THE NATIONAL Carnival Commission (NCC) is led by an extempo veteran, but these days it seems more versed in the art of stickfighting: giving stick by calling off this year’s edition of the National Stickfighting Competition.
The NCC was moved to enter the gayelle on Friday after stickfighters staged a protest, refusing to participate in the competition because of late payment of appearance fees. They also complained about the overall prize money in the competition, which aims to highlight a vital and unique element of our culture.
“They have unreasonable expectations and unreasonable demands which we cannot meet and are not willing to meet,” NCC chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters fired off in response. “Every year it’s the same thing. First, they tell us they want the money before they go and fight…Then we decided that we would compromise and give them some of the money that they want from the intake from the patrons. While we are in the process of doing that, they want an increase in prize money. That is not how things are negotiated. That is holding us to ransom.”
But stickfighters see things differently. In their eyes, their actions were only fair given the lack of payment for their appearance at the preliminaries in Moruga on January 24. They expected payment up front and also complained bitterly about the prize, $10,000 for the winner, the same as last year, which had been cut from $20,000 in 2018.
In a situation in which the State is notorious for its late payments, it’s not unreasonable for the stickfighters to demand up-front payment. Especially if they are already owed sums for previous appearances. And while the question of prize money is separate, it’s not entirely unrelated. The prize money is a reflection of the value placed on this aspect of our culture, and could be taken as a means of compensating for late disbursals as well as the many hitches that tend to accompany Carnival organisation.
Gypsy may well feel his extempore response was appropriate in the situation, but it looks more like a crude knee-jerk response, not a witty extempo. We hope he reconsiders. Cancelling the whole competition is disproportionate.
Not only did Friday’s event disappoint thousands of patrons who had gathered, it also needlessly aggravated the legitimate grievances of the entire stickfighting community, sending the signal that might is right and that those who dare speak out and speak up will be punished. Isn’t that the opposite of what stickfighting embodies?
At the same time, there is a time and a place for discussions about prize money. That time is hardly minutes before the contest, and that place is not at the gates of the Arima Velodrome. A little more compromise on both sides of this impasse will go a long way.