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Pan in danger
With all of the furiously flying fists and soft landings of perplexed faces at the Queen’s Park Savannah last Sunday, I was steered in the direction of the more intriguing issue at the heart of Monday’s headlines. With that said, of course like all the other gawkers who missed the news, I was trawling online for any video of the fracas. I was as disgusted as you all were by the “lagniappe” cuff that an officer “pelt” behind a pan patron who was already out of the melee. It was funny though to see a goofy looking chap trying to negotiate the roiling crowd while holding aloft a five-litre water bottle filled with some vile looking alcoholic concoction.
Looking at the video, an image jumped into my head of this character mixing up that foul brew the night before pan, cackling to himself like a witch stirring a cauldron. He took one look at the menacing countenance of the police officers and decided to himself, “I ain’t come here to hear pan and I sure as hell ain’t come here to get beat like no tenor pan!” This cat quickly retreated before the officers decided on the “if you cyar hear yuh go feel” strategy in the police training manual. It was the Minister of Arts and Multiubfhfruvkfrrbggfhnlism who inadvertently triggered the avalanche of humanity. Those flimsy BRC frames were functioning strictly on psychological deterrent effect before Winston “Gypsy” Peters and his exalted entourage were given safe passage through the phalanx of police officers.
Then it appears as though a group of patrons, working with a hive mind, decided that “is only guvament officials gettin’ pass hyar? Nah! I pay my morney an’ I dohcater…! The police were forced to act quickly and bust some heads in order to preserve at least the manageable level of chaos concomitant with our booze-fuelled events. What happened at the Pano-rama competition on Sunday is a recurring decimal and I can say this because I have witnessed it almost every time that I have attended the event. What you have is an organisation, Pan Trinbago, comprised primarily of individuals emerging from the pan fraternity, and an insufficient (or wholly absent) human resource component with specific training in logistics and crowd control.
The fire officers ultimately are the ones to determine what must be done to ensure that all safety measures are adhered to. Indeed, upon the instructions of the fire officials, should safety at a particular venue be compromised, the police surely are empowered to shut the event down altogether. If you are told by the fire officials that the venue has reached its maximum carrying capacity, then that should be the end of the story. Of course for Trinis it is never that simple. Now if an emergency had presented itself and an ambulance and its attendants were unable to access the area on account of the overcrowding, who do you think is going to get the blame? Yes, the “incompetent” fire officers who failed to do their job.
Former Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold is quoted as having said that had he still been at the helm, the concept of “The Greens” would never have come into existence. Current president Keith Diaz is reported to have countered, “but we have to make morney.” Mr Arnold’s statement is laughable because these problems existed long before “The Greens” was in vogue. I distinctly recall many years ago being sent to that very venue to cover pan on a Saturday night and attempting to cross from the North Stand to the Grand Stand through the cattle fencing. It took some arguing but finally I was admitted on the strength of my ttt identification card. (This was before the days of the giant accreditation passes.) The people behind me, assuming that I’d used some graft or influence to weasel my way through the gates, decided that they ought to have the same privilege. I saw two people present tstt and Royal Bank identification cards respectively. If you think that is kicks, the security official let them through.
This venue at the Queen’s Park Savannah has always been woefully mismanaged. The fencing meant to keep stormers out has not changed much from my dusty days in the Savannah. One evening I was standing at the fence perimeter waiting to meet with some friends when a group of young men approached and began sizing up their “obstruction.” Then as one guard dragged his half-dead mongrel to another part of the fenced compound, one teen shimmied up the BRC with incredible athleticism. Then there was another and another …until there were about six of them straddling the wobbling barricade. As I had keenly anticipated (and the reason I delayed my entry into the venue), the entire fence collapsed with the men on it and the other waiting stormers beneath it. Passersby, who probably had every intention of buying tickets, on seeing the opportunity, instantly transformed into stormers and trampled over the fallen fence, with the other stormers still smooshed beneath it.
That, ladies and gentlemen, was worth the price of admission. As for Mr Arnold’s objection to “The Greens,” well I have news for him. “The Greens” was always there, it was called the North Stand. In my time, this pavilion was occupied primarily by the younger generation and people with the “good hair” who typically have a very fleeting interest in the steel pan and, as is the case today, are there for the lime. There was however one important distinction. As rowdy as the lime got, regardless of how many purpose-built, coffin-shaped coolers were hauled into the venue, there always appeared to be a modicum of respect for the steelbands. When the bands played, the stands usually fell silent and erupted in raucous applause at the end of every performance.
I have not attended the competition in many years so I am not sure what the set-up is now but according to the news reports it is natural to come to the conclusion that this concept of a fete within Panorama is inimical to the interests of the panmen who work so hard for very little pay to deliver the best on their stage. Far be it from me to rail against evolution (even of an undesirable nature) but does the worthless party atmosphere have to infiltrate every aspect of our culture? We have already lost the parade of the bands and the music; the calypso tents are like speakeasies for what was once our legitimate music culture, and the costume design, well this is gone and we have to accept that. Pan Trinbago must recognise that the only remaining asset of T&T Carnival culture is the steel pan, and as the governing body it is its sworn duty to preserve this last vestige of what is unique about our Carnival.
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