Tools

No colour for pan

By Martin Daly

I could not wait to reach Invaders for their annual pan, parang and pork. I was having withdrawals because pan is essentially an outdoor activity, which does not lend itself to the restriction of a midnight curfew. There is insufficient time for players to travel within the restriction of a midnight curfew.

Invaders put on a scintillating show. Their combination with H2OPhlo2G was something a skillful producer could take to Broadway but our most brilliant indigenous achievement continues not to get the attention it deserves. Apparently another quarrel is brewing over the stipend for pan players during the run-up to Panorama 2012. Inexplicably the Government has neither orange nor any other colour to incorporate pan in its much touted social intervention programmes. The country is roiling with instability, yet a ready-made stabilising force is not at the centre of such programmes.

Discerning commentators have reminded us of the need to understand our mental slavery, pinpointed by Bob Marley in "Redemption Song". We cannot emancipate our thinking to build our own self confidence and promote and maintain indigenous values without feeling the insecurity that requires us to seek metropolitan approval of what we do.

Yet pan music has for decades received the rousing endorsement of those in the metropolis to whom we defer, but we still will not give it its due, preferring instead to pump State funds into other endeavours which teach nothing and leave nothing sustainable behind, preferring also to carp about providing funds for the colossal artistic endeavours of the Panorama output. "How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?"

While it may make no lasting contribution to our mental emancipation, we should still thank my colleague, Israel Khan SC, for fighting for the right to wear elegant clothing other than a jacket and tie, in the course of professional engagements in the Magistrates' Court. In the progressive parts of Latin America and the Philippines, the society has itself validated the use of the guayabera as business and political attire.

Electronic research shows that the guayabera has had an interesting evolution. Versions of the shirt's origins claim that Mexicans either originated it in the Yucatan Peninsula or were inspired by the design of similar shirts sold in Cuba. One theory holds that it was during the era of trade routes through the Caribbean that the Mexican shirts got to Cuba, and were taken to the Philippines by the Spaniards, where the evolution of the intricate embroidery started.

The origin of the name is said to be either Mexican or Cuban. Guayabera may come from a Cuban legend that tells of a poor countryside seamstress sewing large patch-pockets onto her husband's shirts for carrying guava (guayabas) from the field. In the Philippines the guayabera evolved into the barong Tagalog, which is ornately embroidered and was popularised as formal wear by a Philippine president, who wore it to most official and personal affairs, including his inauguration as president.

Recently, I have taken to teasing my old Senate friend and colleague, Wade Mark, about his regraded dress now that he is Speaker of the House. For many years he was a quiet standard bearer of alternative dress, as was Sidney Knox, who frequently wore the guayabera as he contributed to building the Neal and Massy Empire.

When confronted with the dress code issue, leaders, who promote shoddy standards in so many areas on national life, speak glibly about alternative dress codes as having the potential to undermine standards. Decades ago when I followed the fashion of attending the office in shirt jac suits, I was particularly proud of a melongene coloured Nehru made in the then thriving entrepreneurial tailoring sector of East Port of Spain. I was disappointed that the shirt jac trend fizzled out.

We are really a very confused people about who and what we are and, in my current state of despair that our leadership has once more fallen into the old traps, I feel it is barely worth bothering to commentate on how far the Kamla led Government has departed from the new standards of governance which its members promised us. Our current Prime Minister certainly understands, empathises and says the right things about violent crime, but she is being let down by the crassness of those fundamentalist members of her Cabinet whom she seems unable (I hope it is not unwilling) to restrain.

The sooner it is recognised that many of the persons, who can and do genuinely lead troubled communities, reside in our performing arts sector the better the chance of upliftment and release from prevalent anti social behaviour. The track record of pan and pan sponsorship in leading communities out of gang warfare is well established.

The intricately woven relationships which govern peaceful day to day life in complex Trinidad and Tobago must be carefully handled. "Do you hear, do you hear, can you understand?"

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