La Wòz ek La Magwit : Strange Saviours Part Two -What are “who” saving?

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La Wòz ek La Magwit : Strange Saviours

Part Two: What are “who” saving? by Nkrumah Lucien

“colonialism is the greatest destroyer of culture that humanity has ever known. African society and its culture were crushed, and when they survived they were co-opted so that they could be more easily emptied of their content. This was done in two distinct ways. One was the utilization of institutions in order to support colonial exploitation…The other was the ‘folklorising’ of culture, its reduction to more or less picturesque habits and customs, to impose in their place the values of colonialism (p. 400).”-Samora Machel(1978)

The Cultural Development Foundation(CDF)  presented “A National Consultation on the Flower Festivals of St. Lucia” on Saturday 26th May 2012 ostensibly to do a number of things. Among these included developing of strategies to sustain and “develop” the Flower Festival tradition, to develop greater awareness and participation, to chart “The Way Forward” for the Festivals and to give guidance for the 2012 celebrations. There was a general sentiment that the tradition was ‘dying’ and from the presentations there seemed to be some ideas of what could ‘save’ the tradition. The saviours in this case would be the State represented by the CDF and the interesting mix of Ministry, The Ministry of Tourism, Heritage and Creative Industry and the Roman Catholic Church. In Part 1, I explored some questions about the origins and substance of this tradition outside of the Catholic concern and narrative. In this part I hope to examine this idea of ‘saving’ culture or ‘saving’ tradition, what is being saved, the why of it, who is supposedly doing the saving and how this ‘saving’ is to happen.

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During the 1970s and 80s there was an effort by the Folk Research Centre(FRC) and affiliated persons to explore, document and spread rural St. Lucian culture in aid of a St. Lucian Cultural Nationalism (i.e rural St. Lucian culture suddenly became projected as the culture of all St. Lucia as a whole).  FRC aimed to achieve other things and was motivated by specific considerations which remain important in understanding what was done in those early days and even in this recent consultation. For instance one of the founding members Didacus Jules described the ‘new thrust’ (1990s) of FRC as follows:

“it involves selecting, developing, modernizing those elements of our culture that we believe contain the values and spiritual essences that we need for survival, resistance and self-assertion in a modern world…it involves a critical assessment of received traditions, and a deliberate cultivation of particular elements – a kind of ‘cultural engineering’ to create stronger traditions better adapted to the challenges of modernization and the disadvantages of smallness in a competitive world….”(quoted by Fr. P.A.B Anthony pg 13 BULLETTIN 1993)

A lot of questions need to be asked here that can be developed further. Who should be best suited to lead any such transformation of the concerned cultural practices to meet the challenges of contemporary circumstances? What are and have been the factors which have impinged on the agency of those who practice these traditions? What really is meant by developing or modernizing? What then does it mean to adapt to the challenges of modernization? Another important background to this work is the influences (some of which continued to be articulated at the consultation) on the precursor to the FRC, the Study and Action Group which are quoted as follows:

•             “the novel appreciation and articulation of the role of culture in evangelization” emerging from Vatican II

•             “The rapid growth of cultural awareness identified with the Black Consciousness movement” and the search for African roots and heritage

•             “the inauguration of the Caribbean Conference of Churches…[with] the emergence of greater Caribbean Consciousness within the Churches themselves” and the challenges posed by new exponents of Caribbean theology notably Idris Hamid for taking seriously the spiritual dimension of the traditions of resistance and renewal of Caribbean people.

(Dr. Didacus Jules quoting PABA, BULLETTIN 1993, Pg 38)

The oppressive and manipulative nature of the colonial system and the religion and education system which operated within and in tandem with it gave poverty to those who remained on its margins and alienation to those integrated into it. To the latter it also gave a sense of superiority to those who had gotten its education and therefore the presumption of leadership in charting the direction of any fundamental change. As happened previously among Europeans alienated by the unhuman and inhumane Industrial Revolution(and perhaps informed by that experience) the alienated went in search of what in their minds were “the folk” as some sort salvation in saving the rural art forms in fossilized form even as they themselves adjusted themselves to the changing times.  The consultation revealed a number of things. It shows that the appropriation of these traditions by the Church, the later  popularization of their outer form by the FRC and the involvement of government via CDF has saved very little by way of substance. It reveals that the artificial freezing of these traditions in time has done more to make them irrelevant to youth in changing times. It is not that La Wòz and La Magwit cannot be made into an app as Dr. Jimmy Fletcher once pointed out that is responsible for the disconnect, but that those practicing these traditions were not allowed the space and material conditions to allow them over the generations to evolve it to fit the times and circumstances. They have been encouraged to preserve these traditions in much the same form, to me, more for the psychological needs of the alienated ‘educated’ class than for its relevance to their communities. This does not mean however that these communities themselves did not put value in these traditions but rather that they have been largely high jacked by various institutions overtime. As Ngugi Wa Thiongo aptly put it

