When Carifesta VIII å-the Caribbeanå‘s premier cultural event- winds down on August 30th in Suriname, organizers hope to have found the answers to some of the regions more pressing challenges. Youth face social and economic challenges, a failing school system, the necessity of new partnerships, the lack of skills and the rapidly growing HIV/AIDS problem. In addition, the Caribbeanå‘s cultural ambassadors struggle with neglect and under appreciation of their talent, so they will be looking at the issue of intellectual property, at whether they are being exploited and what they have in place to ensure that they receive their due rewards. Besides that, Carifesta is expected to be one big party, Caribbean style with a distinct Suriname flavor.
Carifesta is returning to the mainland this month, in a year when both host country -Suriname- and its Caricom sister states have a lot to commemorate. Caricom marked its 30th anniversary and Suriname commemorated the 140th anniversary of slavery abolishment, 150 years of Chinese immigration, 130 years of Indian immigration and 115 years of Indonesian immigration.
“What we’re going to do with Carifesta this year is celebrate our achievements, especially the achievement of freedom. Every country that’s participating will exhibit its achievements in its own way,” said Henk Tjon, the artistic mind behind Carifesta VIII.
The one-week event that presents the Caribbean at a glance blasts off on August 24th. Caricom member-states and countries that were invited from as far as the Far East, will exhibit their culture under the theme “Cultural Diversity.” Focus will be placed on the Indigenous People. “They are our region’s first inhabitants and the first to fight for their freedom and signed peace accords with the colonial oppressors,” said Tjon. Indeed, the history of the plantation and the slavery period in general is not just the history of the Europeans and the Africans. It is also the history of the Amerindians. Before the coming of the Europeans and the other races that followed such as the Africans and the Orientals, most Caribbean islands were settled by Caribs who exist even today on some of the islands. As these Amerindians continued the migration southward into Mexico through the Isthmus of Panama and finally into South America. From South America, the descendants formed new tribes that spread northwards into the Caribbean.
The South American country has gone all out to pay homage to these people. “We have built an Amerindian village, where our Indigenous People and those that visit from other countries will be accommodated,” said Chas Warning of Suriname’s Carifesta VIII Committee.
This village has been constructed in Palmentuin, a historic garden of hundreds of century old king palm trees. While in itself a tourist attraction, this village is also meant to perform the task of catalyzing Carifesta activities in other locations. “The Indigenous People will live in this village, in their own huts and people can actually experience them doing the things they have been doing for centuries. Baking cassava bread, making pottery. The village will be open all night, so after the other activities in the other locations are over, it will serve as a hospitality center where the party goes on.”
Tjon explained that the Indigenous People village will present these people at their best. “You’ll see all the different tipi the various Amerindian tribes live in. The Wayana, the Trio, all of them will come from their villages in the interior, from
and French Guyana. Belize will come with its Maya and so forth. It will be a living exhibition,” he said. History, he said, makes the Indigenous People deserve that spotlight. “Of course the other ethnic groups will also be there. The Indians, the Indonesians, the Chinese… They will all be there. The Maroons too. They will all be gems in the entirety,” he said. He was excited about the exchange of culture to expect from the presence of a “Granman” of a Jamaican Maroon tribe. Maroons are descendents of slaves who would rather runaway into the forest than spend their life in the captivity of the plantation owners. In Suriname and Jamaica these Maroons started their own villages in the interior and their descendants still live there, determined to cling on to the traditions their ancestors brought from Africa.
“We’re flying to Asidonhopo -a Maroon village-, where we’ll also have activities. The Granman from
Jamaica will be the guest of honor. Imagine the welcome he’ll get when he arrives in the villages. That will be a spectacle by itself. You’ll see things not many get to experience. Not even Discovery Channel and National Geographic offer that,” he said.
Carifesta VIII will also become a forum on which issues regarding Caribbean will be discussed. “Youth Focus was supposed to be part of Carifesta since the first time the event was held. It never really happened. Suriname decided that youth must get attention,” said Sergio Belfor, Suriname’s Caricom Youth Ambassador.
Dr. Heather Johnson, Deputy Program Manager Caribbean Community Development, with responsibilities of Youth Affairs at Caricom, said that it is important to get youth as involved as possible in the actual life of society, in civic matters. According to her it is crucial, as the Caribbean has a very young population, with some 60 percent of its people being younger than 30. Johnson said there has been progress, but there’s more work to be done. “Ten, fifteen years ago there was more animosity, more conflict between adults and youth. They didn’t work together at all. I’m talking about confrontation. Since then there has been progress in terms of the partnership,” she said. Caricom ambassador Sergio Belfor said that during Youth Focus, the way onward will be discussed. Themes for discussion will include the role of young people, HIV/AIDS and art and culture in the Caribbean.
Caribbean artists will try to find the answer to the question “where do we go from here.” “This is not going to be just another gathering. We’re going to look at whether we need to reinvent Carifesta. This is the eighth time we come together like this and we always followed a certain pattern. Do we need to continue like this? Or do we need to create a different model?” said Caricom’s Carifesta Coordinator Dr. Carol Bishop. She said Caribbean people are at the root of the problem. “It is a matter of ignorance sometimes,” she said. “We ourselves in the Caribbean do not know what we can produce and how well we can produce it. It’s very sad that we allow people from outside the region to recognize it and exploit it. It is critical that we ourselves recognize the excellence of our work. We got to ensure that the people that do this work -our artists- are not neglected. The work they do has value. It can have economic value for our entire region. If we recognize this we can lift the region to higher heights,” she said. She explained that during the symposia emphasis will be placed on getting to a regional direction for Caribbean art and culture, as with time that goes by, much gets lost. “I expect that the participants will voice concerns and call for resolutions of what they would like to see happen with art and culture,” she said.
Bishop said there is obviously a nexus between culture and economic development that for too long has been ignored. “For too many years people saw culture as people going to dance and sing and play music,” she said. She explained that for long it has been the goal of Directors of Culture to make decision makers of their countries understand that culture must be considered as very important to economic development. “Culture and trade were mostly kept apart, but people are starting to see the importance of culture in trade. The contribution that culture can have for economic development is now beginning to be realized,” she said.
She foresaw that Carifesta would break new
Caribbean cultural high ground. “People can expect an experience that will lay emphasis on a process that will highlight the Caribbean as a region of rich diversity. And the festival is also an ideal place for the coming together of the Caribbean family to share its creativity and its artistic expressions as a culturally rich and ethnically diverse family,” she said.