June 13, 2013
Dear Editor, Over the past week I have started to put pen to paper several times, only to be overwhelmed by another mindboggling piece of news. However, after reading the recent editorial in The Nassau Guardian I decided it was time.
I was first amazed and outraged when I read the headlines from the budget presentation which rolled the words Junkanoo and Mardi Gras together in the same sentence. What utter nonsense is this to state that our 'in da belly' cultural street festival is not good enough to stand on its own merit? Whose misguided idea is it to try to usurp the power of Junkanoo by cloaking it as a week-long Mardi Gras copycat event in order for it to be 'good enough' to present to a visitor? Are you going to tell me that we, the Bahamian people, cannot design and produce our own weeklong festival using our own creative experts? What a slap in the face. What a blatant put down. What a low blow.
It is obvious that 40 years after independence we are still fighting the same mental battle - that is, 'foreign is better'. Unfortunately, although society continues to perpetuate this myth, I vehemently oppose this statement and I refuse to acknowledge this fallacy. So here are 'my-stories'.
We need to 'see what we lookin' at' and anchor ourselves in the strength of our art and culture. It is all basic common sense. We come from a proud and rich heritage of intuitive creativity and innate talent which we are burying deeper and deeper from view. We need to tell 'our-stories' of how our ancestors made homes from the local materials around them (native pine and stones) that were suited to the climate and the environment; how they made household items from straw that they plaited in all sorts of magnificent ways; how they made boats for transportation on the surrounding seas that were designed for the peculiar area where they sailed; how they caught, reared and grew food that they cooked in delicious ways; how they celebrated with abandon with songs of praise and pain using instruments that they fashioned from the environment. These stories and so many others are a crucial and intricate parts of our country's survival.
Junkanoo is one particular aspect of this strong heritage that is created twice a year by a huge percentage of the population. We, in The Bahamas, are one of the few if not, in fact, the only country that still celebrates this festival with such vigor. Anyone who knows a true, true junkanoo knows that he will live, work and sleep junkanoo 24/7 to get his parade to Bay Street - what a magnificent feat. But do we truly appreciate the amazing talent and life-forming skills this product produces year after year? Junkanoo is, without a doubt, a celebration of the Bahamian Spirit - it is an innate part of the Bahamian being that cannot be taken from us. So why would we wish to dilute its power?
If we continue to look outside our shores for validation, we continue to erode our sense of self. Did you ever stop to think why our young people so readily embrace anything foreign and have no interest in what 'being Bahamian' means? It is because we have not provided them with a strong Bahamian alternative and they just don't care, nor care to know. We have not focused on continually telling them stories about this wonderful country, its heritage, culture and people in order to develop a Bahamian anchor that would instill and nurture in them examples of pride, self-respect, self-confidence and hope. (Note that this scope goes well beyond the narrow purview of political achievements).
When we became independent we threw out the baby with the bathwater and tipped the balance to the other extreme - thinking that if did not have the material goods that our former colonial masters had or that we saw daily through the 'snow' of our television sets, we had not 'arrived' so we were quick to abandon the 'old' ways. Up to this day we feel proud to speak with their accents, wear their three-piece suits and ties, don their wigs and gowns, or sport their long-sleeved hoodies (all of which are completely unsuited to our weather and environment). We continue to build houses and office buildings with non-operational windows and furnish them with carpets and air conditioning instead. We eat more and more greasy fast foods from foreign franchises. And the list goes on and on. Ask yourselves: Where have these actions brought us?
We cannot be ashamed of being 'who we is' because it just doesn't work. If we insist on hiding our true selves beneath a superficial coating from somewhere else, we perpetuate living a lie. It is basic common sense and balance but unfortunately those who are running the country (and this encompasses any and all of the political parties) do not get it.
Do you know what I think holds this country down? The government getting in the way of the innate and natural creativity of the people who can do for themselves if given the opportunity. Foreign investment cannot be considered the sole solution to our challenges. What we need more focus on is how to invest in our own people first and make them self-reliant so that we can create a self-sustaining society.
