Back to Reality
Dr. Fraser- Point of View
July 21, 2023
Back to Reality

2023 Carnival is now over. Well perhaps not entirely, for winners of the different shows are awaiting their prizes so that they can close their chapter on another carnival. As a member of the Publication Committee of the CDC I wrote in its 1987 Carnival magazine celebrating “Ten Years of Mas and Fun in the July sun”, an article “Introduction and Overview of Carnival”. I stated then “This is, however, not only an occasion for celebration. There is need for reflection. It is only by such reflection that we can prepare ourselves for moving on. St. Vincent’s Carnival is indeed besieged by mammoth problems, some of which are indicated elsewhere in the magazine. Carnival has developed to the point where it has outgrown the meagre resources put at its disposal. Unless the authorities realise the tremendous value of carnival and provide the means to ensure its continued growth, the creativity and vision of the people who make mas can only continue to be stifled. There is one consolation, however, carnival will never die. The festival has overcome obstacles in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”

That was thirty-six years ago. As we prepare for Carnival 2024, some of the issues remain but carnival will continue.

For now, we are back to reality. Traditionally carnival was about mas. The authorities in 1879 attempted to stop the festival, complained about people disguising themselves with masks. Riots followed. But there was another aspect with people assuming different guises outside of their normal selves. So, Marcia McIntosh as Obeah Woman was Queen of the Bands in 1980; Anne Boyea was the 1969 winner with “Lakimi”- Goddess of Prosperity. For King of Bands 1969 Sheggy John was “The Demon of Bird of Siam” and in 1980 Ken Browne won with Chatoyer.

Others, particularly women, who were ordinary masqueraders played roles not matching their natural profiles. So, to some extent what was involved was a sense of escape from one’s normal position; for some, a relief, a brief escape from accustomed challenges and worries.

With Carnival over it is back to square one. So today, among the challenges faced are providing books and uniforms for children at school. The everyday commitments remain, meeting bills for utilities, for food and transportation. We are among the poorest of the Eastern Caribbean countries with high rates of unemployment among young people and staggering poverty levels. Economic challenges are mounting as we attempt to continue diversification from an economy that was once heavily dependent on agriculture, particularly bananas. Efforts into developing the tourist industry have multiplied since the establishment of a new international airport, but we are yet to see a tourism take off.

Hotels are being built but the tourism product is still undeveloped. Many challenges remain. This can be seen in the fact that we are still dependent on the importation of skilled workers for the construction and tourism industries. Why this remains so is a mystery and is really a statement about our approach to education. One of our major failings is in product development. What do we really produce? Is our strategy on target to reduce imports and develop exports. Would the establishment of the new port boost imports or facilitate exports? Many questions must be asked about our plan for economic development.

We had hoped over the years that the creativity that went into Carnival would have extended beyond carnival, but this does not seem to be happening. We had at one time prided ourselves on our costume designing, but the costumes now displayed at Carnival leave much to be desired as they lack the creativity that we once had. This year we seem to have attracted many visitors, primarily Vincentians living abroad. Have we been monitoring the impact this has on the economy. Private parties and shows attract large numbers and provide employment for many of our artistes. Information on its economic impact could inform us about the way forward. In the meantime, our emphasis will be on addressing the economic realities. Unfortunately, we provide more support to attract foreign investors and little to encourage domestic investment. In any forward movement our people must not be left behind. They must be more than hewers of wood and drawers of water. They were the ones who built this country after emancipation in 1838. This is a story I will continue next week.

  • Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.