Monday, February 19, 2018

Highway to hell


Peter Minshall

Donstan Bonn


Peter Samuel portrays “Mancrab” from Peter Minshall’s 1983 presentation of The River as the band crosses the stage at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain. —Photo: NOEL P NORTON

Donstan Bonn

Highways and high-rises are blindly seen as progress by island people. It is a tragic point of view. It is encouraged and bred on ignorance and thrives on lack of enlightenment. One wishes it were not so, as it is an outlook that holds the seeds of self-destruction, the loss of the very things that make island life worth living.

Highways were devised for the transport of goods and people over vast distances, say from New York to Los Angeles, a definition that hardly applies to a small Caribbean island. Moreover, in an environmentally challenged world, it might well be in the island’s interest to deliberately slow down, as a matter of policy, rather than to speed up. The island might better be served as a land of byways, not highways.

We treat the land as recklessly and carelessly as we do our own finest treasures of the soul. We imagine ourselves rich on the dregs of Western culture.

The pan and the fancy sailor mas were twinned together at birth, long before Independence. They were the unconscious beginning of the discovery of our creative soul as an island people, the who-we-are in us. The pan is a tassa drum fashioned out of steel to make music like a piano, which is hung around the neck and beaten with two sticks in procession down the street. It has grown from that to become the concert orchestra of the Caribbean. The fancy sailor mas is the most extraordinarily surreal apparel ever worn as art en masse by man on this planet, furthermore danced down the street to pan music. Both pan and fancy sailor mas are Africa, India and Europe, seamlessly combined, which is our true Trinity.

These many years after Independence, the pan is yet to be housed in a cathedral rotunda of a concert hall designed specifically for its needs, which shall be named The Steel Drum. And the mas is now anything but who we are.

The pan is new to the island and the world. The mas is known only to the island itself. The island itself is an anomaly. It is just like the mas. Nothing quite like it has ever happened before. The newly emergent island people, rich in ancestral heritage, are in the process of finding their place in the world. Nobody knows anything for sure. This might have been thoughtfully and patiently put to our advantage. But Ignorance and Enlightenment, being differentiated too zealously, become Nignorance and Enwhitenment. In trying too hard to be ‘developed’ and ‘civilised’ we end up as an obscene caricature of ourselves, totally unaware of the cultural ridiculousness that has been spawned overnight, nourished by rampant political and social tribalism. A culture of greed and power has manifested out of easy oil wealth, and all too quickly we have forgotten that Pretty is to Beauty as Platitude is to Truth. We lay waste to our rich ancestral heritage. We attempt to be other than ourselves. We squander our wealth on monuments to contemporary crassness. We are spiritually bereft. We live in the age of Mancrab.

Not a single new park has been created by any Government since Independence. Old existing parks have been systematically ravaged, and their founder names sometimes callously changed for perceived political gain. Instead, we seem intent on destroying our inherited natural habitat. Chaguaramas, originally designated as a nature reserve, appears to be inevitably falling prey to the predatory “developers”. Development without vision and understanding is very dangerous.

There is only one Oropouche Lagoon. Millions of years went into the moulding and making of Trinidad. The entire island is a living work of art. Centuries are embedded in the emergence of the Orpouche Lagoon. The Lagoon is a most preciously detailed living work of art. No little man, now stand up, dare interfere with the natural beauty of the Lagoon for any imagined reason whatsoever, without deepest reflection, greatest consideration, in awe and respect for the sacred work of God, whatever he or she or it be, or of bountiful Nature and the creative power of the Universe. No man must be allowed to place a scar upon the face of our island or any part of it with impunity. The Lagoon belongs to all of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. They are its custodians. It is their property, not the property of some now-for-now, ill-advised government, here today, gone tomorrow. But more so, the Oropouche Lagoon belongs to the people who have settled it over the past one hundred and fifty years, who call it home, who are in perfect tune with it, and have become as much a part of its ecology as its native flora and fauna. These people are true sons and daughters of the soil. They are island people through and through. Their communities are founded on the solid love, truth and beauty of the soil and waters of the lagoon. They live there. They have made it their home. No little man, now stand up, dare uproot these people like weeds, an irritation as it were to his grandiose schemes. Due consideration and consultation are demanded as a matter of simple morality, civility, respect, integrity, and good manners. Civilisation, progress in its purest sense, is founded and based on good manners.

The Armstrong report must be fully addressed lest island civilisation fall prey to the culture of greed and power, lest Mancrab prevail.