Monday, February 06, 2006

Cosmetic Respect for Indigenous Culture in Trinidad

It is not possible for me to write this entry without bitterness and disdain, rather than passive resignation to the usual machinations of the state. In Trinidad and Tobago, successive governments for the past 16 years have ostensibly committed themselves to recognizing and valuing the indigenous presence, specifically by celebrating and rewarding the Santa Rosa Carib Community in Arima. Yet, as members of that same community are well aware, the actual development policies embraced by successive governments, or the development that these governments have allowed to take place, could not be further from valuing indigenous culture. Rampant quarrying along rivers in northeastern Trinidad, close to Arima, without considering the damage done to rivers deemed sacred by members of the Carib community, is just one example, one referred to frequently by Carib shaman, Cristo Adonis. The only water considered "holy" in Trinidad is the stagnant stuff found in church fonts. Hunting of "wild game" out of season, decimating the numbers of indigenous fauna, and selling the meat illegally has also been frequently observed.

The pronounced external orientation of most Trinidadians, whether in harking back to African and East Indian origins, or avidly gobbling up the newest imported trash from North America, vigorously seeking to acquire all of the outward signs of modernity, and rushing to become a "developed nation" by 2020, has only reinforced the disregard for Trinidadians' only real home, Trinidad itself, where most will have to live their lives in smog and toxic waste. As never before, the prophetic words of calypsonian King Austin, in his song "Progress" apply with urgent relevance (click on the link to hear the song).

As I write, in a nation already crowded with smoke-spewing vehicles, with industrial parks, and ranked as number three in the world for carbon dioxide emissions per capita, the Trinidadian government is bent on undertaking the construction of an aluminum smelter that can only have sickening health and environmental consequences. (For the latest in this unfolding tragedy, see:

The key here is to get past antiquated and self-destructive complaints that what was good for the developed world is good for the underdeveloped world, or that there is some vast conspiracy by environmentalists to keep the underdeveloped world poor. There is already voluminous literature to show that development has meant increased human suffering, increased poverty for the majority, and diminishing chances of sustainability.

Instead of intelligently taking their cue from the Carib culture they falsely and wrongly claim to respect, the government, and the wider society, needs to develop a true appreciation for the place that is Trinidad before it vanishes in a haze of smog and drowns in a sea of toxic sludge. Growing your own food; being independent of cash economies and foreign markets; loving your home; sharing with friends, family and neighbours; cooperating collectively; keeping it simple and enjoying the natural and free bounties of life; leaving a light footprint on the earth; bathing in a clean sea and enjoying clean air; taking pride in your own creativity; building a home that is truly yours--all of these are values that vastly outweigh any shallow modernity. Don't let the economists lie to you when they say that life without international trade is basically impossible--there is nothing natural nor normal about this system we live in: it is arbitrary, imposed and entirely artificial. Remember that your ancestors, for more than 99% of human and hominid history on this planet, lived as hunters and gatherers.

They must have done something right...after all, they made you, not so?

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