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Barbadian culture must not be diluted by artists

Pinelands Creative Workshop completes timely research on the cultural industry

The research on cultural artforms led to a short documentary that vividly presents the sights, sounds and relevance of our cultural history to the lives our fore parents and the society that we enjoy today.

Which is easier, preserving an artifact or a dance movement

Protecting an artifact is hard; just look at what museums go through. The artifact has to stored under the right conditions. This means that you have to monitor and control the immediate environment. That includes things like the amount of light as well as the temperature and relative humidity, they’re also matters like filtering out air pollutants and keeping out pests.

Now imagine trying to protect something much less tangible, like culture.

Earlier this year Pinelands Creative Workshop partnered with the Barbados Human Resource Development Programme Implementation Unit within the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development and the European Union (EU) in a research-based initiative: “The Internationalization of Community Cultural Performance Arts Products and Services as a Component of  Vibrant National Cultural Industries”.

The initiative began in February 2016 with three components:

    1. A Cultural Products Assessment within the Tourism Sector
    2. Research on Indigenous Community Cultural Art Forms
    3. The Development of a Toolkit of methodologies and strategies for the improvement of standards required for export markets

It’s slipping away and we don’t even notice it

Grant Byer-Suckoo Dr. Boyce

PCW’s CEO Rodney Grant, Minister of Labour Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo and Programme Manager for Education and Employment with the European Union Delegation Dr. Stephen Boyce react to a contribution from the audience.

Long before the project was over the data that was being collected provided empirical evidence of what the PCW team had known for a very long time. We need mechanisms and strategies to protect and preserve our culture.

While some of us may say “We know what our culture is.”; others may ask, “Do we?”

During the presentation of the findings, PCW’s CEO Rodney Grant pointed out that of the forty dance pieces entered for NIFCA 2016 only two were indigenous in nature. It’s hard to say how many people in the audience even noticed.

How many of us have noticed the many elements of our culture that are slipping away? Are children still afraid that a duppy might come and get them? Are they even familiar with the word duppy? 

So while it might be much easier to preserve a Mother Sally costume along with videos of some performances, Grant would ask, “Wouldn’t you rather see her in living colour?” Wouldn’t you rather hear the rhythm of the drums and the whistles of the flute? Wouldn’t you rather slink back into the crowd a little bit when she comes your way challenging members of the audience to a dance?

Losing these experiences is a frightening prospect for many Barbadians. The thought of losing the magic of a moment to the pages of a book or the flicker of a screen is scary. For them, culture is a living, breathing entity and each facet we lose is like a death knell.

For them culture is not seasonal, so they don’t look to NIFCA when they want to see it in action. Rodney Grant recalls that these shared experiences used to be all around us; in the games we played, in the ways we worshipped, even in the intonation of our speech.

No “deodorized watered-down culture’ for us

Rodney Grant presents Dr. Stephen Boyce with a copy of the Toolkit

Rodney Grant presents Dr. Stephen Boyce with a copy of the Toolkit

So in an interesting juxtaposition, PCW, the HRD and the EU applied the science of research to an examination of the survival and monetary value of our culture. Side by side, the later appears to be a partial guarantor for  the former, but as always in life, there are provisos.

Grant, who is one of the founders of PCW, recalled a trip to Mexico where they left the Mexican audiences chanting “Barbad”. “There we’re dancing to the Tuk Band and singing Barbadians songs”, and he maintained this was because PCW had fed them an undiluted diet of Barbadian culture.

He emphasized that this was in the same vein that Trinidadian dancer Beryl Mc Burnie had won hearts around the world with raw indigenous Trinidadian dance. He believes that Barbadian cultural artiste need to be more confident in the attraction that audiences find in authenticity.

Taking advantage of the opportunities for cultural trade

audeince attends

Members of the audience attending to the panel.

Minister of Labour Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo, attested to the fact that by 2013 there were 190.5 billion US dollars generated in the global trade of cultural works of art. She further argued that Barbados needed to act diligently to “preserve, formalize and market its indigenous products”.

In explaining how this could be done Programme Manager for Education and Employment with the European Union Delegation Dr. Stephen Boyce, explained that Crop Over and NIFCA were not enough; culture is after all, not seasonal.

He opined that one step would be to make sure “that organizations that trade in culture are registered with the Barbados Accreditation Council and adhere to the national qualifications framework”. Removing the guesswork from negotiations and using an impartial scale to accredit cultural artist places them on the same footing as traditional service providers like accountants and electricians.

Poonka speaks

Wayne “Poonka” Willock shares his experiences with the attendees.

Referencing the findings of the report Dr. Boyce also suggested that culture needs to be integrated into the educational system, a point to which Wayne “Poonka” Willock, a local cultural artist and educator, later gave passionate testimony; recounting his efforts between 1994 and 2000 when he taught flute, stilt walking, limbo and fire eating to a certificate level in schools across the island.

Dr. Boyce also proposed that adding this kind of structure and increasing accessibility by opening up community centers as training and performance hubs could revive awareness of our culture and revitalize communities.

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