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In defence of our culture and academia

Published: 
Saturday, November 11, 2017

It is good to see people offering solutions for a change, rather than a litany of complaints. However, the solution offered by Ms Fatimah Mohammed of scrapping the Masters of Arts in Carnival Studies to alleviate the University of Trinidad and Tobago’s financial woes—suffers from seemingly illogical premises.

First, without considering the overall causes of the university’s financial crisis, chopping a programme was advocated—rather like Cinderella’s stepsister chopping off her big toe to fit her foot into the glass slipper. We know how well that went. What intervention in the crisis would such a move make? The department is not large nor does it command a larger portion of the university’s beleaguered funds than other, larger programmes.

Next, a Master’s degree was equated with a Bachelor’s degree. Both are important in establishing credibility and credentials. However, at the Masters level, one is also producing scholarship, affecting the discourse surrounding the discipline, changing the way the world understands the discipline. A Master’s degree, in other words, means simply that—Mastery of a given field. As with most formerly colonised spaces/places, our culture (multi-ethnic, chaotic, rich, and nourishing) has been parsed and parcelled by foreigners spending a few months here and then declaring themselves experts. A Master of Arts in Carnival Studies helps us reclaim our own.

Then you argue that the scope of carnival is narrow—not reflective of our multi-ethnic reality. I often wonder why once a certain ethnicity lays claim to anything it is suddenly exclusive. How, as Trinidadians, we do not assume this exclusivity with anything else. Doubles is a perfect example of an ethnic food having national/inclusive connotations. Better still, why do we default to European standards as neutral spaces/positions?

Why is it that it was dismissed that academic enquiry in carnival has the potential to create an inclusive space? Allowing us to see the linkages between Hosay and carnival, for example? The influence of tassa on soca rhythms to celebrate the fact that until the 1884 Hosay Riots Africans participated in Hosay and after the riots it was a regular sight, as Roaring Lion sang in “Mary Ann,” to see the “Indians with they Hosay coming down” on Carnival Monday and Tuesday?

However, the most illogical premise is that culture only has a dollar value as though a cultureless society can thrive; as though education can and should be monetised; as though ignoring our heritage and cultural intersections in the name of multi-ethnicity will actually create unity not discord?

Why discard the spaces/places that allow for in depth discussions of US? We—all races, all ethnicities—have developed carnival. We—all Trinbagonians—our zeitgeist, our ethos, fuel this national festival—this ritual of nationhood. Shouldn’t WE study this and understand it?

DR KELA NNARKA FRANCIS