We’re moving into a post-genius Age. We’re moving into a place where the landscape cannot replace its gifts. Gone will be the Age of towering samaan talents. The nation has failed to blood a second and third generation. Let me explain.
My recent articles about Carnival provoked debate from various quarters. Some said my warnings of the collapse of Carnival traditions are too apocalyptic. Some believe that ‘things evolve- stop fighting progress’. Some think that- despite our national sins of omission and commission- Carnival will regenerate itself. That somehow we’d be blessed with the continuance of Genius, beauty, and light… Oh how I wish…
I am here to let us know that ‘it doh wuk so!’ That ‘civilisation’ is a verb. It’s a conscious act. That you actually have to work at it, like agriculture- removing weeds, fertilising soil, guarding for parasites. When you fail to do so bad things happen. Civilisations die. History is littered with societies that went through Ages of genius- some even became empires- and then their light went out. There’re signs that accompany such decline. We have all of them.
I’m not being pessimistic. I’m warning us that we’re on the brink. Many have heard me say this. Trinidad and Tobago experienced something majestic called a Golden Age from 1930-1950. A period of extraordinary activity when pan, mas, and calypso rose to classical forms, ethnic festivals came into their own, male ethnic secret-societies consolidated their community’s power, the trade union and independence movements blossomed.
That pioneer generation is now 75 and over—and dying. We lost 18,000 of a possible 20,000 geniuses in the last decade—failing to document and transmit skills.
During our Golden Age we were the metropolitan epicentre of a massive cultural explosion that changed the globe. Each one of the traditions from that age evolved sophisticated skills—from a King of Carnival, to a champion calypso, to the mind of a CLR James. These are not things that can be replicated by guess. Traditions survive with apprenticeship. We failed to build institutions to document, analyse, codify, and transmit this genius. It’s not present in curricula, museums, media, or anywhere in our mainstream life. It’s as if it never existed. Most youths born after 1980 have no clue of any aspect of this legacy. This is the crisis of inheritance we’re living in. It’s the reason why communities, traditions, and institutions are collapsing.
During the last administration—and the $300 billion boom—we gave government all the blueprints to institutionalise Legacy. The UTT Academy and ‘the real NAPA’ were supposed to be the vehicles for the transfer of Elder knowledge. Instead UTT concentrated on buying status by hiring foreign experts. Classical symphonic musicians were paid millions with houses and cars- whilst local Masters died in poverty with their knowledge vapourising into thin air.
Pat Bishop found herself fired and silenced for championing what was ethical and urgent.
We artists are now about to launch a rearguard action to create the missing institutions. The three projects are: Project Memory—to record biography of surviving Elders; the Guild of Masters—to pass on skill; and Grounding with the Elders—to engage the nation in questions of Inheritance.
The national question is this: “How do you sustain the gifts of the Golden Age long after the conditions on the ground that created it no longer persist?” We’re not the first people to face this question. Nations that answered it successfully have survived, those that didn’t see their civilisations collapse into husks of their former self.
Certain conditions produced classical symphonic orchestras. Europe decided it wanted to continue the tradition and created conservatories and other systems to ensure it survived beyond its Age. We must do likewise.
The greatest example of what’s going to happen if we don’t act is West Indies Cricket. West Indies fell from being the greatest team in sporting history to second to last in the cricketing world. For a decade 11 island boys beat former Empires, sub-continents, and first-world countries through indigenous skill. We failed to build the West Indies Cricket Hall of Fame and Academy.
Australia built theirs—using our Elders. Our collapse has lasted 15-plus years. Once we were able to elevate beyond third world economics to become world-beaters, now we’re third world without the science of how to transcend those limitations. Repeat this story for every tradition. That’s our future. Humiliation. Oceanic mediocrity. We have instinctive talent. We lack finishing schools. And finishing schools are everything. Finishing schools are your civilisation.
Some query my designation of certain people as geniuses. Here’re just a few who have no replacements, their passing will (and did) leave gaping national holes. We’re experiencing generational collapse in every tradition- we should be blooding second generations of these: Pat Bishop. Carlysle Chang. Leroy Clarke. Minshall. Aldwyn Chow Lin On. Ravi Ji. Kitchener. Rudder. CLR James. Shadow. Zanda. Meiling. Claudia Pegus. Winsford Devine. Genius artisans from Ramleela, Hosay, and the industrial arts. Where would we be after these losses? No youths come close. We have a year to get this right.