ON REFLECTION: Embracing true Bajan culture
THE FACT that Barbados’ community festivals are surviving and doing well while others of greater prestige have fallen is an indication that Barbadians are embracing their culture – true Bajan culture – far more than we often realize.
The two community-based festivals to which I refer are the Oistins Fish Festival and the Holetown Festival. The latter ended yesterday, celebrating its 35th year with public relations officer Joan Hoffman noting that “more people this year than ever” had attended all of the events, packing the shows and lectures in the last week.
“I don’t know where they are all coming from!” Hoffman, a longstanding member of the festival’s planning committee, was quoted as saying.
Beyond her words was the loud implication that one doesn’t always need to jump up and get on bad to have a good time.
This implication should be a source of pride to the organisers, who may not have originally intended to prove this point, but guided the festival by wisdom and the conviction that genuine Barbadiana does not begin and end with wuk-up, skin-up, a flood of alcohol and downright unseemly behaviour that periodically used to threaten the East Coast Party Monarch competition and scared the living daylights out of right-thinking music fans at Bushy Park last year.
The Holetown and Oistins festivals, which make no pretence to being “royale”, are both tributes to the foresight of those Barbadians who organized them; because their sole purpose was not to make a profit or even a living from the said events but to provide a source of leisure and education to the respective communities which they held dear.
And today, both festivals have an exceptionally wide appeal for people across age groups and social standing, with Holetown featuring artistes such as Ziggy Walcott on steelpan, Singout Barbados, the Cadet bands, singer Ayana John, the Royal Diadems and Praise Academy dancers, as well as the eagerly anticipated tattoo event by the Royal Barbados Police Force, displays of heritage sites, and informative lectures.
The lectures were particularly interesting this year, with the Alfred Pragnell Memorial Talk looking at the disappearance of myths in Barbados – a truly cultural phenomenon since a few Barbadians in recent years have sought to celebrate and even venerate imported “myths” like Halloween from North America while ridiculing our own myths about the steel donkey and “heartman”; probably because ours are not as trendy and have not been immortalised in film.
Like Hoffman and the many people who packed the Holetown events this year, I celebrate these other aspects of local creativity outside of our national festival Crop Over; for its variety should be treasured as much as calypso crowns, prized cars, Labour Day contracts and the hotly debated royalty payments.
This is not to say that Holetown was never the scene of riotous festivity.
In fact, throughout most of the 1980s the festival was driven by a street party segment which attracted thousands to the venue; but the organisers realised that the party atmosphere was growing beyond their control and was not necessarily the best way to bring life to a large and varied community that took in northern and western Barbados as well as the visitors who flocked to the west coast.
It was a wise decision and quickly paid off; not in cash but in terms of the festival’s reputation. By the mid-to late 1990s, the Holetown Festival was included among the Seven Magnificent Festivals promoted within the state-owned Barbados Tourism Authority’s (BTA) marketing calendar. The others were Crop Over and Gospelfest, which were developed by the BTA itself; the Holder’s Opera Season and the Barbados Jazz Festival, which were both private events founded by individuals but financially supported and marketed by the BTA; the Oistins Fish Festival, and the Congaline Festival.
Interestingly, the Holder’s Season has since been considerably scaled down because of the vagaries of costs, the Barbados Jazz Festival did not come off this year due to a lack of funding by the BTA, and Congaline is defunct. These all made their contributions and lifted Barbados’ profile internationally, but were driven by profit margins and not necessarily by the community or Barbadiana.
As Crop Over remains strong, Gospelfest holds its own and Holetown/Oistins events continue to thrive and evolve, I hope to see other existing festivals give more back to the community.
In the past two weeks, I’ve listened to developments in the agricultural sector and realized Government may soon be in a quandary as to how to simultaneously deal with predial larceny and the call by vendors to sell on the streets in order to reach more people.
The scourge of predial larceny has over the years caused farmers to complain bitterly, weep, throw up their hands and more recently hire private security guards to protect their crops from thieves. They have also called on Government to do something about the sad situation.
In the meantime, since the opening of the Palmetto Square Market, a cry has again come from some vendors that they would have preferred to remain on the City’s streets plying their wares. It is truly saddening to see vendors’ stalls torn down as they are hustled from areas where they sell their fruits, vegetables and other food daily.
But what is even sadder is that some of the same stolen produce reportedly find their way into markets and restaurants.
So how should Government protect these farmers’ hard work and investments and also look after the vendors who, for the most part, are trying to make an honest living?
If 30 per cent of farmers’ crops are being stolen, then Government will eventually have to face an even larger food import bill; and if vendors are driven out of business because they have to take home rotten tomatoes and other perishables at the end of some days, unemployment figures will also skyrocket.
So we look to the Ministry of Agriculture to sink its teeth into this problem.