Up in the north, the Jamaicans aren't having a good time of it either. As they lead the march to the 50th anniversary of Independence on August 1, they're wrangling about everything, from the colour of the flag to the celebration song. Like us, Jamaicans are nonplussed by the amateurism of their politics and troubled by the drift in their land, leaving them to wonder: How had the Independence experience, so deeply forged from the love of liberty, come to this?
In this season of luscious zabocas, dripping mango juice and the promise of chenette to come, we might ponder the gifts that have come our way even as we plumb the source of our readiness to deny and squander them, each succeeding generation cursed to surrender its gold for Columbus' glass beads and trinkets.
Last week, a cast of about 300 of our most talented Carnival performers were corralled by the National Carnival Commission at the Queen's Park Savannah, thankful for an opportunity to play deyself between Carnivals. Forever burning in the fires of hope and prayer, our artistes were just grateful for the chance to be unpaid extras in a Nicki Minaj music video.
In the age-old story of value creators versus value appropriators, the middle-men cashing in on Minaj manna left nothing for the Savannah grassroots. Still, fortified by some chicken 'n chips, they survived to hope that on some other day, somewhere, somehow, this one might yet lead to something big.
To be sure, value appropriation doesn't discriminate across geographic boundaries.
Some of these very Savannah grassroots are still thirsting for the pittance pay cheques that had been promised to them for bringing their style to the Independence logo launch several months ago. Months later, they're still shuttling between the PM's office and various associated agencies in the ritual ceremony of bureaucratic buck-passing and disrespect.
Against this reality, what lesson can Minaj and Shaquille O'Neal teach our talented dispossessed but that the American dream of rags-to-riches doesn't live here?
We may not know whether it cost US$1 million to draft Shaq in and out by private jet with a return commitment for Carnival 2013; but what we do know is that even a fraction of this amount, strategically deployed, could bring a few dreams to life in this place.
In an administration loudly committed to diversification, with emphasis on the creative economy, the Creative continues to dwell on the blind side of the Economy.
In the recent Cabinet reconfiguration, the Prime Minister's penchant for designing portfolios around personalities prompted the resurrection of the Ministry of Finance and the Economy, with the Economy portfolio being taken back from Planning. How this decision will affect the Creative Sector initiatives launched by the Ministry of Planning remains to be seen, although we have only to wait until October to find out whether Minister Howai sees the sector as strategic and recognises the policy and investment triggers needed to activate its potential.
Meanwhile, at the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism, the regular haunt of the artistic and performing classes, new Minister Lincoln Douglas seems to be starting all over again, meeting and greeting and raising new hope. In between the handshakes and kissing he should make time for rescuing this Ministry from its history of arbitrary decision-making and placing it on a solid basis of policy. Even those lining up to get the minister's ear would profit from a national cultural policy with input from expert and sectoral interests.
Still, while culture is a major source of industry growth in today's world, its real power lies in its capacity to create spiritual connections, within individuals and between individuals.
In the Caribbean, where cultural sustenance was the food from the gods over centuries of deprivation, the coming of freedom and independence has unleashed a pent-up hunger for all things material. In our desperation for things, we devalue and ignore the culture that gave us such strength to endure while we solemnly declare the symbols of our denial to be a new material standard of value.
Even as we feel the loss of cultural value, and count the cost of its loss in blood and tears, we persist, throwing money at the problems created by money. While Leroy Clarke's El Tucuche recedes on the horizon, we walk steadfastly backward in the confident belief that we're moving forward in this douendom of a land.
As he pins us down, forcing us to stare into the abyss of our extreme ugliness, the artist screams his warning to turn back now! Now! Pointing hysterically to the city in the hill, he urges us, please, to be worthy of El Tucuche, his eyes red and bulging, his tone shrill and shouting, then pleading, cajoling until, he, too, breaks down.
How many know how often Leroy Clarke weeps for us?
And in the madness of his pain and rage, he keeps painting, painting, painting. Go see for yourself the mesmerising black and white world of Haiti into which he has channeled his pain for us in a stunning output of sheer hard work. While we sleep, while we ole' talk, this artist works.
On the other side of the city on the hill, another artist weeps for all that we could be and are not. From early, Peter Minshall saw the possibility of Paradise being lost here and thought that if we could see ourselves as he sees us, we would, ourselves, write the script to Paradise gained.
No artist sees our beauty in finer detail than Minshall. None delights more in our very being and our presence on this Earth. None celebrates more our capacity for transforming the world. Witness his one-person performance of God creating this little piece of heaven and you will soar with boundless faith in our destiny.
And yet, Minshall is an artist sidelined by the times. When we most need to see him, to plead with him to show us the best of ourselves and to paint possibility for us, we have closed the door on him, preferring the clinical engagement with a mimicry that doesn't disturb.
Like Naipaul, Leroy and Minshall have cut through to the heart of us. Naipaul took the option to save himself and left, working and watching our every move from afar and protecting himself by distance.
Peter Minshall and Leroy Clarke chose us.
Fifty years into independence, we chose Nicki Minaj and Shaquille O'Neal.
• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the
T&T Review and director of the
Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies