It is the opinion of Ms Ira Mathur that we have lost our way because we have lost our culture. I do not see T&T as a series of fragments, but as a rich tapestry: fairly recently united, unfathomably varied, but together nonetheless. I do not see a nation of fatalists, victims, and shiftless individuals. I see a nation replete with vibrant culture under siege. This is appreciated by Ms Mathur, but I believe the contours of the issue are different. We did not lose our culture; it is being subsumed by a culture of capitalism. Trinbago is not an irrevocable case nor is it the world’s highest carbon emitter. In the Caribbean alone, A Google maps search will reveal Puerto Rico has more KFC outlets, and Trinbago still does not have the highest murder rate in the region. T&T spends the most on crime compared to peers. I do not minimise our issues, for they are profound, but we must be precise. The fight for our Republic is teetering on an inflection point.
Most “nations” are artificial and founded on agreed-upon lies, which are often politely called myths or ideals. Americans have their Dream, the British have their Excellence. The lie we chose in order to move forward is that of some kind of racial paradise dancing in unison toward a prosperous future. There is still faith in this aim, even as we acknowledge there is no paradise without an underbelly. What we believe “prosperity” looks like is where the blame lies. It resides in the mindless search for profit, endless commercialisation and commodification, and the mimicking of oppressors who never quite left our shores, finances, or minds. This hunger did not come from thin air. It is part of the Trinbagonian story from the dawn of colonisation to this very millisecond.
History is in flux. Whose narrative prevails depends on who has power and what purpose it can serve at a particular present. I am one generation removed from explicit colonialism and not at all removed from the Commonwealth, neocolonial by nature. T&T is beautiful, flawed, and fraying at the edges. It is not because we do not know “our culture,” woven together out of many. We lost our way not because we do not speak Swahili, a language spoken by East Africans and not the enslaved West Africans Afro-Trinbagonians are descended from. It is not because the Indo-Trinbagonian descendants of the indentured do not speak languages from the Hindi Belt. Descendants of Africans and Indians are not the only people in Trinidad, and each smaller group retains customs. From where I stand, my generation is plugged into what is happening on the Continent and Subcontinent in culture. This engagement is not trivial, despite it probably needing to be more meditative as Ms Mathur contends.
While our common language is a dialect based off of our most recent coloniser’s, the languages of our ancestors are embedded in worship, song, and dance. They are not insignificant—this is cultural memory. It will not always look like a Eurocentric version. The method of cultural transmission in most African and Indian traditions is chiefly oral. Culture bowing to the dollar places it, and us, in danger. Ms Mathur is correct: we ought to be preserving our art forms and cultural markers in a more permanent, accessible way. However, it is unfair and inaccurate to pretend they are dead or nonexistent. There are pan workbooks, though I pray for my future children to be able to use their ears to play as many did before them. We are in an age where capitalism is quite literally killing us, entire ways of life, and the planet. It has not succeeded yet. We can find our way.