“The belief has persisted, among most African intellectuals, artists and politicians, that ‘cultural liberation is an essential condition for political liberation’. And since they think of culture only in terms of dances, jungle drums and folk-lore, they think it enough if they assert the need for the revival of these things. But it is wrong to think of culture as prior to politics. Political and economic liberation are the essential condition for cultural liberation, for the true release of a people’s creative spirit. It is when people are involved in the active work of destroying an inhibitive social structure and building a new one that they begin to see themselves. They are born again.” (pg 11, Homecoming)[Bold mine]

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There still seems to be a chronic lack of self-reflection on the contribution of the appropriation and objectification of the rural culture by the Church and Cultural Institutions respectively in their atrophying, decreasing relevance in their own communities and consequent demise. Instead there is continued self-congratulation, arrogance and of their domination even though under the not-new agenda of saving their form for reasons that have ultimately never been primarily about them. Today as European dominance of the world continues under the name globalization and as the United Nations seeks to prepare us psychologically for what it deems our role in the new-old world order (http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Focus-on-creative-industries—UN-report-tells-J-can-govt_8396757) as entertainment to their leisured class the consultation proceeded to discuss how the flower festivals could be earmarked for ‘product development’ to be packaged, to be made ‘export’ ready as one member of the panel hinted.

Ultimately the actual keepers of this tradition were peripheral to this consultation, in my opinion. Rather it was a saving face for those who have contributed much to their demise and a handing over ceremony of the flower festivals to the private sector. It was a ceremony of self-congratulation for the Catholic Church and an attempt to save itself by remounting the traditions ostensibly to save them(although more in form than substance as it did prior, after its oppression of them in the past). The material conditions and the absence of objectification which permits the autonomy in which people attend maturely to their circumstance, if anything, continues to decline collectively in our debt-ridden nation and more so for those sectors and areas on the periphery of the economy. It seems since political independence, more energy has been spent accommodating people to a collective nationalism as opposed to understanding the diversity of experience, culture and concern within it.  We are reaping the fruits of that and yet it seems there is a resistance to the deep self-reflection which would tell each their role in the problem and the solution.

Sources:

  1. Samora Machel quoted in “Ethnomathematics: Challenging Eurocentrism in Mathematics Education (Suny Series, Reform in Mathematics Education) Arthur B. Powell (Editor), Marilyn Frankenstein (Series Editor)
  2. Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture and Politics” by Ngugi Wa Thiongo(1972)
  3. “African      Culture”(youtube video “African Culture” Part 1 of lecture by      Dr. Amos WIlson – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y3fJBRJrdc
  4.  The Flower Festivals of St. Lucia by Msgr Patrick Anthony(latest edition released in 2009)
  5. Editorial:      Evangelization and the Flower Festivals (Catholic Chronicle: May 2012)
  6. Focus      on creative industries – UN report tells J’can govt – http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Focus-on-creative-industries—UN-report-tells-J-can-govt_8396757#ixzz1y767nMOb
  7.  The Function of the Orgasm by Wilhelm      Reich – Reich says the following on tradition

“Tradition is important. It is democratic when it fulfills its natural function of providing the new generation with a knowledge of good and bad experiences of the past i.e, of enabling it to learn from old errors and not repeat them. Tradition becomes the bane of democracy when it denies the rising generation the possibility of choice, when it attempts to dictate to what is regarded as  ‘good’ and what as ‘bad’ under new conditions of life…

“…The young would not feel any hostility toward tradition, would indeed have nothing but respect for it if, without jeopardizing themselves, they could say ” This we will take over from you because it is strong, honest, still relative to our times and capable of development. That, however, we cannot take over. It was useful and true in your time — it would be useless to us.”  (pg 14-15) The Function of the Orgasm by Wilhelm Reich

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~ by iandiyanola on June 17, 2012.

3 Responses to “La Wòz ek La Magwit : Strange Saviours Part Two -What are “who” saving?”

  1. https://iandiyanola.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/la-woz-ek-a-magwits-strange-saviours-part-one-what-was-the-fuss-about/#comment-37 -Part One

  2. You have touched on a number of issues that I had not given thought to given my limited experience in these fields. I find myself asking a number of questions about how I got involved and how I perceived my contribution to the growth and perpetuation of these practices.It started of as what my grandmother taught me passionately and was reinforced by my father, then I celebrated what I felt was activities carried out by Africans and now I ask how African are they, if they are any at all, or just African people in them. Raised catholic made it easy to see all of this as a church thing and so when those who didnot belong to church were being asked to participate and perpetuate outside of church I always wondered why. You make a good attempt at addressing those who are discussing today how to save those practices are not the ones actually carrying out these practices in the communities and those who really are doing it have never been given a voice to contribute. Castries people telling country people what they should preserve and how best they should preserve it as the do with all other practices because they know best or do they really. Well done rastaman

  3. A searching critique. It needs much more circulation and discussion since you raise important questions and issues. These issues should be at the forefront of present discussions, not only on the Flower Festivals, but on the traditional and contemporary cultures, in whose context we fnd ourselves.

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