appreciation of the history of this region is critical to a fuller
understanding of contemporary realities and future challenges. For the
Caribbean shares in the great drama of the Americas of which it is an integral part,
whereby new societies are
shaped, new and delicately tuned sensibilities are honed, and appropriate
designs for social living are crafted through the cross-fertilisation of
disparate elements. The process
has resulted in a distinguishable and distinctive entity called “Caribbean”.
The process is intensely cultural.
encounter of Africa and Europe on foreign soil and these in turn with the
indigenous Native Americans on their long-tenanted estates and all in turn
with latter-day arrivants from Asia and the Middle East, has resulted in a
culture of texture and diversity held together by a dynamic creativity
severally described as creative chaos, stable disequilibrium or cultural
pluralism. An apt description of
the typical Caribbean person is that he or she is part-African, part-European,
part-Asian, part-Native American but totally Caribbean.
To perceive this is to understand creative diversity and many of us do
understand the phenomenon. I
regard as an aberration all evidence of a lack of understanding by those of us
who tenant these lands of the Caribbean Community.
understanding comes through in the interesting orientations one finds in the
region among those who are not yet existing in the Independence mode.
French Caribbean, from St. Martin to Guyane, which constitutionally is
metropolitan France overseas (despite the cultural differences between Paris
and Point-a-Pitre), the Netherlands Antilles, the British dependencies of
Anguilla, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Turks and
Caicos all recently ‘elevated’ to Overseas Territories, the American
dependencies of American Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico (despite the
status) and Bermuda (a very special case) are none of them willing to risk the
agony of choice in becoming Independent at this time.
None wishes to be “oil-poor or
debt-rich”, as some would deem post-Independent Trinidad and Jamaica
respectively to be. But what they
all seem to have in common is a full grasp of the power of cultural action in
affording a sense of place and of purpose to the inhabitants of their
territories. They therefore tend to identify with the Independent Caribbean in
this area, despite the differences in political systems.
The ‘differences in political systems’ are in fact part of the overall dilemma
of difference which is a manifestation of the complex process of diversity
demanding of all in the region the capacity to build bridges not only between
classes and races of people within countries of the region, but also between
zones of former imperial influences among countries and between continents of
the world, themselves represented in the region through centuries of migration
and continuing interaction via tourism, commercial transactions, and
Caribbean, itself the expression of such diversity and of its survival and
beyond, has struggled for all of five centuries with mastering the management
of the complexity of such diversity. Such
have been the phenomenon and challenges, that today it is possible to say with
a fair degree of certainty that we have by and large learnt to live together
rather than simply side by side. It
has been the easy solution of peoples of different origins (ethnic or
religious) who find themselves in close encounters to live side by side rather
than together. But the communications technology revolution and the tremendous
improvement in travel facilities have dictated the urgent need for people to
learn to live together, to deal with the dilemma of difference in ways that
will serve the enhancement of the quality of life for human beings and to
ensure positive human development well into the third millennium.
The Europeans have come around to what the Caribbean has long
understood to be a sine
qua non of civil society. “The
world is our village”, says Jacques DeLors the French intellectual. “If
one house catches fire, the roofs over all heads are immediately at risk.
If anyone of us tries to start rebuilding, his efforts will be purely
symbolic. Solidarity has to be
the order of the day: each of us must bear his own share of the general
responsibility”. We are
our brothers’ keepers, and our sisters’ too!
claim on behalf of the Caribbean may seem strange against the background of a
failed attempt on the part of the Anglo-phone segment to federate some three
decades ago and the on-going difficulties we have been trying to achieve
effective modalities of closer co-operation between people who have shared a
common history of slavery and indentureship, the plantation and colonialism.
important thing is that the fight has not been given up; no more than it was
in Europe after centuries of similar failures or continuing tension as the war
on Iraq is even now engendering. The
region at a subliminal level understands and trades on the unity which underly
the differences. That unity is “submarine”
according to West Indian poet Kamau Brathwaite; and in a region of largely
limestone and volcanic rocks separated by divisive sea-water one can
understand the metaphor and grasp the difficulties in transforming the
creative diversity of floating island spaces, colonial historical experiences
and language differences into an integrated whole expressed in a common
humanity. Both continental Guyana
and Belize are themselves separated from their fellow West Indians by such
divisive sea-water also.
the eloquence of the differences is powerful. We continue to speak of this
region of some 30 million people as Hispanic Caribbean, the Anglophone
Caribbean, the Francophone Caribbean, the Dutch-speaking Caribbean and so on.
