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Celebrate culture on the savannah grass

A tribute to deceased calypsonian Winston ‘Shadow’ Bailey at the annual Kiddies Carnival organised by parishioners of St Peter’s parish, Pointe-a-Pierre.

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

RECENTLY I gave a woman and her two young children a lift to their home. On the way the children suddenly started to sing along to Kes’ song, ‘Savannah Grass’ that was playing on the radio. Their young voices filled the air as they sang along to the hits of this 2019 Carnival season. They knew all the lyrics. I playfully asked them if they remember their school work as well as they recall the lyrics of each soca/calypso. They laughed without answering.

Yes, we are in the midst of the Carnival season. As Kes sings in ‘Savannah Grass’: “two days are not enough”. Over the years Trinbagonians have realised this, so the fetes now start way before Carnival.

Since there is a long Carnival season this year, there are many more fêtes on offer before Carnival on March 4 and 5, and many after Carnival. As the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian reported on January 5: “There are 45 new fetes added on for this Carnival season—bringing the current total to 200. There are 186 events before Carnival and 14 to ‘cool down’ after Carnival…On March 1, which is Fantastic Friday, there are 23 listed events.”

To date I have attended a few fêtes myself, but I must admit that I don’t have the stamina to keep jumping for hours on end. Carnival is an integral part of our culture but I urge everyone involved in what is termed “the greatest show on earth”, to demonstrate that, as a people, we can enjoy ourselves and enrich our culture without debasing ourselves. 

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church (554,556) states: “…culture is that through which man and woman, as man and woman, become more man and woman, ‘are’ more, have more access to ‘being’…The integral perfection of the person and the good of the whole of society are the essential ends of culture…

“The formation of a culture capable of enriching men and women requires …the involvement of the whole person, who, in the cultural sphere, expresses his/her creativity, intelligence, knowledge of the world and of human persons; someone moreover who puts to good use his/her capacity for self-control, personal sacrifice, solidarity and readiness to promote the common good.”

At the centre of development is the human person. Are our people becoming more ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in their dress and behaviour at all times? There is no doubt that at Carnival time the amazing creativity and talent of our people are on ‘show’.

Sadly, also on ‘show’ are certain kinds of behaviour that denigrate the dignity of the human person—made in the image and likeness of God.

While we may want to ‘free-up’ during this time, let us remember the words of St Pope John Paul II: “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

Let us swim against the tide of moral relativism which is so rampant today. No, don’t behave in a degrading manner because it feels good. Behave in a manner that will not only enrich our culture but will lift you to “a higher, more noble place” (Martin Luther King Jr).

The words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Polish-born American rabbi, are instructive. He said: “Self-respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” The challenge for each of us is to be “sober” in order to have the strength to say “No” to ourselves.

Excessive alcohol consumption and the use of illicit drugs can lower our inhibitions and cause us to make bad decisions or engage in reckless behaviour. How many of you watch home-videos taken of yourselves behaving badly during Carnival and experience regret?

Although we have a God-given, inherent dignity that cannot be taken from us, we have a moral duty not to violate our personal dignity but to promote it and that of others.

While we enjoy ourselves during Carnival, let us remember that responsibility and freedom go together. Practise the three R’s of integrity: Respect for self; Respect for others; and Responsibility for all your actions.

Don’t drink and drive. Try to go to fêtes with others and decide beforehand who will be the designated driver. Remember our duty to exercise self-control and modesty, and to promote positive morals and values in our society. Look out for each other and ensure the safety of children during Carnival. Happy Carnival!