On Being Carib-being

“…hidden within the samba there are the ancient pulsations brought by the African diaspora, the memory of sacred drums and the words of the griot. But there are also the rhythms of the sugar mill’s machines, the machete stroke that cuts the cane, the overseer’s lash and the planter’s language, music and dance. Later there came other rhythms, from India, from China and from Java…finally, all these rhythms mixed with one another to form a…complex polyrhythmic orchestration…” 

—Antonio Benítez-Rojo

It’s the month of April, one usually associated with rebirth and renewal. Our pouis are blooming and for many the traditional Easter Holidays mean Mayaro or Tobago.  For the Christian community, it is the ritualistic celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Easter is a season of Hope.

Reflecting on the Common Sense Convois, the message of hope is now more hopeful.  While the actual events of the week long Convois have ended, new seeds have been planted while the orchards of Caribbean thought and action have been pruned and fertilized- hopefully to produce a new and bountiful harvest. God knows we need it. Being a part of the Common Sense Convois helped to re-ignite and galvanise a spirit of being from this place….from Cuba to  Suriname and across the Caribbean Sea to embrace our neighbours in the Americas.  Yes, our challenges are many and yes, we must own up to some very uncomfortable truths about own individual and collective irresponsibility to our home and region. For me the Common Sense Convois was a reminder that I am a Caribbean….from a place and state of mind….so aptly described by Benitez-Rojo.

The Common Sense Convois was about our business and our issues…from food security and sovereignty, to energy and environment, to entrepeneurship and cultural confidence. It was however the conversations about people and searching for representation which most underscored the massive cracks in every one of our nation states and regional institutions. To the reader who was not present, let me affirm that the conversation was not about partisan party politics or personalities though it is clear that we have a responsibility to dismantle an inherited system of governance which simply does not work.  It never did. April 21 1970 in T&T is just one of the many markers of the failed Independence project. A mere eight years after Independence, we faced the issue of the lack of real representation and social and economic inequity. The then government used its power to call two successive states of emergency and imprisoned hundreds of political activists at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

In the Common Sense Convois in Tobago on March 24, Tennyson Joseph, political scientist, advocated that we make an inventory of the first Independence Movement. “Do a balance sheet and see what was done, what is outstanding, what is no longer relevant and add new issues/demands”, he said.  As one of the bigger sisters in CARICOM about to celebrate 50 years of Independence, we in T&T are now compelled to take up our coat of arms and walk the talk. When Pat Castagne composed the national anthem, it was an anthem for the Federation, modified for T&T when the first federal experiment was cowardly rejected. ‘One from ten is nought’ was the political maths that dashed the aspirations of my father’s generation (a young man in his late 20’s) and trampled on the backs of those before who, with political and intellectual rigour, had challenged the colonial apparatus.

Since then we have dismantled much more like the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) so that we as Caribbeans know little of ourselves and each other. Stumbling along to 50 (some closer than others in our family) in a stale drunk-like stupor, we have disavowed our intellectual capital across the board especially in culture and sport. So many have had to leave our shores or languish at home…we have been careless (and corrupt) with the management of our natural resources while we go cap in hand to the donor community and IMF for handouts and debt financing. We have failed to re-engineer our institutions especially our education system (while the UK has moved on) in order to plan sensibly for our youth and future generations.

We have adopted a culture of consumerism and greed which has torn apart our cultural and social fabric and has given rise to our own killing fields in communities across the region. After all, we need all the symbols and brands of being ‘first world’…no investment in local culture and knowledge for us. No Common Sense.

With all the expected bells and whistles of the upcoming Independence celebrations and ‘Caribbean’ Olympics (so named as our Bolt and others get ready to  take on the world), the Common Sense Convois has set up the play for these very important reflections, analyses, conversations and purposeful strategies for the next 50 years, to begin. We as Trinbagonians and Caribbeans love this place and so we should.  Lloyd Best believed this too and spent a life in the pursuit of building a truly Caribbean society. Chief Secretary Orville London said it well when he commended the work of the Lloyd Best Institute and the goals of the Common Sense Convois, with an exhortation to: “provide a forum for clarity of thought and purity of communication” he said, in order to build a real dialogue about T&T and the region. “Get involved without getting involved in the party politics”, he added. He went on to say that the Common Sense Convois must “hit the road” and deal with the “what next, instead of “so what?”

Wherever we are and whatever our station, from captain to last man, we are now playing an innings for real change. It’s time for us to celebrate and at the same time time, put our shoulders to the wheel. This is our country and our region with so many possibilities if only we dared to believe in and work for a unified Caribbean! The Common Sense Convois has opened the batting for a new season of representation, governance and Caribbean Independence Part II.

Power to the People! Power to Common Sense! 

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