Such hyphenated fragmentation emphasises the legacy of a heritage of
separation and shattered identities. Yet
none of this deprived us in our separate dispensations of that awesome process
of becoming. Our people were able to survive the traumas of separation
from ancestral hearths as part of the transatlantic slave trade and the
indignity of dehumanisation in slavery for the vast majority by the exercise
of their creative imagination. What
results from this has been the germ of a culture which shares more in common
than many like to believe. The
products may differ one from another but the region shares a similar process
as a point of power, and the recognition of this by these Caribbean
dependencies catapult them into the 21st century precisely because they are in
possession of that new sensibility forged over 500 years of encounters making
them fully au fait with
relationships, with texture, with contradictions, with unity in diversity.
The old Spanish empire hankered after this as did the Romans before
them with their “e pluribus unum”
motto. But you can still declare
the motto and not realise the “unum” out of the “pluribus”.
Some would even now insist that Jamaica’s “Out
of Many One People” and Guyana’s“One People, One Nation, One
Destiny,” like Trinidad’s national anthem which claims a place where
“every race shall have an equal place,” are all still challenging aspirations
rather than established achievements.
there are parts of the world, and especially of this hemisphere,
that celebrate their new-found perception in something called “multi-culturalism”.
But this piece of jargon can be very misleading.
The “multi” could well speak to a pluralism which secures for each
ingredient in the mix an unassailable corner of exclusivity.
So, you stay in your small corner and I in mine.
This is no way of building bridges between differences either within or
between societies. Instead, it is
one of the surest ways of maintaining a status-quo of gaping gulfs of
difference between people whose forebears might have come from a variety of
is the insightful grasp of this phenomenon which no doubt drove Edouard
Glissant, the Martinican writer, to the view that the Caribbean has no myth of
origin, it has only a myth of relation.
is the reality of the 21st century which is already with us.
As was the experience of all of the Americas, of which the Caribbean is
an integral and iconic part, the world's inhabitants, certainly in the Western
world to begin with, must stand on sea shores or on mountaintops, look across
oceans and sing “Goodbye
Motherland” knowing that where one is, one must call home.
Demographic spaces must now co-exist along with nations or countries,
despite the sanctity of flags, anthems and other national symbols.
Unity and diversity are not mutually exclusive.
In fact the idea of “nation”
entails diversity. Derek
Walcott’s full grasp of this is expressed by his Shabine-mulatto character,
as the new Trinidadian President (himself a hybrid of a Caribbean man reminded
“I’m just a red nigger who loves the sea
I had a sound colonial education
I have Dutch, nigger and English in me
And either I’m nobody, or I’m [a] nation”
is the sort of challenge to the exaggerated claims made by this or that
civilisation or culture with respect to the greatness of their creative
achievements over all others, especially over the formerly colonised and
enslaved, but also over those who used to be regarded as the “lesser
races”, until the performance of such persons in the hallowed field of
science and technology proves otherwise.
The case of the Japanese here comes to mind.
But Western Europe has also had to abandon notions of having a hotline
to God in the form of Judaism and the Christian religion, leaving all others
as heathens. Ecumenism has
virtually won the day with Hinduism, Budhism, Islam being rated as major
religious expressions embracing the sympathy, faith and formal allegiance of
hundreds of millions of people on Planet Earth who are not likely to burn in
hell for being pagans or for not being Jehovah’s Chosen people.
of religion, exaggerated claims continue to be made in the realm of aesthetic
discourse. What is “classical” is, for many, clearly European in this narrow view
while all else is “popular” or “ethnic”.
The Caribbean and the Americas, in general, by their sheer
output of artistic innovation have long challenged this.
as in the case of physical migration of peoples from the developing to the
developed world, there is, as Jamaican folklorist Louise Bennett puts it, ‘colonization
in reverse’ in all of Western Europe in a deeply cultural sense.
France and the Netherlands are hooked on zouk (they are unfortunately
hooked as well on other things which shall be nameless).
British and German youths cannot do without
reggae and dance-hall and the calypso of the Southern Caribbean has
long taken root in the North Atlantic. American
pop music coming out of multi-racial, multi-cultural USA belongs to the world;
and the cinema, this great 20th C artform, serves to link continents.
Jazz is easily the classical music of the 20th century as the Europeans would
aver, and Europe is wisely revitalising its own great musical traditions by
reaching out to the musics of Asia, the pygmies and South Africa to produce
what they now call “world music”.
