R. Rose
September 3, 2004

Let’s use every space for development

Last weekend over one million people gathered within the limited confines of the Notting Hill – Ladbroke Grove – Westbourne Park area in west London to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Britain’s biggest street festival, the Notting Hill Carnival. It was a potent demonstration of the remarkable triumph of human spirit that this Festival could rise from very humble beginnings in 1964 to attract revelers and spectators from all over Europe today.{{more}}
The Notting Hill Carnival speaks volumes about the capacity of Caribbean people to overcome all sorts of odds and to make their mark in the world. It has certainly not been easy in Notting Hill, the organizers of the Festival having to battle with skepticism, racism and even downright hostility from official and non-official sources just to establish the Carnival as a legitimate Festival. They have had to endure sporadic outbreaks of violence, police-civilian clashes and even the self-destruction “bad boy behaviour” which some Caribbean people exhibit to the detriment of the advancement of their people and culture as a whole.
Even in 2004, many sections of the British mainstream media even ignored the Festival altogether (yes, ignoring the presence of more than a million persons on the streets of Britain while devoting hours and pages to a quarter million demonstrating in New York). When not silent, they chose to “colour” any report on the Festival with some report (for example, “one person was killed” – out of a million?). On the morning of the Big Day itself (Monday 30th), T.V reports were giving a background like “riots broke out in Carnival in 1976”, so many persons were arrested in 2003 or 2002 etc. Let’s wait until the next World Cup or European Cup and see if they would tell us how many football riots have ensued, how many arrests, deaths, etc!
In spite of all this negativity, the Caribbean continues to make its mark. In Notting Hill, as on Labour Day in New York or Caribana in Toronto. The Caribbean civilization puts its cultural stamp on those communities and cities to which we have emigrated. It is almost like a roll-back of colonial conquest, this time making our own imprint in those cities just as other immigrant communities – the Jews, Irish, Italians etc. have done. The missing link is how to maximize this cultural presentation and to turn it into a conscious developmental thrust.
Because many in our society, whilst enjoying Carnival, do not understand its historical significance, we become victims of those who believe it is a mere ‘sinful’, ‘pagan’ expression. Even many of our policy-makers, save for a short term revenue concept; do not see the interconnection between Carnival, cultural development and socio-economic development as a whole. On the streets of Notting Hill and eastern Parkway, there is a tantalizing display of Caribbean culinary talents as much as our skill in craft and music. Are we channeling those to the benefit of the development of our society as a whole? Where are the many Caribbean restaurants and entertainment houses to sustain that outpouring of skills we witness in the various Carnivals?
With the world closing in on our opportunities, it is vital that we use every avenue we can to secure developmental space. Shouldn’t our Tourist Boards, Hotel Associations, Investment Promoters etc not be looking to take advantage of Notting Hill, Caribana and Labor Day? Can we not look for a joint effort in collaboration with the National Lottery and the CDC to make our pitch in these Caribbean Festivals? With Kevin Lyttle now a global figure, shouldn’t we now embark on such an effort? Surely, it’s not beyond us!
My primary purpose at Notting Hill was to help promote Windwards bananas in general and fair trade bananas in particular. If, without resources, we can get the voluntary support of British citizens, overwhelmingly white, to do it, what can be achieved by a joint resource-backed campaign. As my appreciation went out to those volunteers from Banana Link and Positive Sounds from the U.K. who annually go on the streets to promote our interests, so too is my disappointment deep about the lack of involvement of our own Caribbean communities and people at home with the expressed solidarity of our British friends.
SVG in particular, unlike Grenada for instance, has a very low key presence in the Notting Hill Festival. Exposure to one million people and few SVG flags, products, promoters! We must be crazy, we cannot afford to let such opportunities pass! Are those in charge listening?