Are We Moving In Circles and For How Much Longer?
In a booklet to be published titled “Reparations Conference” I attempt to portray a gathering of persons on an island in the Caribbean. Their purpose is to discuss reparations—claiming their ancestors’ wages for slave labour. In my readings I chance upon the following passage by William Lloyd Garrison (Boston, May 1, 1845) in his preface to “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas”. Garrison wrote: “It may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether any other portion of the population of the earth could have endured the privations, sufferings and horrors of slavery, without having become more degraded in the scale of humanity than the slaves of African descent. Nothing has been left undone to cripple their intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral nature, obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind; and yet how wonderfully they have sustained the mighty load of a most frightful bondage, under which they have been groaning for centuries!”
Nobel winner Sir Arthur Lewis and other intellectuals have elaborated on the observations by Garrison and fashioned appropriate models of economic development for the post-slavery colonial experience. Sir Arthur has postulated that if the wages owed to slave labour were to be paid to these Caribbean islands, they would be much further developed socially and economically. The distinguishing feature of the scholarship of Lewis and others is intellectual honesty and research. One perceives in Lewis a studious determination to answer questions of economic development fairly and truthfully. By constant research and by examining various development models, he developed theories that stood the test of time. Men such as Sir Arthur did not pander to popular political propaganda; neither did they confuse racism with economics, or the value of labour and savings, with political ideology.
It is unfortunate that so little attention is paid to the works of such great thinkers, especially as we continue to observe our Creole heritage, seemingly without further study and research. Some may be tempted to criticize Sir Arthur and set aside his work because he was not versed in our Creole folkways. Neither is his nephew, the former Prime Minister Dr Vaughan Lewis. In fact, some short-sighted individuals, pretending to be more intellectually muscular than they are, tend to dismiss Dr Vaughan Lewis as just another prop for the failed Anthony government. These same people with their flawed thinking have turned the Jounen Kweyol celebrations into a cash cow for friends and relatives.
I have examined these annual Creole festivals, and arrived at the same unsatisfactory conclusion: they seem in constant circular motion as regards our culture, our politics and other aspects of our lives. No demonstrable link is ever offered to the present. Politics always seems to intrude. A case in point: the proximity between the last Labour Party conference in Choiseul and Jounen Kweyol activities may have been mere coincidence. Still, a deeper comparative analysis would reveal the same flaws and suggest the same solutions from observing these two separate events: the party platform and Jounen Kweyol.
If culture is the dynamic phenomenon that experts describe, then surely, some linear movement from the things of the past towards the present should point to progress in creative doing, seeing and feeling. The sad reality is that those charged with organising Jounen Kweyol are blind to the dynamism of culture. These celebrations are a repetitive annual affair, rather than a demonstration of the cultural adjustments and strides our grandparents made in moving forward with their hard-won freedoms—from slavery to the present. The coal pot and the home-made metal stoves and ovens take centre stage. That which has replaced them is hidden from view, perhaps because they expose our lack of mastery of simple technology—and thinking. There is, I believe, a need to study why we have not fashioned more advanced agriculture tools that, for example, would lighten our work on the farm.
The same lack of forward movement, or, improvement if you prefer, is demonstrated in our politics. There is a determined mind-set that suggests certain persons are endowed with more legitimacy for politics than others, due to their darker skin tone and mastery of the Creole language. Such foolish platform rhetoric also suggests that a businessman has no place in local politics. The lack of competence in Creole as disqualification for the job of prime minister is often twisted to confuse. Allen Chastanet’s opponents have suggested that he lacks Saint Lucian sensibilities and only knows private sector business. His accusers fail to point out that he once worked as a cadet officer in John Compton’s Central Planning Unit (CPU), as an economist with the likes of Sir Dwight Venner and Ausbert d’Auvergne. They fail to inform us that he worked in Washington DC as deputy director at ECIPS, under director Swinburn Lestrade. (ECIPS was a US government agency designed to assist East Caribbean States.) In 1988-90 he obtained a Master’s degree in Economics at American University in Washington. What better preparation for a future Minister of Finance?
There is no need for a Saint Lucian politician who professes superior intellect to emulate US President Donald Trump in his hateful diatribe. Those who call themselves progressive should distance themselves from such hateful and racist speech. And the people of Saint Lucia should be spared the dissemination of such crass and bigoted remarks. Lies and intellectual dishonesty (I refuse to call it fake news) need to be called what they are. To inflict them on people still suffering from past abuse and neglect is wicked and immoral.
When one looks at Jounen Kweyol activities against the backdrop of the recent Labour Party conference, one is immediately struck by the similarity of their circuitous nature. They both seem caught in the clay from which the Choiseul artisan fashions his beloved coal pot. We need to focus on removing the obstacles to creative effort, as the coal pot artisan does, and press forward with confidence as we repair the past and fashion the future.
What are we learning from Jounen Kweyol? Is it just another stuck-in-the-mud, meaningless festival?