Salvaging our gifts
I said: “I believe we’re all sent here with gifts. I believe finding and manifesting those gifts is our mission in life. The search for and the expression of our gifts gives us purpose. Living our gifts gives us joy, and in turn it will provide. In living your gift you’re simultaneously of worth to your community and yourself.”
You said: “But what if we live in a gift-killing nation?”
My last column on “Emancipating Genius” stirred emotional responses, so I’ve decided to go deeper. This article continues exploring the stakeholder masterplan for the creative sector—plans to grow it from a $1.9 billion annual earner to a $7 billion one in four short years. The plans, although approved by the Ministry of Finance three years ago, haven’t been implemented since.
I’m writing this at a time when most of the super-gifted creative Trinidadians and Tobagonians I know are in absolute despair. They’re at points of bankruptcy, suicide, mental breakdown, exile, bordering criminality, and worst. Elders are in clinical-depression, feeling their works have been in vain. They feel they’re witnessing the destruction of everything they’ve created. They may be right. These are silent screams from our best. All are frustrated, stifled, artificially impoverished, dishonoured, disrespected. Each is potentially worth tens of millions of US dollars. They’re here, tortured, inert, underutilised.
Oil in the ground is of no value unless you use it, unless you study the ground, dig deep in oceans and soils to know it’s there. Unless you clear away forest and field. Unless you build exploring platforms. Unless you build infrastructure and industrial estates around it. Unless you incentivise the foreign companies, reform tax codes. Unless you train indigenous engineers.
Genius talent is like that oil but it requires much less investment. Other countries invested in their gifted populations- and have reaped their piece of the $1.3 trillion Creative economy- the second largest industry on planet earth.
I think of little Dwight stealing away from school to play ball by himself in a field overlooking the ocean. I think of little Lara watching images of the great elder West Indian batsman Roy Fredericks, and seeing something else that no one else sees—has ever seen—and grafting himself to that prototype and beginning to apprentice across time and space with Fredericks’ ghost.
I think of little nerdish Bill Gates and his friends hunched over a motherboard obsessed with 0s and 1s. I think of the child that would become the Mighty Shadow alone in the bush with the animals and the plants and the spirits in Tobago. Songs coming into him in waves, whispers from a deep outer place.
Do you understand me?
I’m talking about Gifts. Capital G! I’m talking about that thing which you were sent to do. And only you.Genius recognises that quickening of spirit—and acts on it. For all of you who’re not where you’re supposed to be, I tell you, despite whatever comforts you imagine you possess, “Abandon your post! Nothing is served by You staying there… Go out into the world. Answer your Call!”
This is one of the problems with African people post-1960s. They abandoned pursuing dreams… They became tired of fighting. Before that date, despite threats of death and punishing discrimination, African people across this hemisphere pursued Dreams after slavery. That’s why in the decades following Emancipation there were inventors, doctors, lawyers, scientists.
However, from the 60s, two interventions diluted this tribal drive- the comfortable drug of the Public Service, and the double-edged sword of welfare. How many would-be inventors are suffocated by the Public Service—or sterilised by welfare?And then there’re ‘the boys on the block’. Oil in the ground. Unrefined. Idle hands.
This is an Emancipation call for renewal of purpose- for all who know they are more than they are now—who have the belly for the search. Not only individuals have gifts, communities too. T&T has seven mother communities without which there’s no us. Together these communities’ contributions make up our collective soul. Princes Town/Moruga for East Indian and African ancestral retentions; Point Fortin for African innovations; Arima for Amerindian innovations; Couva for East Indian innovations; Woodbrook/St James for middle-class creolised innovations; Tobago as folk-village; and East Port of Spain as mother of Mothers with the Carnival Trinity of Pan, Mas, and Calypso.
T&T itself can be said to be gifted in its capacity for ‘festival’- creating 300 Trini-styled carnivals globally- without trying! That gift emerged by divine accident when the festival tribes from various races ended up here: West Africans from Africa; Bengal and Bihar from India; the pre-revolutionary French from Europe… Trinidad was also a sacred festival seat for regional Amerindians who came here to install caciques. So even the land may be invested with geo-psychic gifts.
I reflected on this Sunday in the midst of the wonderland of freedom that’s the Cocoa Devils J’ouvert fete. I remember Minshall saying we’ve always thought our gift to the world was Carnival Tuesday with its incredible costume inventions- but it might be that our profoundest gift to planet earth may be Jouvert. That ritual act of covering the skin with substances from the earth and dancing naked in the twilight to salute the new day accompanied by the sound of drums. The rest of the planet has lost that connection to ‘The Source’. And somehow- probably because of the things I said- we’ve not.
White youths in America in the 60s took every single natural and synthetic drug known to man to reach to a mental place that most Trinis already are every Friday afternoon! We’ve an instinctive capacity for freedom, for vibes, for community, for entrance into sacred festival-space. It’s an ancient capacity. Few people on earth remember it. We’re probably the only people who’ve worked out the engineering to make a modern society operate as an ancient folk society. It is our gift! And we may be on the brink of losing vital parts of it.
To salvage our gifts, to empower our practitioners to take us all to the next level, it’s imperative we create a National Arts Council based on the British and Canadian best practice models.We must empower it with Grant agencies and Venture Capital to emancipate our gifted class. Then we will be emancipated from oil.