NETTLEFORD'S CULTURE PLEA
By Rickey Singh
*(The following is a reprint of `Our Caribbean’ column, courtesy of the Barbados Weekend Nation, edition of May 21)
May 23, 2004
AT THIS time of growing racial, tribal and religious intolerance that continue to result in ghastly levels of deaths, injuries, destruction, homelessness and destitution in so many parts of the world, I find rather appealing a bold stand by that noted exponent of Caribbean culture, Rex Nettleford, in favour of understanding and tolerance of the religious and cultural norms of the diverse peoples of our Anglophone Caribbean.
Specifically, his plea for understanding of the frequently misunderstood and misrepresented Rastafarians and the East Indian populations of major plural societies like Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
In another of his usually very informative and inspiring lectures, this time on the topic of `Re-engineering Caribbean Cultural Enterprises/Institutions’, Nettleford took his audience on a journey on the imperative of tolerance and how and why we should avoid losing more time in designing an agenda for the future
The occasion was the Fifth William G. Demas Memorial Lecture, organised by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) on May 11 to coincide with its 34th Annual Board of Governors Meeting in Tobago.
The limited space of this column cannot do justice to the presentation by Nettleford, who will soon be retiring as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, but, happily, whose vision and intellectual contributions will continue to be within reach of Caribbean institutions and people, as that other cultural icon, George Lamming.
There is a noticeable reciprocity between them when it comes to quoting each other's words of wisdom, as Nettleford did, again, at the Demas Memorial Lecture in Tobago, and Lamming did on Monday night at the Earl Warner Memorial Lecture here in Barbados.
For now, I merely wish to record briefly, without comment, aspects of Nettleford's presentation as they relate to our Rastafarian community and Caribbean citizens of East Indian descent in the context of religious influences and social cohesion:
First, this general observation: "In the Commonwealth Caribbean, from Jamaica to Guyana, old-fashion obeah has gone hand in hand with Bible-grinding zealotry in the orthodox mould. And even within the complex of Christian Orthodoxy, evangelical and Pentecostal variations on the theme have taken hold of people all over the region..."
Jamaica, however, he noted, "continues to have a problem. With its over 90 per cent of hopelessly black citizens, Jamaica still found it easier to give official recognition to the Mormons, who up to until recently, insisted that they had a vision from God about the natural inferiority of people of African ancestry, while the homegrown Rastafarians are denied it (similar official recognition)..."
Contending that the Christians of all denominations "will have to come to terms with the fact that Rome is not the sole repository of religious wisdom", Nettleford went on to remind his audience that "lest we forget, the Hindus and Muslims are Caribbean citizens too...
"The East Indian populations of Guyana and Trinidad are challenging the entire region to come to its sense by extending the principle of ecumenism beyond the plurality of the Christian fold.
"Any re-engineering of the religious enterprise will, therefore, require the greatest reserves of tolerance, mutual respect and mutual trust (in terms of worship of the region's separate gods), and a deep commitment to the heterogeneous principle of social and cultural/political organisation which is a Third Millennium challenge for the entire planet and not just the Caribbean..."