Our Readers' Opinions
February 18, 2005
The seeds of our culture – growth or extinction?

EDITOR: The word ‘culture’ is one we hear fairly often, and has come narrowly to mean ‘entertainment’. But in scientific or biological terms a culture is a group of organisms that are grown in prescribed conditions favourable to the culture’s growth.{{more}}

‘Cultivate’ is the action word that relates to culture and to cultivate is to encourage growth or expansion of something. The word cultivate is used to refer to farming crops, but it also means to improve or develop something by study or education, to educate a person or group. In this context cultural education is an education that promotes growth and expansion of the whole child in a favourable learning environment.

However ‘culture’ as we usually hear the word refers to performance or entertainment, sometimes a traditional one, and most often associated with a tourist attraction. This limited interpretation has redefined what culture means to us as a people, it has made us think of culture as associated with tourists and affluent classes and has given way to the notion that ordinary people don’t have culture, that they are in fact ‘uncultured’.

But nothing could be further from the truth because the culture we can claim to be our own is actually agri-culture- the practise of growing things and understanding the conditions that make them grow – an action which reflects the true meaning of the word. Our farmers and people in rural communities in this sense are the real owners of culture. Farming has been and still is the dominant way of life for most Vincentians.

Interestingly, this view of culture has never been used for developing a tourism product that is based on the indigenous culture. In other parts of the world, the fastest growing tourism products are – agri-tourism and rural tourism.

But in our haste to copy commercial and unsustainable tourism of other islands, we have developed a new meaning of the word culture: ‘entertainment’- an escape from and separate from how we live. But culture is really about daily lives, customs and habits, what people eat, how they speak, what they grow, and how they go about their daily lives. Culture evolves through a way of life.

By commercialising culture it has been removed from the people – there is no cultural education in schools and cultural events are often financially outside the reach of ordinary people. Community culture is frowned upon as something to eradicate. The practice of agriculture is dwindling and seen as something lowly – not an occupation, business or science that it really is and certainly not encouraged as a subject for study in schools.

Real culture is cultivated and for something to grow, it must have roots. The predominant modern culture, does not have its roots here in the region, and like our tourism product, modern culture has been imported from industrialised countries. We can’t lay true claim to this second-hand culture, it is transient, a fashionable fad that makes us copyists. It doesn’t use or develop our own creativity. We cannot build an authentic civilisation with a second-hand culture.

The holders of culture in the rural communities are marginalised by the dominant second hand culture. The closeness to natural elements and the land only exists now within a few rural communities. Our understanding of these elements is fast disappearing as we see nature as something to control and dominate rather than work with.

In his address at Carifesta in 1992 Trinidadian writer Earl Lovelace said of people in farming communities:

“These are people I have tremendous respect for and I believe that in the village and in the countryside these people are the salt of the earth – what they have maintained is very important for us.

“I am saying to those of you who live in the country that you do not have to feel inferior to anybody, that you do not have to hanker after the baubles and the bright lights of the city. You should feel solidified by the culture that you have among you, before you seek to give it over for something else.”

The writer implores country people to be proud of what they have, even though they may see others trying to escape from it, forsaking it for a form of development that robs them of their own culture.

As a society we treat the earth and agriculture, the science of the soil, as something to be cleared away, not something on which our future rests. And in chasing the values of industrial city life where people rarely touch the earth, or dip their toes in the sea, we must weep for our islands whose beauty is no longer something that we connect with to create appropriate cultural forms.

The first step to reclaiming cultural identity is to become aware of the natural environment, and how to take care of it, how to harness it and use technology sustainably. Cultural education gives us this understanding.

The next step is to create and produce using that understanding, whether it is cooking a meal, starting a business, painting a picture, building a house or designing a tourism product.

In this way an authentic island culture can be cultivated before the seeds disappear forever, and the uniqueness of our cultural identity can become a genuine economic asset.

Vonnie Roudette