Foreign investment should not overshadow our intrinsic worth. Unfortunately instead of the proud hardworking independent 'doers' of yesteryear, we have been trained to become 'lazy dependent beggars' waiting for a handout and for political patronage. This needs to change.
Why are we not seriously planning and developing the farming and seafood industries so that we can sustain our food supply? Why are we not making it possible for Family Islanders to have access to Crown land to build their own five- to 10-room small bed and breakfast establishments to make their own mini-tourist hotels instead to building gigantic, unsustainable, behemoth buildings that are totally out of scale to the environment? Why are we not encouraging Bahamians to create more indigenous crafts so that visitors can buy authentic handmade bahamian souvenirs instead of going to that disgraceful foreign-saturated flea market on Bay Street?
With the economy in shambles and job prospects slim, the people need help; but they need a hand up, not a hand out and government should be the conduit not the end result. We need to be creative and develop simple, basic common sense plans that we can manage. Imagine if we could make the society one in which we the people are intricately involved in the decision-making process and are invited to sit around the table as the rightful experts on all things Bahamians. Do you think Jamie Oliver could cook better crab and rice than Ma Sue in Andros, or Martha Stewart could bake better flour cake than Ms. Bella in Cat Island, or 'So & So Company' from wherever could build a better clapboard house and a rock oven than Mr. Ferguson in Long Island, or 'Mr. Super Star' in 'that other country' could play rake and scrape better than Bo Hog & The Rooters? Do you get my drift? We need to research, acknowledge and lay claim to our own people and give due credit for the special skills and talents that we have so that we can look amongst ourselves for validation of who we are as a people.
That leads me on to the second upsetting report following the Mardi Gras/Junkanoo debacle when the Ministry of Tourism had a big time announcement touting how it will build 'Italian Villages' on the Family Islands in order to attract more Italian visitors. I had to take to my bed on that one. Italians come from a society that has revered its art and culture for centuries. When are we going to revere ours?
The third news report was from the prime minister and minister of tourism who are having talks with Tyler Perry (who is the owner of an island in The Bahamas) about plans for him to market the country. This continues in the vein of their proud boast of the current multi-million dollar ad campaign which is showcasing Rick Fox and Shakara Ledard (who at least have Bahamian roots) along with the foreign illusionist David Copperfield, who also owns a Bahamian island. I would like to ask how much of this multi-million dollar budget has been shared with the world-class trained Bahamian graphic artists, photographers and media consultants who are right here in the country trying to make a living?
For the closing 'my-story' I would like to tell you about the time, several years ago, when a representative from an extremely high-profile, well-known foreign entity was sent to interview my late husband, Jackson Burnside, about Bahamian culture. They proceeded to tell him about how exciting "Junkaroo" (this is not a spelling mistake) was and how they could use "Junkaroo" to market the country. That was the last straw. But unfortunately as indicated above, we continue to perpetuate this blatant and disgraceful form of misrepresentation of our country.
Governments, be sensible and show some respect. Be humble enough to say "I don't know" and ask for help from those who know best. Let the Bahamian people be the face of our advertising campaigns and let our own art, culture and heritage be our selling points. Be man or woman enough to ask for assistance because you do not have a clue. Be prepared to pay the same good money you happily spread around so freely outside the country and receive constructive advice and lessons using Bahamian expertise (outside of the incestuous realms of the civil service).
You can choose from a long list of local creative experts such as Patricia Meicholas, Charles Carter, Ronnie Butler, Fred Ferguson, Patricia Bazard, Max Taylor, John Cox, Marion Bethel, Nicolette Bethel, Robert Bain and so many others. Let them 'learn you' about what The Bahamas is all about and how we can sustain ourselves by being 'who we is and not who we ain't'. In addition, dialogue with successful local businessmen and let them 'learn you' how to run a successful business. You obviously do not realize that you cannot become an expert overnight just because you put a red plate on your car.
Click here to read more at The Nassau Guardian