THE EDITOR: Following the call of the President of TT that the steelpan be declared the national instrument, and a subsequent suggestion by the Opposition Leader that this happens along with the tassa drums, there has been some conversation on the merit and Trinidadness of both these instruments.
I find it embarrassing that in 2023, decades after these instruments have been part of the tangible and intangible footprint of our nation, we still need to have these conversations.
I also find it embarrassing, and annoying, to read of pseudo-intellectuals and neocolonialists engaging in a public discussion, displaying all of their ignorance and bias as to which of these instruments is Trinidadian and which is not.
I declare proudly that both the steelpan and tassa are national. There is no need for comparison.
The steelpan, fashioned from the steel drums, conceived from the creativity of the people that is Trinidad, is not only national but today defines the Caribbean. Whenever you think of white sandy beaches, under a tropical sun, the sound of the steelpan tenor becomes the automatic musical background to that scene.
The tassa drums, created locally from the memory of the indentured labourers from whatever Mother Trinidad provided them, have been here for over 178 years. It venerably accompanied every aspect of life, from religious ceremonies, weddings,
chatti (birth rituals), and many others, eventually becoming our go-to celebration beat in fetes and cricket matches.
taals (beats) played are unique to the Caribbean, even taking on names like "dingolay" and "calypso." To hear people say that after 178 years of validity that this drum is not Trinidadian is absurd, but it goes to a wider neocolonial mindset that makes it fashionable to deny everything of East Indian heritage being Caribbean.
Carnival did not originate in Trinidad. It evolved from the French practices that came here in 1783 (approximately 50 years before indentureship). Today, it is considered to be national, and to deny its Trinidadness is equal to blasphemy. Centuries of practice and evolution with the people have given it the validity of being uniquely Trinidadian.
The same goes for doubles, which has evolved into something that is uniquely Trinidadian, with a spice profile very different from the Indian ancestors. We collectively trash any politician who wants to tell us otherwise.
You simply cannot remove TT from these things, which are but tangible representations of the viewpoint of the people who call these islands home.
The space of national iconography in a multicultural society should not be limited to one, so we have to argue which symbol is representative of our people. To do so is to play into the colonial mindset that pitted one people against another, allowing for a rulership vacuum.
The colonial masters would have left us, but clearly, these arguments show us that they remain rulers in our minds. I do hope though that it will be the last time we have these conversations, as moving forward, talk will convert to action and we will embrace all things that constitute the Trinidadian/Tobagonian identity.