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JEFF BROOMES: Embracing Culture


JEFF BROOMES: Embracing Culture

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IN EVERY social gathering to be found in every parish of Barbados one can hear people espousing the virtues of this homeland of ours.

The expressions of love for its beauty and its distinctive features are exclaimed for all to hear. Outside of its physical features and its emotional attraction, what is Barbados? What are the heartbeats that define this land and make it so acceptable to so many of us when the political divide is stripped away?

Our great maestro, Mighty Gabby, in his iconic work Culture, sought to give a picture of the engine room that is uniquely Barbadian. He spoke about fried bakes and rice and stew, flying fish floating on cou cou, lovemaking with a passion, playing dominoes in competition as well as mauby and marble cricket.

We as Bajans, the name that uniquely describes us, know and live these things. These are the defining traits of whom and what we are. We feel these things and accept them as ours. They are a manifestation of our culture. But does it end there? Is that our narrative to be sold to the world and that expresses our heart and soul? I think not, because we are often lost in the culture of others and often believe that it is ours.

A country’s culture has traditionally been defined by its sports, food, music, dress and speech. Are we the true practitioners of any of these as a definition of who we are? Have we accepted ourselves as Bajan, as Caribbean people or simply as members of the world community?

For all my adult life, and I dare say even before my time, I have known the school year to be split among cricket, football, swimming and track and field. Add bodybuilding/weightlifting to this and you have drawn the Barbadian sporting cultural map.

Yes, we have a plethora of other sports that are attractive to many of our people, and that expansion is good. These, however, must be painted as the vegetation that enhances the beauty of the traditional great house of sports that I have listed.

Wherever we go we are bombarded by a multiplicity of different musical forms. I am not a major fan of classical music (and that’s to my eternal condemnation), I shake a jig to reggae, close my ears tightly to dub and drift into a relaxing and reinvigorating trance to jazz and the touching ballad. I love the diversity, but calypso, blues and folk will always be terms used by me to describe our Barbadian musical culture. Let’s promote them and keep our flag flying high.

Gabby, I thank you for so accurately pinpointing our inherently Bajan foods. Without fail, weekly I cook a salt fish and rice and eat a pudding and souse. This is part of my attempt to fight off the cultural penetration from the pizza, chips, lasagne, spaghetti and the other foreign contingent of food. Our nutritious ground provisions can also take pride of place over any of the invaders.

It is clear to me that we have already totally surrendered our cultural identity as it relates to dress. All of our shows and expositions will never reclaim the ground ceded to jeans, polo shirts and the tight skirts. A battle lost is not worth the energy of a wasted fight.

We must accept our role as a partner in world activity. As such, we must be at least bilingual. As a language teacher, I respect the need for clarity of communication. Colonisation has brought English as our official language, but I will continue to respect the fluency with which the Bajan language is spoken in casual conversation. All Barbadians can easily speak Bajan; all cannot speak English as fluently. As we strive to improve our official language, let us also never turn our backs on our native language. Bajan is part of our cultural heritage.

As a nation with values and traits we purport to have, freedom of choice, respect for personal space and a focus on inclusion will take religion out of any cultural discussion. We may claim to be a Christian nation (and I strongly believe that we are), but belief in religious plurality ensures that all religions have been encouraged and absorbed. Let’s be religious in its true sense with a firm belief in God, inclusive of, but not exclusive to, Christianity.

The stronger and more defined our culture, the more easily we can identify and support it. Like the trident (the broken form is now our defining emblem) let it be our central focus of unity and strength. Let’s have pride in our culture and work industriously to maintain it.

Jeff Broomes is an experienced educator, principal and community organiser who also serves as vice president of the Barbados Cricket Association and director of the West Indies Cricket Board. Email: [email protected]