Today is reality, tomorrow a promise, yesterday was history. Today we celebrate Divali. Last Friday we celebrated the First Peoples. In June we celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr and in December we will celebrate Christmas.
We celebrate the arrival of our Chinese ancestors, the day that slaves were emancipated and the repeal of the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance. We celebrate our separate histories collectively, which itself deserves celebration. Yet we don’t. These “fragments of history” that we pay tribute to are our promise; a promise that is likely to remain unrealised until we chose to wholeheartedly and institutionally embrace the uniqueness of our collective reality. In other words, it is time for some form of a “we are one day.”
As Derek Walcott said as he accepted the Nobel Laureate, we are each entitled to all of the history of this island:
“The sigh of history rises over ruins, not over landscapes, and in the Antilles there are few ruins to sigh over, apart from the ruins of sugar estates and abandoned forts. Looking around slowly, as a camera would, taking in the low blue hills over Port of Spain, the village road and houses, the warrior-archers, the god-actors and their handlers, and music already on the sound track, I wanted to make a film that would be a long-drawn sigh over Felicity. I was filtering the afternoon with evocations of a lost India, but why “evocations?” Why not “celebrations of a real presence?” Why should India be “lost” when none of these villagers ever really knew it, and why not “continuing,” why not the perpetuation of joy in Felicity and in all the other nouns of the Central Plain: Couva, Chaguanas, Charley Village? Why was I not letting my pleasure open its windows wide? I was enticed like any Trinidadian to the ecstasies of their claim, because ecstasy was the pitch of the sinuous drumming in the loudspeakers. I was entitled to the feast of Husein, to the mirrors and crepe-paper temples of the Muslim epic, to the Chinese Dragon Dance, to the rites of that Sephardic Jewish synagogue that was once on Something Street. I am only one-eighth the writer I might have been had I contained all the fragmented languages of Trinidad.”
We underplay the importance of history in this country and as a result we are losing, with every new generation, the value of our diverse cultural influences on our sense of nationhood. We have more and more become a set of disparate tribes interfacing with each other sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.
We are still struggling for a national identity that can happily be articulated without the need for a preceding adjective, stated or implied. We need to do far, far more about understanding, teaching and incorporating our diversity into to our governance mechanisms than celebrating a series of designated days.
In a population of a mere 1.3 million people with so much rich and overlapping history it is hard to fathom why we wouldn’t want to celebrate how much we are part of each other — historically, ideologically and, yes, ethnically.
Walcott continues in his acceptance speech with a response to his introspection on Trinidad:
“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. The glue that fits the pieces is the sealing of its original shape. It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the cracked heirlooms whose restoration shows its white scars. This gathering of broken pieces is the care and pain of the Antilles, and if the pieces are disparate, ill-fitting, they contain more pain than their original sculpture, those icons and sacred vessels taken for granted in their ancestral places. Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent.”
Time to recognise where we have been in the context of where we are going and how we can get there.