PRIDE is a powerful driver of human behaviour. Whenever citizens of our region achieve international recognition for their accomplishments, we rise up as one Caribbean people to thump our chests. It doesn’t matter if we pay any attention to the arena—it could be sport, literature, cooking, acting, dancing, singing, science, beauty pageants, anything—we celebrate as if we were front row cheerleaders all along.
Nothing wrong with revelling in moments that make us feel that we belong to something excellent. It is a kind of patriotism; and how people feel about their nation determines how they relate to its well-being.
Do they feel that their voices are being heard? Do they feel that they matter? It is one thing to struggle to make ends meet; it is quite another to feel that you struggle without support while other groups benefit from outlandish perks, especially from the State. Seemingly offhand gestures of contempt can slam people to the sidelines, making them feel like outsiders, undeserving of equal opportunity.
“No noble thoughts brought us here to this region, but through it all, we have risen above.” This is the solemn opening of the West Indian cricket anthem that David Rudder gave us. It is both a sombre reminder of our past and a reassurance that we have the strength to keep going.
Despair stalks the land these days, not only on account of the impact of Covid-19, but because we feel that we are becoming a wasteland: a site of abandoned humanity and disfigured dreams. Young people do not feel connected; they do not feel the breath of their ancestors wafting at their backs. They will not be interested in contributing to development if they do not feel an abiding bond.
It is why I feel so strongly that although it is already late, this pandemic upheaval provides an opportunity for us to focus on things that will transform the way we relate to our cultural space.
I’m advocating paying attention to the development of our historical records; our museums and our archives; building our online resources so there can be universal access. Let the world hear stories about our people’s accomplishments. We cannot appreciate the magnitude of the journeys that have been made by our ancestors unless we know about them, unless we know what hardships they encountered and how they faced them. Remind ourselves of where we have been, who we are, and what we are capable of; surely those tales will invoke the sense of pride and belonging that makes a person want to contribute something meaningful.
Long ago, civics was taught in various fashions at primary schools. I saw a simple explanation saying that teaching civic-mindedness can make the difference in whether you say this is my street, or this is the municipal corporation’s street.
That had come to mind as something that should be put back into the school curriculum; although I suppose it would require that teachers would also have to be taught how to teach civics—so long has it fallen by our waysides.
But I want to return to the museums and archives, the libraries and online resources. Within the communities directly involved, there is a general sense of disillusionment. People have made their cases for support, have pointed out all the reasons why a society should invest in building its backbone, and all that has come out of it is a token nod here, and a flimsy grant there.
It is hard to imagine them so jaded. Why? Over many years, in all my dealings with people for various areas of research, I have never come across a group of professionals who are so consistently enthusiastic, committed, efficient and passionate about what they do like librarians and archivists. I suppose you have to love the field to get into it, but I have always been impressed.
At another level, that dedication is responsible for preserving some of our most valuable cultural assets; because there are those who have personally collected on our behalf.
Just as an example, Rubadiri Victor, in paying tribute to the extraordinary life of Dennis Hall, our “Sprangalang”, mentioned the multi-media library of calypso memorabilia that he had lovingly compiled. He numbered it among the five most important archives “after the ones owned by Shawn Randoo, Christopher Laird’s Banyan archive, Timmy Mora’s T&T video library and Angelo Bissessarsingh’s virtual photographic library”.
It is the same for cricket; there is no collection that properly records the remarkable role this country, this region, has played in the game’s history.
The same applies to our communities. Curator of the Toco Folk Museum Nemme McSweeney wrote to me recently, outlining the museum’s plight and its urgent need for accommodation. She has written to both the Minister of Culture and the National Trust, which advised her to approach the board of the National Museum to see if they could provide temporary storage space.
I will come back to this, but in the meantime, I don’t know which ministry should be properly addressed about these issues—and that might be a good thing; it needs collaboration.
Maybe the ministers with portfolios related to community, youth, social development, arts, tourism, national service and sport should come together and form a mini-cabinet to look after issues that really matter. But they have to first understand why they matter.
• The author is a writer, editor
and cricket historian.