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CULTURE: A PRODUCT TO BE SOLD by Ken Howell

posted 22 Mar 2014, 14:41 by Gerry Kangalee
The history of the development of all civilization has revealed that culture was what defined a people. It was that thing which spoke to their ability to survive the harsh elements, and to conquer the environment. It was their way of life, which instilled the discipline and thereby created the stability in these societies. It was on the basis of the development of the cultural values of these societies that institutions were established - religion, law, universities and so on. 
 
Some societies however, were more advanced than others. The cultures of western societies were imposed by force on those who they conquered. The psychological impact of the destruction of one’s culture; of a people’s culture can be devastating because it attacks the very spiritual being of a people. That was the impact that slavery had on those Africans who came here as slaves. But before the Africans came, the First Peoples had already experienced the destruction of their way of life by the Spaniards. 
 
In order to control a people, you must control their way of life. That is done is by replacing it with the way you do things. That was so during and after slavery and indentureship and it is still so today. Christianity was imposed on the former slaves through the Catholic Church and other Christian religions. The legitimate religion of Africans was suppressed by law. Although Hindus had their religion, they too also faced restrictions. 
 
One of the things about culture is that it defines the strength of a people. When I speak about strength, I am not speaking about military strength. I am speaking about spiritual strength - the strength of knowing who we are. The Jamaicans know who they are; and this has nothing to do with wealth. It is because of that strength they have been able to do so well in sport. The Cubans know who they are and they too has done extremely well in sports and medicine. The Cubans have given full reign to all forms of religion and as a result have restored to the Cubans of African descent the dignity of their religion, the Orisha religion. So much so, that about 70% of the population belongs to that religion. 
 
Our situation is so bad, that the two religions- the Orisha and Spiritual Baptist- which should be working to unite the Trinidad population of African descent is divided. This clearly demonstrates that we are yet to know who we are; that is why in spite of all our wealth, we have not been able to speak out with confidence about who we are. A confident people are not afraid of failure. And that is because we have not been able to put a stamp on our way of life and claim it as ours. We believe that our steel band and calypso, our carnival, and soca must be endorsed by entities outside of this country before we can accept it as ours. 
 
The Jamaicans did not tailor their music to meet the taste of the foreign market. No.! They heard it and liked it and they danced to it and bought the records. I declare, it is we who created our way of life and it we who must appreciate and love it before others. But what is happening is that certain elements among us are working very hard to cause commercial interests to define the direction our culture must take. They want to commercialize our culture. They want to take it away from the people and turn it into a product to be packaged and sold to foreigners. 
 
Foreigners don't come here to see a Las Vargas type of Carnival. They want to see something that is indigenous. If they are allowed to have their way the carnival, soca, pan and calypso will become a product to be sold to the European and American markets. A people’s culture is not to be sold it is for the enjoyment of the people. Foreigners can also come and enjoy its beauty and share in the joy of the people. 

What we have not been able to recognize, is the extent to which our society has been overtaken by the culture of the USA. This was only possible, because, our sense of self has been already destroyed by the racism which is being peddled every day by the agents of the system who work tirelessly to ensure that the two ethnic groups remain apart. Those persons, who purport to speak for the two groups professing the virtues of each, and also chastising them for sins of commission and omission, do serious damage to the spirituality of our people. 
 
Although it is essential to condemn the corrupt practices of any individual or government, the impact of the exposure usually shakes the confidence of the citizenry and the leaders of governments. This has been demonstrated over and over by our inability at the highest level in our society, to do simple things; such as recruit a Commissioner of Police; investigate the death of a child in a health institution and the procurement of Off Shore Patrol Vessels. 
 
And to further compound the already unhealthy situation, the services of foreign experts are retained to treat with these simple problems. But it gets even worse because our youths some of whom, have fallen through the cracks in the education system, have chosen to follow the most decadent aspects of American culture; the gun culture and this is because the system has failed them; and because they can relate very easily to the negative experiences of the African American youths who themselves have been experiencing the same type of neglect. 
 
Perhaps if you transplant any of the depressed areas from Trinidad to the Bronx it would be like they never left Trinidad. That is because the youths over there are as messed up as those in our co-called ghettos. The only difference might be found in the way they speak. But they are all affected culturally, and are being infected by the drug culture and the loss of confidence in our leaders and our way of life. All of this is happening because we decided that all of the old ways of raising our children should be discarded. That is why the culture of our people is not deeply rooted in the consciousness of our youths. We will soon discover at our peril that we have become enemies of our history!

It may be well known, but not accepted, that the drug trade, which is currently deemed to be illegal, is an instrument of the geopolitical power game. The purpose it serves is to destabilize a country culturally by the imposition of the culture of the dominating power on the people. The youths are the ones who are targeted. Why? Because: they are the ones who can be influenced to bring about social change for the better.  

The idea, therefore, is to channel their energies into activities which does not focus their interests and energies into activities which will cause them to acquire an understanding of the true nature of the capitalist society in which we live. This is not to say that the education system is not producing young people with higher education. But many of them upon graduating from university, soon discover that the discipline which they chose in most instances is not catered for by the needs of the labour market. And they too become disillusioned, and sometimes fall into the illegal drug trap.                                                                                                                                                                       

This cultural offensive has assumed different forms. It can be found in the music, fashion, food and in the use of the English language. One can hear it in the way media personnel speak and the phrases they use all of which originated in the American vernacular. It is not unusual to hear Radio Announcers speaking in the language of the social media. You now hear phrases such as “hash tag” which normally used to mean “slogan” in the past. Because of this serious defect in our collective personality, we have succumbed to the will of the capitalist overlords, who through the effective deployment of their cultural propaganda have been able to take up from where our slave masters and colonizers left off. And that is because we have not yet come to the realization that just as our forefathers were sold into slavery by their African brothers; we too were sold by our own kind in the 1960s. 

That is why nothing was ever done to correct many of the wrongs that were committed against our people. That is why our politics is marked by racism and the efforts that are being made to fuse the culture of the two main ethnic groups are constantly facing an uphill struggle. One of the most destructive instruments in use in the attack on our culture is the lack of trust created by the obsession of persons, in and close to the seat of power, who engage in corrupt practices. 

Here I am speaking of corruption in the widest sense. This speaks to a breakdown of morals, in and of the institutions whose responsibility it is to uphold them. When such institutions break down, it is a sign of moral and cultural decay. As a result what must follow as night follows day is the collapse of the society. Such an eventuality ultimately leads to social change. The task therefore is to fight to unite our people at all levels in every constituency and every community and in all forms of people's organisations.
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