Frankly Speaking By A.A. Fenty

I am aware that in our public service/governmental culture, it is not normal or conventional, but I might be breaking some rule today to pay a mild tribute to one long-serving public servant I know fairly well.

This is bound to catch him by surprise since he knows that I thought he stood in the way of certain developments in culture and music. And he could really come across as tight-fisted, Spartan!

However, I am lauding the insights of the top bureaucrat at the Ministry of Culture, Mr Keith H. Booker. Just about my age, he’s a large man with wide experience.

Booker, whose equally colourful father had a “turn” named after him on the West Bank of the River Demerara, is knowledgeable in Youth Development, Sport, Music – he plays and reads – (and played cricket with Sir Clyde Walcott), the then Guyana National Service (GNS) and yes, culture generally. He has ended up now, as one of the more senior Permanent Secretaries in government.

Three weeks go Permanent Secretary Booker sought to alert and mobilize his Field Staff, the Youth and Cultural Officers, with respect to their roles throughout Guyana – our very own cultural landscape – As CARIFESTA looms here in August. As he showed off his own intimate, hands-on knowledge of Guyanese cultural traditions and expression, I was also reminded and stimulated myself. By the rich, but oft-dormant variety of cultural wealth we are blessed with. But first, CARIFESTA X.

CARIFESTA – 146 days away

Let me be formal. The objectives of the Caribbean’s premier Arts-and-Culture- Festival include: “providing an opportunity and forum through which to showcase the Caribbean’s traditions, cultural and artistic expressions – through all the visual and performing arts, folkloric country festivals, literary, culinary, philatelic and other exhibitions and related activities; re-affirming the importance of arts and culture as a unifying force of Caribbean integration; fostering understanding of the variety of our Region’s history and heritage whilst promoting an appreciation of the cultural legacies of both our neighbours and ancestors.”

Numerous other aims and sub-themes may, of course, be derived from the three general objectives articulated above. Indeed after CARIFESTA 8 in Suriname (2003), a 14-Point New CARIFESTA Model was proposed in a commissioned 2004 Strategic Plan titled “Re-Inventing CARIFESTA” by a Dr Keith Nurse. Those interested may be moved to research these matters. Why, they’ll even discover that there was a Caribbean event – A “Festival” or “Celebration” of Caribbean Arts as far back as 1952 in the Spanish-speaking Island of Puerto Rico!

Interesting? An American-oriented Spanish-speaking territory daring to promote Caribbean heritage and culture. But only two major “Commonwealth” Caribbean islands turned up.

And before Forbes Burnham’s epic fora of ’66 and ’70 where CARIFESTA as we now know it, was born, committed Caribbean writers had endeavoured to give their own birth in London. The creative babe then was still-born. Burnham, then a politician-statesman and visionary, made the Festival happen in Guyana in 1972.

It’s coming back in August. We are being told of plans to make it the “most memorable CARIFESTA ever!” How? Well, hundreds of millions have been budgeted. The culturally-Caribbean South American mainland host will open up its Amazonian rain-forest venues; its creeks, hills and mountains; easy access to its continental neighbours – Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela, who will all be here when they were not at past festivals.

Austria, Africa and India are interested; the Guyanese Diaspora plans unique contributions and this time around, unlike ’72 when some griped about an alleged bias of African-only influences, the host’s significant Native Amerindians will come to town; Guyana’s literary classics will complement visual, published tributes to Caribbean cultural icons and great surprises from the culture and legacy seem to lie in store. Who will not wish and work for the festival’s success? Whatever is thought of this government and its ways?

Celebrating our culture

Let’s assume we all can’t go to the CARIFESTA Ten events, exciting as they will be. Or that the visitors’ acts can’t come to our communities. Permanent Secretary Booker and his Ministry plan to use the ten-day August event to stimulate, to jump-start a virtual renaissance of Guyana’s cultural traditions and expressions.

Take a peek into the Ministry’s plans, as adumbrated by a savvy, culture-conscious P.S. (Public Servant): Could not, say, a pre-CARIFESTA Caravan with travelling acts and players go into every nook and cranny of this green land to entertain and to be entertained by our very own? Visualise the CARIFESTA Hospitality Village on Carifesta Avenue being a microcosm of the World and the Caribbean at nights – and being entertained by Congo Nya, Tassa Drummers and Folk-Groups; visualize the Arts Village and the Amerindian Village; Imagine Surinamese “Djukas performing at Skeldon and Whim, even as CARIFESTA visitors and participants pay homage to the Berbician Birth-places of Vesta Lowe and Philip Moore.

Or, in keeping with the PS’s institutional memory, fancy traditional folk-performances by the resuscitated cultural groups at Hampshire, Kilcoy, Canje, New Amsterdam, Ithaca, Hopetown, Gordon Table, Abary, Cane Grove, Victoria, Ann’s Grove, Buxton and the Annandales. History and culture – Guyana’s soul of creativity – can be awakened at the Mandirs, the community centres, the village squares at nights. Rajkumar and Levi Nedd, Cumfa Drums, Queh-queh ceremonies and Dig-dutty/matticore re-enactments can entertain and educate both locals and visitor-participants.

From Corentyne to Charity, Kaituma to Kaieteur to Aishalton, every child could experience the expressions of Guyana’s identity. Nagara and Madrasi Groups, Craft from St Cuthberts and Phillipai; the sites and sounds of Leguan, Fort Island and Wakenaam – under-developed physically as they still are – can come alive, still to inspire. Story-telling and Square Dancing from Den Amstel and Bagotsville; Bartica’s lone steelband and varied “Brazilian” infiltration, the rich Pomeroon home of David Campell and the new Kalibro Pop Band with Amerindian genesis; the bands from Shulinab and Surama; the rich Queenstown/Dartmouth, Lima performers in need of a rejuvenated dose of funding and coaching.

Oh yes, this is the stuff dreams are made of. But Burnham’s six-year dream became stunning reality. Cannot the Jagdeo generosity spawn Guyana’s cultural re-awakening? Whatever level of success the wider festival achieves in August? From school drama to the publication of local Amerindian dialects to modern theatrical infrastructure, the P.S., his Minister and the Ministry seem to think so.

What do you think? More next time.

The festival – and fear

* OK, I know that money only never failed any Carifesta. But the economic squeeze since VAT is real. All the other factors notwithstanding, the VAT and local increases can stymie local contributions to the festival. Could not there be timely, appropriate concessions? (Afterall, there was a windfall!)

Next week, I’ll return to a correspondent spelling out the three-fold pressure of this tax.

* Somehow, I feel CARIFESTA should be the occasion to implement any Regional Police Force against Crime.

*Does the USA rate itself on any Corruption/Crime/Narcotics Index?

* I do not agree that “public interest” in the Monica Reece murder and dumping has not diminished. There are scores of other daily concerns and our psyche has become insensibly numb. But which big shot killed Monica?

Little, tiny Barbados had its new Olympic Centre opened last week by IOC President Dr Jacques Rogge! Poor us.

* Next week: Cheddi’s “(Coolie) Rice Government” – and flooding.

‘Til next week

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