Culture is an organic phenomenon that is a synthesis of a wide variety of customs, traditions, themes and histories that cut across national boundaries. Cultures originate from differing and varying geographies, nationalities and societies and over myriad years evolve into distinct types.
Therefore, it is inaccurate to speak of culture in a strictly geographic sense, as solely belonging to one people or society. Culture crosses boundaries and adapts to various influences from varied peoples and societies.
Consequently, West Indian themes, rhythms, cuisine, customs and traditions are a synthesis of European, American, African and even Asian influences. However, the West Indian cultural mosaic is a unique and precious culture in its own right. The West Indian way is an incredibly valuable and uniquely tropical blend that despite the poverty inherent in many West Indian communities remains the envy of the rest of the world.
Caribbean culture is a crucible of rich variety and colourful community that at core is one single way of life. Quadrille, Meringue, Parang, Bolero and steel pan; squash, cowbell, triangle and maracas; Banjo, sardine can, calabash and kettle drum; reggae and soca; cricket and soccer on a sandy beach; guavaberry and guyaberry; saltfish and aki; roti and curry mutton; sour sop and mauby; calypso and fungi; fish markets and meat markets; limbo and jump up; Batik and local craft; indigenous boat design and building; these are all aspects of a unique and distinct West Indian culture that is filled with flavor and harmony; old-worldly, tranquil and lovely.
A unique way of life that is fading away, disappearing into a black hole of US
sponsored corporate consumerism. The West Indies is a kaleidoscope of all that is best in Western culture, African flavor and tropical loveliness. But this West Indian way is increasingly under threat.
What is disturbing for the West Indies is her inability to fight US cultural penetration. Caribbean culture, albeit evolving from European colonialism and African slavery, is old world, genteel, cultivated, and close knit. This precious cultural paradigm has been one positive legacy of a tragic and oppressive past. How sad that the phenomenon of ‘’Americana’’ should be the destroyer of a heritage that is kindly, humane and uniquely West Indian.
West Indians are an attractive, laid back and culturally colourful peoples; they are also religious and God fearing. However this unique heritage appears to be under assault from a ‘’global Americana’’ that is intent upon spreading a new gospel of economic homogeneity and amorphous culture. A culture of ‘’Big Mac and Mickey Mouse;’’ ‘’gangsta rap and US sporting and entertainment icons;’’ that may drown out the West Indian’s unique cultural and historic individuality through the import of a dominant global capitalism and corporatism that is controlled by Wall Street and a motley of US billionaires.
An unmitigated albeit non-premeditated power thrust that replaces indigenous West Indian culture with a US brand that is uniform, cultureless, consumerist and insidious to local island culture and a quickly vanishing ‘’Caribbean way.’’
A major manifestation of ‘’Pax Americana is her effect on West Indian youth. From early, children grow up on a staple of US music and television. This lust for things American can develop into the adoption of a value system from the American street that glorifies violence, pornography, crass materialism and the like. This has led to a ‘’youth culture’’ especially among young males in the West Indies that is ghetto, criminal, mediocre and ultimately destructive.
The US has been a boon to the West Indian way of life, let’s not forget. The unprecedented security that West Indians experience owing to the US presence in the region, the economic benefits of the ubiquitous US tourist and investor, the low cost and varied products West Indian consumers enjoy especially from US owned businesses, educational and research opportunities, and much more, are all the result of the relationship the West Indies has with the US.
That does not mean there are no drawbacks. And the destruction of West Indian culture is a major inequity in that relationship.
In years past, traditions passed on enabled forbears to live on a difficult, unyielding and tough land. This precious knowledge of the past brought self sufficiency and contentment. Traditions and customs determined how a house was built; how to know when a hurricane was about to devastate; manual land cultivation techniques; cooking skills; livestock handling skills; local cooking and baking techniques; rock wall construction techniques; road and track construction skills; local dressmaking; fresh water conservation and traditional plumbing; local boat design and boatbuilding; fishing skills and techniques; song, music and dance; local theater; local history and storytelling; civil and communal behavior; self respect: the list is endless.
And all these past customs and traditions are lost daily as our elderly pass on and our young feel comfortable living a ‘’lifestyle’’ wholly dependent upon imported ideas and products, especially from a dominant USA.
Culture is critical to who West Indians are as a people. Culture is the what, where, why, when, how, and even who of community and society. Therefore Caribbean government, community and society must fight to save a unique Antillean cultural heritage.
That means that Cultural agencies should be given more teeth to determine the cultural trajectories of their jurisdictions. Furthermore, there must be increased investment in a culturally oriented education infrastructure, public libraries, museums, archive resources, culture workshops, and so on and so forth. And this will not be easy in the current economic environment.
However if the Caribbean fails in this area, we will all wake up one day to the fact that we have become another man’s poor carbon copy. But worst of all, we will find that we have lost our own splendid original.
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