King Canute was a Danish King of England early in the 11th century. Legend has it that one day he had his throne placed at the edge of the ocean in the presence of his courtiers. We do not know whether the courtiers sang: "He's so royal"; but it is said that the great king sat on his throne at the water's edge and commanded the ocean to recede. It did not obey his command. It washed all over him and his throne.
There are two versions of why he did such an apparently stupid thing. The popular version is that power had swelled his head and he became sufficiently delusional to believe he could make even nature obey him. This popular version has given rise to the metaphor concerning one not being able to turn back the tide.
Many historians say that in fact he was a wise man who wished to demonstrate humility to put his brown-nosers in their place. One historian, Prof Simon Keynes of Cambridge, cites sources which say that when the ocean wet the king and capsized his throne, he is reputed to have said: "Let all the world know that the power of Kings is empty and worthless and there is no King worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven, earth and sea obey eternal laws."
One might readily accept that one eternal law is that "nature takes its course" except of course if you are one of the "grappe" of ministers, and most disappointingly, the executive head of the Environmental Management Authority, who descended on Grand Riviere to make excuses for the turtle-crushing carried out by the Ministry of Works, supposedly to divert a threatening river.
"Only 100 turtles" were involved, the EMA whined, even as we could see on the television news the dog and vulture breakfast provided by the uncountable number of scrambled turtle eggs, probably in the thousands, in addition to the actual unborn baby turtles. "Had to be done" was the most popular ministerial refrain. The compulsion to promote ecological savagery was said to be the need to divert the river to save property and lives.
This is an event on which my friend, Prof Julian Kenny, would have pronounced most tartly were he still with us. It rivals the ascent of the defecating dove over the Houses of Parliament but contains as well surpassing elements of brutish conduct.
If our wannabe King Canutes of the disreputable version of the legend felt it necessary to divert the river they must answer five simple questions. When did this need become apparent? Was there costly delay? What thought was given to not doing the work during the nesting season? Were there temporary measures that could have been implemented until the turtle hatchings were complete? Whose decision was it to send in the bulldozing clowns? The EMA in particular must also tell whether they knew of this move in advance and approved it and why they were so quick to excuse it.
Those of us asking these questions will be berated as usual for not "unerstannin' what going on" and preferring "only 100 turtle" hatchlings to people, but we do "unerstann" because we see brutish behaviour every week taken in the name of cost-effectiveness and good administration, without a thought for the wider consequences of the actions. Note too that when all these excuses fail to impress the public, we may belatedly discover a death threat.
Meanwhile, the international media also has problems understanding the land of the turtle crushers (and this is the juncture at which to let them know that in local parlance we eh unerstannin' either). By now everyone is aware that the Grand Riviere turtle-crushing bash has made the papers and broadcasts worldwide, all in the Far East where ministers of all our governments like to traipse and look for tourists.
While Minister Cadiz of Tourism is saying: "this must never happen again", let me tell him it happen before. To see but one example, he should go and take a look at the Manzanilla coastline and at Point Radix in particular, where the brutish works of Works are also evident. In the course of treating with coastal erosion there and putting gabion baskets, the bulldozers did not drive around the coconut trees. They just mowed them down. That was PNM time. Now is UNC time. Any change?
There are references in Alice in Wonderland to Mock Turtle Soup, a soup made to imitate green turtle soup. Calf brain and "other organ meats" are reportedly the ingredients brought to the boil for the Mock Turtle Soup. Once again it appears that our public officials have boiled brains. In Trini wonderland real turtles were their victims. Additional victims are the credibility of our eco-tourism development and our faltering reputation as a nation of sense and sensibility.