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Strengthening Cultural Production in Trinidad and Tobago


By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson 


Sunday, 20 December 2015

Human culture has never been static. As with any region in the world, in the Caribbean the genesis and evolution and development of cultural life has no start or end date. It’s infinite.

One thing is without any doubt however. That is that Caribbean culture did not emerge when Europeans arrived in the archipelago. It was long preceded by the ancient cultures of the indigenous peoples of the islands of the Caribbean, and the land mass known now as Central America and South America. Grafted on to this foundation are centuries long cultural practices derived from the indigenous people’s resistance to colonisation, the struggle against enslavement and the efforts to establish independent nations.

The culture and traditions of Africa, the Indian sub-continent, China and West Asia [commonly referred to as the Middle East] are significant. Equally the languages and mores of whichever European power was ascendant in the battle to establish supremacy in the Caribbean also played a vital and crucial role. French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English [including the obscure Courlanders in Tobago] – all have history in the region.

[In Tobago examples and artefacts are seen in the Fort George Museum], previously in Leacock’s Culture House and the long closed Historical/Heritage Café and Arnos Vale Watermill Restaurant.  However, whilst the many military forts around the island are well documented the Sugar Mills dotted around the island [to this writer’s knowledge anyway] remain unresearched.]

So Caribbean culture generally, and Tobagonian/Trinbagonian culture in particular, didn’t begin in the 1960s and it’s a process which has not concluded.

Many of these issues were discussion points at a Scarborough Library Facility event organised recently by MUSE TOBAGO.  Two subjects predominated at the vigorous dialogue. Firstly, the necessity of continuously exploring Tobago’s solid cultural heritage and, secondly, devising methods to ensure the islands diverse cultural practices can be nourished, cultivated and groomed. Many of these issues were described in MUSE TOBAGO’s magazine, fliers and leaflets displayed at an information table where the genres of creativity outlined included agriculture, food and drink, visual arts and crafts, technology, literature and writing, photography, performing arts, research and documentary, videography and film, fabrication and design and fashion.

These genres only touched the surface though and debate revealed that any survey of cultural forms in Tobago would include exploration of music production [contemporary and traditional], drumming, culinary arts, fashion, traditional and heritage activities, drama, theatre, sculpture, painting, fine art, literature/creative writing, blogs, vlogs, poetry and spoken word, speech band, folk music and popular music, folktales and oral/storytelling traditions, Moko Jumbie/stiltwalking, kite making, stick fighting, Kalinda, tamboo bamboo bands, steel pan, Kaiso, Calypso tents, Steel Bands, ol’ time wedding, Bele dance, Speech Bands, drumming, crab and goat races and , and probably countless other cultural practices.

MUSE TOBAGO has the ambitious programme of [1] strengthening the diversity of ideas in Tobago, [2] initiating and maintaining a forum to share the creative interests of the island’s cultural practitioners [rather than keep it to themselves], [3] exploring mechanisms to enhance and strengthen the work and inspiration  of Tobago’s creatives, [4] forming collaborative links between MUSE TOBAGO and the corporate world, [5] becoming the conduit between creatives and the Intellectual Property Office [IPO] of Trinidad and Tobago, [6] cultivating the latent creativity within Tobagonians and nourishing entrepreneurial habits, [7] promoting awareness of the value of intellectual property and encouraging and facilitating IPO registrations locally and abroad to guarantee registrations actually benefit creative people, [8] ensuring that Tobago is recognised as a leader in creativity, innovation and intellectual property exchange.

In this sense then it is crystal clear that cultural expression in Tobago is strong and consolidated. Nevertheless, all human practice requires constant attention and renewal to ensure it retains freshness and serves a useful purpose to humanity. MUSE TOBAGO have started an important discussion.

Of the many issues identified which spark further discussion and solutions a start could be made by addressing

             How is MUSE TOBAGO to facilitate cultural development in Tobago – practically, socially, economically, organisationally?

·                  What is the role of culture in society, culture in social form is an issue here – social in form, national in character? Development of educated, literate and cultured people

·                  Tobago culture, how expressed? What is culture/art in Tobago?

·                  Culture – what is it? what is creativity? define – difficult to define precisely but could be encapsulated in how humans express ourselves, represents individual identity but also our place in a collective with human thought, knowledge and history reflecting that - as diverse as grains of sand on a beach but it wouldn’t be a beach if not bound together…

·                  Tobago culture in context of TnT culture and culture of the Caribbean and the world

·                  Is there a database of artists in Tobago – or Trinidad?

·                  How do creatives [renowned and otherwise] in TnT collaborate and co-ordinate?

·                  How to mobilise the Tobagonian cultural practitioners so they have a unified voice?

·                  What are challenges and issues in nurturing creativity and its corollary cultural work in Tobago?

·                  The value of labour is scientifically defined by its social necessity – but currently an unregulated, manipulated market in which neither workers nor artists have any say rules.

·                  How to facilitate expression of culture in order that professional artists are acknowledged and get paid

·                  Developing the cultural work/practices and mobilising the cultural workers to establish a unified voice, get appropriate recognition for their work and to get paid according to the value of their work

·                  Although neo-liberal globalisation is a factor world culture is diverse and multi-faceted – not homogenised, heterogeneity is a good thing.

·                  V/bloggers simple but effective action can promote and facilitate their work


By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson 


Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is a Caribbean/London based arts editor, writer and journalist for www.thenewblackmagazine.com. 

He writes about political, social and cultural issues.


Strengthening Cultural Production in Trinidad and Tobago

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