T&T is yet to benefit in any substantial manner, while helping to develop carnivals in almost 300 countries around the world, says Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Dr Lincoln Douglas. He says part of the problem is the lack of proper management from local interest groups. He says his ministry is working towards transforming Carnival from a festival to a more sustainable industry.
Q: Dr Douglas, what is it with that white wide-brim hat of yours...is it a fashion statement?
A: (Laughing at his Nicholas Towers office, at Brian Lara Promenade, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday afternoon) I really don’t have an answer to the question ...That’s the Japanese concept for the alignment of energy...feng shui.
OK. How is Carnival coming along...any hiccups?
I think it is coming along fine. We are moving towards a harmonious Carnival. We hope that all the parts of the celebration will work well and that our involvement in Carnival this year would really jump-start us to a serious transition...to an industry.
Hasn’t it always been said that Carnival is an industry?
Yes. But to have an industry, there is a whole set of variables that need to be in place: production, processes, distribution etc.
Are you suggesting that the industry aspect hasn’t come of age as yet?
I think we have mastered the festival part of it, that is, the product, development of the product, identification... We have come pretty good at that. But in order to create the festival, somehow we have to take advantage of all the carnivals that we are responsible for around the world, which in our estimate is almost up to 300 by now.
If we can take the credit for the starting up of carnivals all over the globe, why shouldn’t we be able to derive some significant financial benefits from those carnivals, Mr Minister?
Well, that’s where the concept of an industry comes in. Because the industry takes up all the various things like the product, the market for the product, delivery structure and what to do with the returns that you get: how to reinvest in that. Now, these things have been happening on a kind of ad hoc basis and the ministry is focusing on how we could really encourage our makers of the products to get more involved, and it has to do with a lot of support—from corporate citizens, especially.
Dr Douglas, you have been intimately involved in many aspects of our culture. What’s your personal view on the parading of virtually half-naked women on the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday?
(A surprised expression followed by a deep chuckle) My personal view is that this has to do with the moral and social implication of Carnival. We have not in T&T made that a study: what are the moral and social implications of Carnival? And we have to admit that there are some adverse effects of these practices; but in reality, in most cases, you cannot really legislate morality. I have spoken to the bandleaders on a few occasions about what can be done.
What did you suggest?
I had suggested that we created mas that had high artistic value, high commercial value and that we protect our people from harm or from any kind of moral degradation.
Is the moral degradation reflected in the half-nakedness, particularly of the women masqueraders?
Well, morality really comes from the state of your mind, right? Because there are countries where people dress half-naked...it is their way of life and they walk the streets half-naked, so it really has to do with an interpretation of your mind. The whole atmosphere of Carnival promotes a kind of—if you want to call it—sexuality.
That in itself is what creates the moral conundrum that we face or that we might be in, because it is attractive in one sense, and the band leaders’ response was that they have tried. That they tried to create different kinds of mas and people just won’t buy it.
Dr Douglas, I am sure you could recall the glorious days of our mas with fantastic creations from bandleaders like Stephen Lee Heung, George Bailey, Wayne Berkley, Edmund Hart, Irwin McWilliams, and within recent years, Brian Mc Farlane brought back some presentations reminiscent of those days. Where and when did we lose that creativity?
I can’t say when we lost it. But you know, a lot of the mas leaders are business people and they kind of go with what the consumption is. You see it is more than just Carnival, it is the whole society that has to put a social value on certain types of behaviour.
Does the Roman Catholic band counter the two-pieces-of-cloth-and-beads costumes?
It might be that it is time for the people who don’t like what is going on to present their views in a way that suggests: ‘Hey, there can be something else.’ This is how a more civilised society or a more developed society makes the difference. Part of the struggle is to create the power of a civil society to provide a counterbalance to what is happening.
Therefore, what is your personal take on this issue?
My personal view is that I would prefer more creative mas. I think that would augur well not only for the country’s sense of personal morality, but in terms of tourism. There is still a lot of creativity that exists in children’s mas...where mas is an experience as opposed to a service industry which is (what the) adult mas (has become).
Very well. Several years ago, Dr Douglas, the three interest groups in Carnival—calypsonians, masqueraders and steelbands—were charged with the task of becoming self-sufficient by the Government. Yet, each year, they still go cap in hand begging for State funds to run their shows. Why? I personally am not sure why they do but I would proffer that management is the primary issue...
I think Pan Trinbago is the only one which made any significant movement towards achieving that goal?
They all have been trying to work creative ways to increase their income without depending on the taxpayers’ purse and that is the reason why they were brought into place, as you have quite rightly said, to be given an opportunity to become self-sufficient. Most of them claim they are not given enough resources to deliver in such a way that they would make a profit. Of course, some of them turn it around on the Government.
But, of course, it has to do with vision and management: to be able to create new opportunities of making an income and the State would have to find ways of pushing them more and more towards that end. The dependency syndrome is part of the colonial brainwashing that says you can’t do anything other people could do for you, that other people are better than you, and if we don’t get something, you cannot do anything.
Dr Douglas, do you believe the day would come when our female mas costumes would exactly copy the Brazilian model?
Are you talking about the nudity?
(Laughs) Well, you know culture is not static. We make our culture every day by our thoughts, our ideas, our words and our actions, and unless the people rise up and declare what they want their culture to be, then the few people who are doing things will determine what it will be.
Do you buy the saying of some that your culture is like your face: you cannot run away from it?
Well, you cannot run away from your culture but you can certainly make your face look good. It is not cool to be ugly (loud and prolonged laughter) I really don’t think that (people are ugly), but some people make themselves ugly by the things they do and they say.
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