R. Rose
June 18, 2004
The Rum Shop and Society

People all over the world have historically used the market place not only as a medium of exchange of goods and services but also as a social market place, a forum for the exchange of ideas, experiences and interaction. The “marketplace” used here is not necessarily The market as we know it traditionally but rather any such point of exchange. In today’s modern technological world, it may not even be a physical space.{{more}}
In our culture, there is of course the market, the fish bay, the shops of varying types – barber shop, hairdressing saloon, the village shop, the food stall and the omnipresent rum shop. Vincentian and Caribbean cultural experience is such that sometimes, oftimes, there may be a doubling up, a tripling, or even a multiplication of the functions, all in one establishment. And it doesn’t have to be large either. We are famous for a “shop” selling dry goods, cooked food, kerosene oil and alcohol all in one, sometimes with a domino table or “games room” to boot, encamped in one single space.
This type of establishment serves both as a commercial centre as well as a social meeting point. It is where the heated arguments – about cricket, politics, religion, you name it – rage. It is where the commess and latest lowdown abound, where the advice (good, bad and ugly) is profferred and where social ideas are expounded, refuted, developed and disseminated. The rum shop/village shop is as much a part of our history and culture as we ourselves.
One, however, must be careful not to glorify this product of Caribbean lives, while there are positives there are also many negatives.
Many a murder case has had its origin in its excesses in the rum shops. To this one must add the negative influences on children, sent to buy bread or some household item in the multi-purpose shop and subjected to a sumptuous treat of vile utterings and lewd behaviour. True, in days past there was always a more respected figure of sobriety around who would keep the ‘loose tongue’ in check when they were getting “outtahand”, especially if children were in the shop. But as moral standards deteriorate and the “couldn’t care a damn” attitude becomes more prevalent, there is less and less of that restraining factor.
So we have a virtual free-for-all, with the old faults and weaknesses being worsened by the new aggression of the youth. The ever-present “Strong Rum”, that Vincentian symbol of potent drunkenness, in combination with other substances and influences, increasingly make today’s rum shop a danger to the young. No where is this particularly evident than in the Central Bus Stop, “Little Tokyo”, a beautiful idea turned ugly, which seems to bring out the worst among many of its patrons, and the behaviour which characterises it being of no credit, either to Vincentian or Japanese.
We must therefore find a way to straddle this tiger we have placed in our midst and to avoid new ones springing up. The solutions are neither simple nor ready-made, for the shop operators rely on the business for the upkeep of themselves and their families. They made a contribution to Vincentian economic and social life. So as we discuss frankly and openly (a dialogue which should be encouraged) how to handle the situation, it is imperative that we do not create other monsters.
This is why I was particularly heartened to hear the pronouncement of Prime Minister Gonsalves that no rum shops will be allowed on the site of the Craft Market being constructed in Paul’s Lot, and that no liquor licences will be granted for that purpose. It is to be a children-friendly, family-friendly environment with a Learning Resource Centre adjacent. Hats off to you Mr. Prime Minister for your courage to come out and provide bold leadership on this ticklish issue. It is an issue if one is not careful can become a political football, playing on the shortsightedness of many of our people.
Yet one must stand up and be counted. There is a place for our rum shops, I too enjoy the interaction. But other societies have acted to try and protect children from excesses and to ensure an atmosphere that is not abusive, violent nor vulgar. We too have to take a more enlightened, progressive approach to the problems of our society.