Rum with a touch of bitters and jouvay

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Dara E Healy –

Culture matters

DARA E HEALY

DON’T think it’s over. That this is the last time. He breathed, but he did not disappear. This sense of déjà vu is still there. Why? Because a different version of yourself has fought this battle before.

In 1945, you fought when Calypsonian Invader’s Rum and Coca-Cola was picked up by American band the Andrew Sisters, changed slightly, and eventually topped the music charts. You fought again in 2001 when a collaboration between the United States and several European countries filed a patent for a seemingly new process for creating lighter pans called “hydroforming.”

The fight in 2021 was a much shorter affair. Take our J’ouvert, Jouvay people? A mega Hollywood star, once voted the sexiest man in the world, humbled herself and apologized after a Caribbean style surge. But why wouldn’t the world take our culture? After centuries of being told that carnival is just a party, that the patois is a pig language (a language worthy of pigs), that Laventille is not good enough for the casserole, that Ifa / Orisa, Hinduism and the Great Spirit represent the belief systems of the savages; after 1606, 1845 and 1498 – after all this, we are still not sure of our truth. So we continue to hesitate.

In tears, Edwin Ayoung lamented the lack of recognition from Winsford Devine, the calm but powerful songwriter, whose lyrics propelled the artists into the limelight. Young’s pain is undoubtedly a reflection of a larger confusion caused by other shortcomings such as no leading training institute for the pan. Or the lack of effective centers for calypso, mas or dance. What will be the next outbreak – maybe someone claiming to have invented limbo, doubles, stick fight songs or bush tea?

Michael B Jordan’s apology was respectful. He admitted to doing “a lot of listening, a lot of learning and engaging in countless community conversations.” But is it theft if no one wants it? And even if we wanted to work with a global power like Jordan, how would we represent a culture that we haven’t yet validated?

Once a year, we cover ourselves with oil, mud and, confusedly, chocolate to welcome the spirit of Carnival. Are we aware of the ancestors walking behind us? Do we feel them holding torches, singing while putting out the fires which they themselves lit to resist slavery? Do we understand the cleansing and rebirth of the mud on our skin in the fresh air of Jouvay?

Too many of us don’t have the answers. In our schools we are not taught visceral connections with African spirituality and other aspects of our culture. We may know that J’ouvert is from French, opening of the day. But this week on our Facebook page, a scholar called the patois word jouvay “mutilation” of the French language.

But that doesn’t have to be our future.

It would appear that in October 2020, TT is part of the Madrid System of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The agreement allows a single application for “trademark protection in up to 122 territories …” Trademarks protect goods, services, sounds and even smells. Copyright laws protect creative works. Patents protect original inventions. This may sound confusing enough, but the point is that if we are serious about protecting our TCEs, we can.

“George Bailey, I will always remember / Hopping when a steelband goes by, playing at the farmhouse / Sugary, Peppery George was never the kind in class / … it’s our duty, I mean everyone / To see may their memories live on / Even though they’re dead and gone.

More than deja vu, I felt overwhelmed, numb. Leah, Wayne, Sandra, Torrance, Winsford – so many practitioners who close their eyes, knowing that not enough has been done. There are global organizations established just to teach, promote, and even cook. Over 100 carnivals are inspired by our festival, our music, our food.

In this interconnected world, our heritage is our power. Yet after all the trade shows, foreign film crews and marketing plans – after all, we are still not protected. Our culture is not promoted in a way that will benefit the communities that infallibly produce beautiful tajahs, black Indian masquerades or crab and dumplings.

Maybe we are lucky the Hollywood star was so gracious. Maybe its purpose was to send a warning, that the real battle for our culture is yet to come. 1884, 1970, 1881 – again déjà vu.

Dara E Healy is a performance artist and founder of the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN


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