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Leadership, please

By Ralph Maraj

 Echoing the views of many citizens, Port of Spain Mayor Raymond Tim Kee finds it “vulgar and reprehensible” when Carnival masque­raders follow the instructions of soca songs that encourage degeneracy. For him, “that is not Carnival. That is rank vulgar behaviour. Children are looking. I see some women do something with some men—nothing for the imagination. And it’s our adults doing it and blaming young people. But they do it and promote it and sustain it.”

His Grace the Archbishop has also condemned the “lascivious, lewd behaviour of some” and says this has nothing to do with culture. Sat Maharaj weighed in, saying, “Tax­payers’ money should not be spent on behaviour like this because the community pays a heavy price in the long run. We have no role models for our children.” Reema Carmona, wife of the President, goes deeper, saying this Carnival conduct could stem from the “more insidious aspects” which we allow into our lives and “which truly mark the moral decay of our society”. 

Forthright views, showing signs of the leadership we need. But nothing from the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. Our politicians are shameless, perpetual panderers. Instead of leading, they wallow, showering praise and reward on the mediocre and unworthy and remain incapable of the instructional and inspirational that have always come from the best—from Christ to Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King. 

We demand better. The Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have a sacred duty to speak out against the cultural morass threatening the nation’s security. Crime is not our only big problem. Corrosive cultural debasement, especially from the present Carnival, is eating at the nation’s innards, making the society fragile, nurturing generation after generation of young adults who are adrift, without ethical moorings, whose values and aspirations are driven solely or mainly by pleasure and materialism, lacking in intellectual and spiritual depth, and with no commitment whatsoever to society and community.

Kamla and Rowley must heed Mahatma Gandhi, who exhorted leaders to become the message they preach and encouraged all to “speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth”. So we must ask the Prime Minister and the Opposition Lead­­er what they think of the assessment by Tim Kee, the Archbishop, Sat Maharaj, Mrs Carmona and so many concerned citizens. They have a responsibility to speak, not obliqu­ely but directly to this matter. What is their view on the state of our Carnival? Do they think the lyrics of chutney and soca deserve millions from taxpayers? Do they approve using the nation’s coffers to mislead the children? Has the carnality of Carnival gone too far? 

A 17-year-old girl stripped naked during Jouvert celebrations in San Fernando and performed lewd acts. We shouldn’t dismiss this as the deranged behaviour of one individual, an isolated case. Every year, tens of thousands come near to nudity, “lasciviousness and lewdness” in public. For Mayor Tim Kee, some Carnival costumes were “unacceptable, almost like a beach party on the street”, and “some women just don’t care”. According to Sat Maharaj, “Now, we are seeing women virtually naked on the streets, with just a panty and they airbrush their breasts” and that normally, such people would be arrested. 

We have pushed the Carnival envelope so far that the next step is total nakedness and actual copulation in Carnival fetes and on the streets. And soca and chutney singers and our leaders are mainly responsible. When they sing mainly about “rum and horn” and giving women “lumber and bailnah”; when instead of chastising them, our leaders give them millions and praise their “creativity”; when these purveyors of debauchery are splashed as heroes across our front pages, don’t be surprised that young people think self-degradation is the Carnival norm in this country and sink further and further into depravity.

 Therefore, see our condition. In addition to corrupt politicians and rampant corruption at the highest levels, we have the utter corruption of the idea of culture in Trinidad and Tobago, with our leaders actively suppor­ting that ultimate corruption of the society. No wonder, as Archbishop Harris notes, “more and more persons are leaving this nation because they have no hope in our future. Many parents are encouraging their children to study overseas and not come back”. What a state!

 As leaders of our mass political parties, Mrs Persad-Bissessar and Dr Keith Rowley must stop the spreading swampland. They should cease catering cowardly to mass dissoluteness. If they speak, they could save the Carnival, now almost totally bereft of artis­try. Their voice will signal the decadence has gone too far. They should be inspired by Tim Kee, who deserves the support of both his political leader and the Prime Minister on this decidedly non-partisan issue.

They should follow Calypso Monarch Chucky. It is his picture which should have been on the front pages for his well-crafted calypsoes and his intelligent assessment of what we need to lift the culture. Instead, we lionise Machel with his trite stuff that we are the “happiest people alive/That’s why we go live we life/ Jump around and live we life, drink ah rum”. Chucky, on the other hand, calls for policy and framework to discover and nurture qua­lity talent; he laments this “fragmented, disconnected place where people aren’t so willing to accept our cultural diversity” and wants to “bring these issues to the attention of the public and hopefully change things”. Signs of quality leadership. A deeper understanding of our different cultural streams will produce greater harmony, a stronger society, a richer cultural product. Will the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader listen? Leadership, please, both of you.

• Ralph Maraj is a playwright, actor, former cabinet minister

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