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Independent, my foot! Part I: Clothes make the moron
On Sunday, T&T will celebrate 51 years of Independence, which is truly a remarkable achievement, when you consider that we’ve never had a single firetrucking original thought. (Not counting the writers, visual artists and musicians, of course; which, admittedly, is like saying capitalism is just like communism, not counting the bits about private ownership, taxation and workers.)
Go down to the Savannah on Sunday morning and the only difference between the parade you’ll see then and the one you could have watched in 1962 (or, indeed, any queen’s birthday celebration in any year preceding while we were a so-called “colony” instead of a so-called country), is that the people supposedly in charge might be a little darker in complexion, and it might be a different clown fainting in the hot sun after sweating buckets in his jacket and tie.
You cannot get clearer proof of the lack of independence in T&T than the style of formal dress we’ve not just voluntarily, but eagerly, chosen. Flying—no, spitting—in the face of the several warm country heritages upon which we might draw to create a comfortable, elegant style of formal dress of our own—our African, Indian, Middle-Eastern sartorial ancestors, to name three—we have chosen instead to ape the style of dress of the people who conquered these islands 500 years ago. It’s like we haven’t noticed, in 51 years of imaginary Independence, that Trinidad is ten degrees north of the equator and it’s firetrucking hot! All of our leading male figures going to an “Independence” parade or the swearing-in of a new president or calypso king puts on a jacket-and-tie to demonstrate that he is more important than the man in the khurta-and-dhoti or kaftan or kente cloth next to him; even if the same act also demonstrates he is stupid.
You can see how foolish it is to blindly ape the dress of our former conquerors if you imagine our historical positions reversed: suppose it was Trinidad that had, somehow, embarked upon a seafaring expedition a la Columbus in the late 15th century which resulted in the “discovery” of England and Europe. Imagine, too, that Jared Diamond’s guns, germs and steel had fallen our way, not theirs, and we had ruthlessly squeezed every bit of wealth we could out of England and had kept the bulk of the English population illiterate and economically weak.
Suppose, even, that we’d played the divide-and-rule card as well as England did against us (so that, today, the Bajan can comfortably genuinely resent the Trinidadian dollar that might save Barbados’ economy, and the Trinidadian on his mainland can scorn his Grenadian or Vincentian cousin as a “small islander”). Suppose everything that had been used against us in our sad, violent history had been used against England, and that England had been as thoroughly firetrucked as us, down to being “given” Independence when we just didn’t give a flying firetruck about keeping her around any more.
Suppose our historical positions had been exactly reversed, but our climates had remained the same. Do you think that, 51 years after we dumped them, the English would be as stupid as us, and dress, in the middle of winter, in T-shirts and shorts and slippers? And the only reason they would do it is because, 500 years ago, they were beaten into submission by us, and, today, even while they’re freezing to firetrucking death, they just can’t wrap it around their puny minds that the style of dress is simply wrong for their climate? Independent, my a--! The worst thing is that there will be no one in any real position of power who will read this and realise he is foolish to wear a monkey suit and, too besides, is only doing it because, 51 years after he stopped playing, the monkey remains in awe of the organ-grinder.
In the past, people like Lloyd Best had the sartorial cojones to wear sensible formal clothes, like fancy dashikis, in the Red House, but none of the jokers making up the rest of the Parliamentary pack had the courage or brains to follow their lead; indeed, I heard with my own ears at least one long-serving Parliamentarian (no names, because people might realise it was Colm Imbert,) dismiss Gerald Yetming’s elegant Meiling shirt, in which anyone with any sense would be proud to marry or bury, as “a pajama top”! You wouldn’t need anything to make it clearer to ourselves that we do not enjoy the slightest form of real independence than our conviction that we must put on suits in the hot sun and sweat until we faint and fall down to show that we are properly dressed—but there are actually two! (You could expect a trinity in all things from a place called Trinidad, even stupidity.) Next week, let’s consider how anyone can call themselves independent when, having admitted that they can’t dress themselves, they also accept that they can’t feed themselves!
n BC Pires is in the pen dancing and mashing corns. E-mail your athlete’s foot powder to him at [email protected]