Creole culture creates disunity
Pat Dial reviews Dr. Prem Misir's work on cultural identity and creolization

Guyana Chronicle
December 17, 2006

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AMONG the most important books brought out in 2006 in Guyana is "Cultural Identity and Creolization in National Unity" edited by Dr. Prem Misir. The book, a tome of 216 pages, is published by the University Press of America.

It consists of twelve sizable papers by some of the most eminent scholars in the field of Caribbean society. These include Brinsley Samaroo, Walter Rodney, John La Guerre, Verene Shepaherd, V. S. Naipaul and Prem Misir. The papers deal with a number of topics such as creolization, race, class, colour, religion, culture, pluralism, unity and disunity in the Caribbean territories.

The book is a treasure house of ideas, new perceptions, explanations of terms such as "race" and "creolization". It touches on prevalent prejudices and outlines most, if not all, of the major positions and intellectual conflicts the study of Caribbean societies engender.

One of the major themes of the book is Caribbean unity, both on an intra-Caribbean level but much more so on the level of unity within Caribbean territories as individual countries.

Thus, for example, the socio-political disunity in Trinidad and Guyana is dissected. In such dissection, it is found that creole culture and creolization creates disunity and alienation because it consciously gives no space to other cultures and social ideas.

In some cases, it attempts to eliminate cultures or ways of life which are not in consonance with the "creole culture" ethos. For example, African religion and survivals of religious practices were suppressed by law. Or concepts of African beauty had to give way to European concepts. Or the Hindu and Muslim religions or Indian culture and those who were part of that culture found themselves discriminated against. Such clashes between creole culture and non-creole cultures led to alienation, tensions and disunity within societies.

What is the solution? The solution could only be to allow all the various cultures in the society space to survive, function and grow. Such a formula is known as pluralism. Pluralism eliminates the conflict and tensions, gives all cultural groups a stake in the society, inculcates mutual respect and appreciation, leads to cultural enrichment by cultural exchanges and brings about societal unity. In parenthesis, I may mention that the question of the varied usages of the terms "creole" and "creolization" is addressed in the text.

In addition to the major theme of societal unity in the Caribbean, there are many other perceptions in the text which could be employed to make societies in the Caribbean stronger and happier. For example, in one of D. Misir's papers on page 192, the conclusion is stated: "Clearly, significant cultural loss reduces an ethnic group's productivity and psychological zeal to advance a quality of life." If this conclusion is tested historically and in current times, it would be found that economic progress and desire to advance the quality of life do have a relationship with cultural stability or cultural loss.

This book satisfies many needs. In the first place, it gives students and teachers easy access to important papers most would never have seen. Students and lecturers at the University of the West Indies and the University of Guyana would find this book particularly useful and stimulating.

Non-Government Organisations which are involved in cultural development, and government agencies, in particular ministries given the responsibility of promoting cultural development, would find that this book could give them a philosophical basis for their policies and programs.

These would include those organisations which are hoping to promote African or Indian or Amerindian "renaissances". The book could certainly help the Ministry of Culture, since they have no real policy based on intellectual underpinnings, concentrated on programs, mostly in the performing arts. It is suggested that the Guyana Ministry of Culture appoint a Committee of interested intellectuals to assist them to formulate a cultural policy.

"Cultural Identity and Creolization in National Unity": is an important book which fills an important need in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean and Dr. Misir must be congratulated for bringing out such a text. (PATRICK DIAL)