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Not different things

By Rubadiri Victor

A Trini friend was a writer for the Wall Street Journal. I asked him about returning home to give back. He replied, "Rubadiri, you know how I love my country and business- but I can't come back to a country whose leaders don't understand that there're people in this world who're hundred-millionaires because they can skateboard! They don't have a clue how the world works!"

I've been in meetings these last few weeks where it's clear our leaders believe that "humanity'' and "business'' are two different things. The split comes in many forms. They believe they must choose between "culture" or "profitability'', "heritage'' or "progress'', "people'' or "development'. Not for a second seeing that these are not different things. That actually culture—even in its pure form—is profitable—that Bunyol- a small Spanish town- attracts 50,000 tourists annually for a tomato-throwing festival! Bunyol begun charging participants US$13 to throw. Do the math! This festival began as a re-enactment of a fight between youths- and is now a multi-million dollar earner. They haven't changed an essential thing about how it works. They honoured its origins.

Phagwa in India, the Day of the Dead in Mexico, Macy's Thanksgiving in New York, Brazil's and Venice's carnivals, bull-running in Pamplona, Oktoberfest in Germany, and many other festivals are multi-million dollar economies that don't sacrifice origins, native-crafts, and ritual to earn money. And they're more successful than us. They use the rhythms of their rituals to provide opportunities for earning- but understand the sanctity of the ritual that provides the attraction. The magnetism of authenticity…

This country is multiplying collapses by a series of wrongful decisions based on the belief that "business and culture doh mix''. That the way to "make money'' is to "kill culture''… Because of this the Carnival is a mess. They're now completing the Frankenstein-ing of Panorama and Dimanche Gras by detaching "the Greens'' and removing the competition element from Dimanche Gras. Rather than meditating on how the ritual can be repaired, they're implementing "parlour capitalism'' where you cut off a billion-dollar nose to spoil a face for a $200…

The casualties of this neglect of the human "ritual culture'' of T&T—and the artists at its centre—are legion. Under the last PNM admin, during a $300 billion boom, we lost 17,000 of our 20,000 VIP Elders without documenting them. We lost dozens of traditions whilst building a billion-dollar academy that locked these traditions out-pursuing doomed economic policies centred around white elephants. The irony is the Elders and traditions were worth tens of billions…

This country just experienced the death of Dr Tony Martin the world's leading scholar on black liberation leader Marcus Garvey and author of Caribbean History—possibly the definitive book on Caribbean history. If I was to say Dr Martin was a multi-million dollar treasure, will leaders understand? None would have a clue as to how this was possible. They'd think the way to convert his genius into capital was to ask him to dress in jacket-and-tie and sell insurance…

This People's Partnership Government has no excuse. They saw Manning's folly and punishment. From Day One we gave them all the information. Instead they failed to implement even one of the progressive programmes. The deaths of elders has gotten dreader—and destruction of heritage sites. The country was shocked by the destruction of the historic McCleod house in Chase Village and continued collapse of Mille Fleurs and President's House. But there's worse…

The Christopher Brothers House at No. 7 Nelson Street was recently dismantled. This was the studio where Spoiler and others crafted the greatest Golden Age calypsoes. The building was in perfect architectural condition with studio artifacts. East Port of Spain's major project was to be constructed around it—the House of Music—a multi-purpose complex featuring: a multi-media museum of T&T and Caribbean music; re-created barrackyards, recording studios, performing stages, and a shopping arcade. This project was in the first Partnership Government budgets. Not one cent was spent on it whilst billions were spent on URP, CEPEP, Colour Me Orange and a host of anti-crime initiatives. Wastage. Neglect. Ego. Now we've destroyed one of the ten most important musical shrines in this hemisphere—worth billions!

In the same way this Government miscalculated in Tobago with arrogance, lack of respect for local truths, and the obscene belief that money can buy anything—so it may have reckoning again… You need to respect the sacred things that make life magical outside the field of money: the power to create life; genius talent; love; sacred rituals; belonging... The sidelining of the South-East Port of Spain Council of Community Organisations and the legitimate dreams of their people can be catastrophic. Add the attempt to shove the Creative Industries Company down the cultural community's throats…

During the last decade T&T had 50 athletes ranked in the top 50 internationally. Some at number one! Unprecedented for our size. We did nothing with this billion-dollar opportunity. The moment's gone. In culture T&T has about 300 people well-placed internationally—will we waste this too?

• Rubadiri Victor is a cultural activist

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