This is, indeed, an example of the bridge between cultures being built
entire world is gone “creole” -
in the Caribbean sense of forging from the disparate elements of a ‘village-world’
new expressions challenging us all to a new ontology, a new cosmology and, by
extension, a new epistemology.
Unesco-sponsored Commission on Culture and Development recognised this in its
declaration that with our futures being increasingly shaped by the
“interdependence of the world’s peoples it is essential to promote
cultural conviviality”. The
truth is the futures of people like us in the Caribbean were always shaped by
the interdependence of those who found themselves in encounters of differing
kinds. The slave-master was
highly dependent on the slave and vice versa.
In fact the emancipation of the slaves was the liberation of both
masters and slaves since to quote myself, “the
jailers and the jailed are after all both in jail”. That interdependence
gave rise to the awesome process of ‘creolisation’
with differing elements now coalescing, now separating, now being assimilated,
now resisting, now counter-resisting in a dynamic contradictory relationship
that produced agony but also new life.
Walcott, the 1993 West Indian Nobel Laureate for Literature put it beautifully
tribe in bondage learned to fortify itself by the cunning assimilation of the
religion of the Old World. What seemed to be surrender was redemption. What
seemed the loss of tradition was its renewal. What seemed the death of faith
was its rebirth.”
paradoxes of “being” the world
of the 21st century must understand as we in the Caribbean throughout the past
half a millennium have been forced to do.
Any attempt to produce a new cultural hierarchy that will keep out
hordes of humanity from the state of ‘being’ human is likely to fail.
We are already getting signals which should be heeded.
The so-called ‘globalisation’
in economic terms has its counterparts in the cultural field.
But here is where it is likely to fail as that earlier globalisation,
otherwise known as imperialism, did. For
the natural antidote to the poison of homogenisation, which is what cultural
globalisation threatens, is the retreat
to areas of specificity where people feel secure because they control the
processes that make them viable. I
refer to such areas as religion, the arts and private philosophies about self
and society. Caribbean society
retreated to these areas with rich results in religious expressions and the
creative arts (visual and performing) as well as home-spun philosophy to be
found in their oral literature which houses the collective wisdom of the
ordinary people. They are not
likely to abandon such ancestral cradles of independence.
Nor have the people in Bosnia and old Yugoslavia, Rwanda and
Zaire or in Eastern Europe where the homogenising power of an all embracing
political ideology and the coercive energy of the omnipotent State could not
stifle the attachment to religion and the urgings of the creative spirit.
In God's house there are many mansions indeed!
And a world which ignores the fact of plurality, of texture in the
human makeup, of the multi-faceted nature of all living beings and the systems
and structures they create for their survival, is not a world that is fit for
human habitation. It is Alpha
Oumar Konare, President of Mali who reminded the world in 1993 that “as long
as any civilization applies political, intellectual and moral coercion on
others on the basis of the endowments nature and history have bequeathed to
it, there can be no hope of peace for humanity: the negation of the cultural
specificities of any people is tantamount to the negation of its dignity”.
This strikes a responsive chord in the ears of many Caribbean people
whose cultural specificities turn on the result of the meeting of Africa and
other cultures which preceded and followed it on American soil, and have been
denigrated for that reason. That
this is unacceptable for human development is beyond debate.
basic understanding of this is a primary ingredient in the bridges that have
to be built between peoples tenanting different continents and who are
expected to manage the complex process of diversity.
the academy linear approaches to learning, whether in teaching or research,
will have to give place to the multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary
approach to the investigation, discovery, delivery and diffusion of knowledge
to cope with the intertextuality of the phenomena being observed and analysed.
In everyday living mutual respect and a commitment to the idea of the
rights of one entailing the rights of all will have to be taken on board in
the normal way of going about one’s business from day to day.
In dealing with the wider social environment (local and global) one
must be prepared to code-switch at a moment’s notice so as to be able to
deal with the different modes of relating that confronts one within a matter
of minutes, if not seconds. How
can a child relate to the multiple images that will assault his consciousness
on the television screen if he/she is to make sense of what he/she is viewing
and of the world?
the young for survival in the 21st century is to be able to cross that bridge,
not so much the one spanning centuries as the one spanning sensibilities which
are forced to engage each other in new and now accessible landscapes. The
microcosmic Caribbean has some centuries of practice in much of this.
