How Barbadian Cultural Forms Are Appreciated, Presented, and Assessed at NIFCA.
Barbados’ ongoing challenge is the lack of rigor in exploration and investigation, research and education. This contributes to the lack of recognition of cultural practices in Barbados that we deserve.Dr. John Hunte
This is a response to the article entitled, found on the Barbados Today Online news feed dated November 1st, 2016. I would advise the CEO of Pinelands Creative Workshop (PCW), Rodney Grant, to give his argument sharper focus and context. I support his advocacy for indigenous cultural forms in the National Independence Festival of the Creative Arts (NIFCA) but stop short of crying down the institution. ‘Farce’ connotes something that is ‘empty’ and ‘ridiculous’, to indicate absurdity. I do not share this view and was relieved to read a response agreeing that cultural expression in Barbados is much more nuanced than Grant suggests. Barbados’ ongoing challenge is the lack of rigor in exploration and investigation, research and education. This contributes to the lack of recognition of cultural practices in Barbados that we deserve.
Grant’s claim that “NIFCA is a poor reflection of Barbadian reality … at a time when we are celebrating independence” only begins to make sense if what Grant proposes is an Afro-“Barbadian reality”. Further, the audacity of Grant to flag ‘authenticity’ (to determine what is established or genuine) is a bold claim as the leader of the longest surviving community group in Barbados. If there is a continued under-representation of Afro-centric cultural forms in performing arts at NIFCA, is it just a reflection of the adjudication process even though there are PCW members on the judging panel or do community groups take responsibility for this continued malaise?
After all, the divestment of public funding to community groups in the 1980s and then to the NCF since its inception in 1984 was to address this imbalance. PCW has been successful in its social transformation. Is this not reflected in decisive penetration of its cultural programmes? Is the education system supportive of these policies of integration? What of the education specialists and programmes like CHEKS (Cultural Historical Exposure for Kids In Schools)? Further, is there an issue where schools, community groups, dance academies and tertiary institutions are still unequipped to teach and perform these cultural forms? Is it that the groups themselves find it difficult to prepare adequately for NIFCA? Are stages and staging really adequate for community group performances?
As a longstanding NIFCA participant, PCW presented works that reflect Afro-Barbadian indigenous practices in dance, through displays and interpretations of landship and masquerade, through the portrayal of children’s games, and through the celebration of Spiritual Baptists. They have also presented cultural forms that embrace a Pan-Caribbean Afro-centric traditions and practices – i.e. Bélé, Calenda and other forms indigenous to Trinidad, repertory that has evolved through PCW’s links to the Malik Folk Group. Similarly, Israel Lovell Foundation has mirrored this model in its association with Trinidadian choreographer Gregor Breedy. Both collaborations have resulted in the manifestation of significant NIFCA award-winning work by both groups over the years. These interconnections are important. These relationships demonstrate the fluid and continuous migration of peoples and cultures of African heritage in our communities in the Caribbean that persists from pre-columbian times through to the contemporary.
Stay tuned for part 2 next week!
Culture Clinic is a weekly column crafted by Dr. John Hunte. Photography by Adrian Richards.