CARIFESTA et les indiens de Trinidad
by Parsuram Maharaj

From all appearances, Trinidad and Tobago's presentation to CARIFESTA VIII in Suriname will be an Afro-Trinidadian cultural representation. Trinidadians and Tobagonian is doing grave injustice to the theme of CARIFESTA which is "Many Cultures: The Essence of Togetherness, the Spirit of the Caribbean." It seems that tickets were handed out mainly to one section of the society. The premier show at Queen's Hall last Friday night [15/8/03] essentially reflected this.

From the title of the play, "Golden Masquerade," at the opening, it was expected that the Indian performing artistes had to fall in line and footwork with carnival rhythms. If they wanted a free plane ride to Suriname with free hotel accommodation, they had to shed their ethnic identity and absorb the culture of Creole Carnival. Golden Masquerade was more about Creole Carnival than about multi-ethnic Trinbago; the dramatic performance not only marginalized the Indian cultural presence, but also integrated it to the point of a cultural calaloo. Non-Indians actors in fact dominated the cast with a few fringe Indian dancing to the beat of bongo drums and kalinda songs.

One main character included Anansi. He could have easily been complemented with the Indian folklore figure of Satchuli or Birbal. After all, the theme of CARIFESTA VIII is "Many Cultures: The Spirit of Togetherness." The motifs of J'Ouvert were evoked in the absence of Divali, Ramlila and Hosay. The tamboo bamoo was more audible that the dhantal - a metal percussion instrument played by the lone Sagar Sookraj. The dholak drum - the national symbol of Suriname - suffered the same fate in the country performance of "all ah we is one."

When Guyana's dictator Forbes Burnham first thought of CARIFESTA in 1972, he envisioned a meeting point for kindred spirits, a blending of creative forces bringing together the cream of the artists in the region and providing them with a stage. The aim of CARIFESTA today remains the same as yesterday - it is to create, develop and foster further unity within the CARICOM countries via cultural exchanges.

This year the Trinidad and Tobago is spending about ten (10) million dollars and chartering a BWIA airplane to take a local contingent to Suriname. All expenses are being paid by the Government such as airfare, hotel accommodation, meals and insurance for all delegates. For many on the trip, it will be a joy ride to a foreign country for a free holiday. Sitting in first class will be Selwyn Cudjoe, a Trinidadian visitor with US citizenship.

There are only two (2) Indian-based cultural organizations out of fifteen (15) in the Trinidad and Tobago organizing committee for CARIFESTA. These two organizations are Chutney Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (CFTT) represented by Dr Vijay Ramlal, and the National Cultural Council for Indian Culture (NCIC) represented by Ms Rosemarie Dipnarine. By its very mandate, the CFTT can only represent chutney artists at the show. It was therefore expected that the all-embracing NCIC would have sent a more vocal and assertive spokesperson to the meeting to represent the various forms of Indian culture in Trinidad. Yet the NCIC selected a non-performing representative to go to Suriname. Role of two Indian groups is to help organize the Trinidad contingent - in particular sourcing an Indian cultural artists, ornaments, photographs, paintings, and instruments. The role of these two organizations has been relegated to curry-dressing.

Why is one of two Indian organizing groups being discriminating against? Why is one of fifteen groups not selected to go to Suriname? Where is the substance and support for the rhetoric of "many cultures" and "cultural diversity" and "one people"? Why has Cabinet selected only two Indian cultural groups as part of the country's organizing committee? What criteria were used in the selection?

Why was the Maha Sabha's Baal Vikaas representative left out? For those who do not know, Baal Vikaas is a grand children's cultural showcase staged since 1983. It has been organized and presented on a scale larger than Best Village to this day without any Government funding. It is indeed a sight to behold to see ancient oral texts being rolled out from the mouths of babes, and songs and dances being performed by children of the future.

It is unpardonable that the National Phagwa Council and the National Ramleela Committee has been left out of the organizing committee. The dholak [drum] is a central piece of musical instrument in the chowtal ensemble, and it is the national symbol - like our steelband is to us - of Suriname! It is a national grief and disgrace to know that our national dholak champion is not going to Surniname. The largest ethnic group in Suriname are Indians (called Hindustanis), and the largest religious following are Hindus.

We must ask the Cabinet, Ministry of Culture's Mr Efebo Wilkinson and CARIFESTA's Director Mr. Eric Butler where is the Hosay, Ramleela or Pichakaaree representative on the organizing committee? On the organizing committee, and going to Suriname, or sending a representative are members of the Emancipation Support Committee, Trinidad Art Society, Prime Minister's Best Village Committee, TIDCO, the Calypsonians Association (TUCO), Carnival Commission (NCBA), Dance Association (NDATT), National Museum, National Library (NALIS), Philatelic Society, Jacqui House of Fashion, Horticultural Society, Parang Association, Tobago House of Assembly, Santa Rosa Carib Society, and such myriad groups. Why isn't a cultural ambassador and promoter like Mr Ajeet Praimsingh on the organizing committee? Where is the spokesman for the annual road show, Mere Desh? Where is the representative of the enduring Mastana Bahar?