But bridges built can collapse and the stresses and strains on the
structure could scare away even those ones of us accustomed to traversing the
structure as a matter of course.
religious bigotry, xenophobia, apocalyptic rationalism parading as science,
neo-liberal bottomline economics which marginalise the very people who are the
true producers of wealth, the commitment to a culture of violent conflict
rather than of peaceful engagement - all these obscenities continue to afflict
humankind and threaten to thwart all attempts to span differences - real or
was such danger signals which led UNESCO to the setting up of a World
Commission on Culture and Development. By
moving culture to centre stage in the development process Unesco genuinely
felt that it could help in finding one of the “exceptional solutions”
needed at this time to the world's
exceptional problems. For “the
world as we [indeed] know it, all the relationships we took as given, are
undergoing profound rethinking and reconstruction. Imagination, innovation,
vision and creativity are required”, concluded Javier Perez de Cuellar,
Chairman of the Commission.
Report which flowed from extensive deliberations for some two or so years
dealt with key areas of cultural practice in the building of bridges across
continents given to emphasise differences rather than to promote similarities.
Issues of pluralism, empowerment, media influence, gender rights,
youth, cultural heritage, the environment, education and research are all
addressed in terms of cultural diversity and the creative management of such
diversity. The aim of a new
international cultural order is here implied - an order predicated on cultural
diversity and the creative response to the challenge of difference, the
long-held dream of many people including the late Leopold Senghor of Senegal.
discourse continues with the Report as a point of departure.
A framework for a series of bridges to span the river that flows
between the cultural divide that separates segments of humanity one from
another has been presented. Other
material to reinforce the framework or even to build more bridges suggest
themselves. And the Educational
system may wish to place on its own agenda a challenge to itself to help build
some of these.
refer first to Popular Culture, beginning with urban mass culture which
through radio, television recordings and the mass concerts in the performing
arts have brought young people of different continents together in mutual
understanding. But allied to this
are the traditional indigenous cultural expressions through the Festival arts
which have seen a resurgence since the Nineteen Seventies throughout the
world. And closely allied to both
is Sports (which I see as a branch of the performing arts) gaining
international exposure and attention through the media, as in the case of
World Cup Football, Basketball throughout the Americas and the Caribbean,
Cricket throughout the Commonwealth, and Track and Field and other sports
through the Olympics. They
reflect part of both the globalising phenomenon of present and future life as
well as the countervailing retreat into the specificity of individual and
group experience and existential reality.
We may well wish to discuss this further so as to speak to the concerns
of millions of young people and of the developing world which is still led to
believe that it is relegated to the base of a rigid cultural hierarchy.
We also need to address the question of multiculturalism at the core of the
discourse on the contentious issue of perception of civil society tenanted by
persons from different cultures, whether as a result of ancient migration (the
Americas e.g.) or the more recent movements of peoples especially in Western
Europe (countries that were once colonial Powers) and multiracial communities
in the South East Asia, the Caribbean and Africa.
Multiculturalism as a policy option in countries like Canada
and the United States is losing/has lost ground. “Nation-building” as an antidote to the poison of ethnic
exclusivity within discrete geographical boundaries does not in practice
always serve as an effective cure for the poison.
there is the matter of Culture and Education.
Culture in its broadest sense undergirds the educational system; but as
expression of creative intellect and creative imagination, it needs greater
focused attention in educational development.
relating to the DeLors findings in another Unesco report is here recommended.
For learning to live together, learning to be, learning to know
(creative artistic activity is a valid route to cognition) and learning
throughout life are all highly dependent on a cultural sense, making the arts
a vital variable in the education equation.
Tourism is of special interest in this region but not only here.
Hopefully, we will have by now moved from the sort of cultural tourism
thrust of the early Nineteen Seventies to something that will not deteriorate
into “touristic culture”.
Distinctions need to be made, re-definitions crafted, and the
commitment to respect for a people's heritage reinforced.
job, then, is cut out for us well into the next century; and I make bold to
assume that CARICOM and all constituent Member States are on board the journey
that must speak to the Two Thirds World as well as to the dominant One Third
and address all the major forces that are even now helping to shape
consciousness and perceptions. The shifting paradigms, the textured sense and
sensibility of end-of-century youth bombarded with myriad images of self and
society via the media or through personal contact with persons of different
backgrounds, races and cultural origin, are all challenges to humankind’s
creative diversity which must be managed with sensitivity and daring.
For the underlying regulative principles that make us all members of
the same human family, despite the diversity, must also be acknowledged and
are the contradictions in the architectural designs and construction work that
attend both the building of bridges across continents in the interest of human
development, and the imperative of creative management of the complexities
resulting. The investment in the human resource demands no less!
And to this the next thirty years of CARICOM must be committed.