I stood on the semi-full train for my afternoon commute home, my body swaying and my hips yearning to gyrate as I listened to my soca music playlist. My mind was lost in the pros and cons of the depletion of my bank balance versus my desire to lose myself in abandonment in the upcoming carnival season. Out of nowhere, it suddenly struck me how lucky I was to have been born into my culture — picturesque in its simplicity and filled with a naive joy that is missing in most developed countries.
I’ve always taken for granted growing up in the Caribbean. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, my home for the first 14 years of my life, is quite easily bliss in a world filled with overcrowded cities, too much stimuli, and stressed and overworked people. Aptly named by the indigenous people of the island, “Hairouna” — land of the blessed, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has an abundance of beauty and culture, if not so much so resources. Maybe it’s this lack of materialism that makes my fellow country men and women so enjoy the simple things, and is the essence of our joy and laissez faire attitude. “Live, laugh, love”, our seeming guide to life.
Although we are all born into some culture, please allow my bias in saying that I believe the Caribbean region has one of the happiest and richest cultures around. Our food for example, spiced to wake the senses, is an exotic fusion of our indigenous Indians, African, European and East Indian — a palatable reminder of our devastating past.
“When Africans were forcibly sold out of Africa across the Atlantic Ocean into foreign lands they were often totally detached from their own language communities. One of the cultural forms which helped people to survive and communicate with one another was music. Music could communicate across the language barrier that divided different enslaved Africans. All Africans could take part in music and dancing so it provided a tool for survival.
Dr. Alan Rice, Legacies of slavery: dance
It’s hard to imagine that beauty can come from so sordid a past, but the resilience of the oppressed never ceases to amaze me. The fact that people can break free of the chains and rise above the parameters that were set for them is something that boggles the minds of those who have never had limits set on them.
As small island developing states, we have retained a lot of our cultural heritage, mainly because of our slower pace of development, but it has also been a conscious effort. We recognize that what makes our heritage so unique is a mixture of our history from our colonial past, our indigenous Indians, and the slave trade — a forged duality of grotesquery but also immense beauty. We embrace the beauty, and feel pride for the strength and resilience of our ancestors, characteristics that were passed on to us.
Today, what came about because of our oppression and also as a response to our oppression, are now the centerpieces of our culture. Today, music and dance are meant to fill our souls with sheer bliss and unabandoned joy. Today, carnival, the manifestation of both, is a magical portal where entry simply requires leaving your worries at the door.
Through adversity and uncertainty, we hold our heads high
All the while dancing and singing “this island is mine”
It’s earned, it’s deserved, because our sweet culture of laughter and fete
Has been forged in fire, and pain and sweat