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Framework for a multicultural policy
Whether we like it or not, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the reality is that T&T is a multicultural country. Governing such countries poses distinctive and complex challenges which, if not properly addressed, can lead to social chaos with economic ruin a distinct possibility. The problem here is compounded by the historic fact that up to a decade or two ago, the cultural space, to all intents and purposes, was seen as the realm of one dominant culture.
The other cultures were in effect ignored or tolerated once they were not afforded their rightful share of the national cultural pie. Or in a culinary analogy, aloo pie was fine for Chaguanas, Penal and other similar rural settings; for the national and official stage it had to be potato pie. In this scenario, by way of example, Hindu and Baptist cultural practices were reflective of the former, Carnival and Christmas the latter.
Now that the historically dominant culture has to share space and resources with other cultural actors, naturally there would be resistance, reluctance and petulance. To avoid unnecessary and disruptive actions on those clamouring for their rightful due and those fighting to keep the status quo, a clearly articulated and transparent policy is required.
Bearing in mind that all the major cultures are recognised and are placed on the national profile through the granting of holidays, the best approach to adopt now would be one of facilitating the various groups to develop, celebrate and market their cultural practices through events and festivities. Devolution of power, despite decades of talk, seems to be foreign to the governance DNA of the country.
The national psyche seems hardwired for the benevolent leader model, one who dispenses patronage to the favoured and licks to “ill flavoured.” This is reflected in the general absence of functioning village councils and the requests by all and sundry to not speak with the line minister but the Prime Minister.
The cultural field may prove to be the most fertile ground to cultivate the “take-charge-of-our-destiny movement” to supplant the existing dependency syndrome. A large percentage of cultural activities are group and community-based with a significant cohort of experienced practitioners. So the policy should be to not fully fund but partially fund cultural activities.
These groups should seek to acquire funding from their membership and support base, the private sector and this can then be supplemented by the State to an established limit. The proviso here is that the activities must contribute to nation building through acknowledging the official cultural policy of the State and the developing of the ethos of the respect for law and order and the rights of all segments of society, in addition to transferring artistic and cultural traditions, norms, event management skills and social cohesion.
Events that are commercially oriented should not have access to state funding unless the State invests as a business partner with clearly articulated, numerated and quantified economic gains. Such activities should however be facilitated by the provision of the necessary infrastructure for the State will earn revenue from them through the appropriate taxes and the national economy would further benefit from the employment that arises.
A clearly articulated policy on cultural tourism, if implemented, can contribute to the much hyped economic transformation. In this regard, T&T has a distinctive advantage as we have historical links with western Europe, western Africa, China and India. The latter two are rising world powers that can be sources of not only business investment and partnerships but also of tourists.
There are strong diaspora-based links with both the USA and Canada which provide further potential for culture-based tourism. Our multicultural heritage, instead of being a source of division, can be leveraged into a significant income stream. This however requires a policy framework that allows all cultures to be at the national table so that they would be able to fully recognise their cultural and economic potentials.
Culture is a major actuator of economics and because of the country’s historical cultural apartheid, the economy was not able to take advantage of this precious and valuable resource.
• Prakash Persad is the director of Swaha Inc
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