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We is people too

DARA HEALY Saturday, May 20 2017

Mama we is people too Mama we is people too Bonjay we want l’argen too Messier we want l’argen too

— Lament sung by stick-fighters in 1881, documented by Prof Hollis Liverpool in Rituals of Power and Rebellion I DROVE though the small pockets of fire on either side of the road in Morvant.

Armed police directed the heavy traffic flowing from all directions around the walkover. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening, and, preoccupied with other thoughts, I kept driving.

Later, I was chatting with a friend telling her about what happened when a woman with a small child interjected, “I don’t mean to get in allyuh business, but I from Morvant.

Morvant people was protesting because we ent get water for a month. Is madness.” Media reports confirmed how serious the protest was, causing gridlock and forcing the opening of the Priority Bus Route to regular vehicular traffic. Embarrassingly, regional reports noted that “officers from the North Eastern Division Task Force assisted by officers of the Port-of-Spain Division, Guard and Emergency Branch, Inter-Agency Task Force and Traffic Branch” were called out to deal with the protests.

Residents also complained to the media about waste water seeping into the streets, lack of employment opportunities, neglect.

The woman from Morvant kept talking, but eventually I tuned her out, my mind taken over by memories.

Laventille and Morvant look pretty much the way they did as in my childhood. I would walk to the Roman Catholic church with my grandmother, taking the back roads from Leon Street. We passed empty, overgrown lots, big-bellied children, old men with vacant stares in rocking chairs on their porch, potholes, stray dogs.

I thought of how little the communities had changed from that time, the disgrace of it. “It have a standpipe but it never have water.

The roads are mashing up more and more and it makes it very difficult for the children to get to school.” In her play Kambule, Eintou Springer uses the Pierrot to voice the frustrations of the people from the depressed communities of East Port-of-Spain in the 1880s. “The barrack yards of Port-of-Spain still singin humanity’s bitter refrain.

From slavery, Africans won their freedom, but their livin conditions were still inhuman.” The barrack yards came into being after emancipation, with hundreds of former enslaved flowing into the towns, setting up homes wherever they could. These yards, filthy and with no decent family life, still emerged as centres of our Carnival. The Jammette Carnival, Dame Lorraine Ball, African retentions of spirituality and masking traditions, wire bending and more flourished in these desperate places.

From Laventille came our beloved pan, while in other places of maroonage, or where the enslaved ran to, famous cultural emanations like the blue devil.

Unfortunately, since our independence, successive governments have not taken the time to develop these unplanned communities, fix them, clean them and, more importantly, empower residents to take responsibility for their surroundings. Worse, when we implement our cultural solutions there, it is always painfully obvious how little they know of their history and the legacy that they leave behind for our country and for the world.

It is not just about l’argen or money.

The environment that people live in is essential to their sense of well-being, their motivation to strive and succeed. It is about dignity, the right to quality of life and not just an existence.

“We are people too!” one man shouted, echoing the cry from over a hundred years ago. Like the lament, he’s right. They deserve better.

Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the N G O , the Ind i g e - n o u s Creative A r t s N e t - work – ICAN

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