior chutney exposition and chutney workshops were either denied or ignored.
It should be mentioned at this point that sub-contracting to local cultural organisations for such activities was one of the central recommendations of the Nurse document.
"Our view," quoted the Foundation in a statement, "is that the Minister decided to make the entire project a personal event and left out major parts of the national community. She prefers the culture suffer rather than be open minded and fair across the board."
To be fair, non-African cultural elements formed some of the more vibrant elements of CARIFESTA IX; however they remained a minority within the flood of other shows, and overall audience attendance to these would have been adversely affected by either the choice of location or the conflict with other shows.
The overall question of ethnic inclusiveness is particularly vibrant in Guyana, Trinidad and – to a lesser degree – Suriname; CARICOM territories which are less racially homogenous than, for example, Barbados and Trinidad.
As the integration process deepens, quite realistically speaking, so will these issues, moving from what now constitutes national debates with some regional scope, to regional controversies with smaller national origins.
With the element of race/culture having a political buttress in our three southernmost territories, the likelihood that the debate will move itself from the intellectual sphere to the arena of public policy is very real.
The question is whether we are going to tackle this issue from the top, or continue to go blithely along taking our shaky multiculturalism for granted.