“How could he say that?!”: many would cry out! “We have a flag. An anthem. A coat of arms. Some watchwords…” Yes, this is true… But by now we all secretly know that a flag, anthem, coat of arms, and watchwords do not a nation make. We are increasingly aware of how little those do to hold a People together… “Yes”, someone else says, “but we have all these Festivals, these foods, these heroes and victories, all these hundreds of geniuses who have struggled and strived for ideals clustered around a sense of a place, and an idea called Trinidad & Tobago! Surely those things make us a nation!” Yes- possibly… But point me to any of those things now. Right now. At this moment. In your community? In your home? In any of your villages? In any of your major towns? In the nation’s capital?… Where is this Nation full of wonder that you speak of? Where is your evidence?!…

Is T&T then a nation that exists only in people’s memories? Okay. A virtual nation could be a modern phenomenon! But then, what of those without any memory of those thousands of sequins of history of which you speak- the 95% who have no iota of clue about this Band of the Year national legacy of wonder? Are they- like Donald Trump’s immigrants- to be excommunicated, tagged, and deported? Thrown out of de band? Where then is this nation of which you speak?…

Probably it is better that my Independence reflections come now- 2 days after the date of our 54th anniversary. Now your attention could better, more brutally, interrogate my Independence meditation and steel all of us to actually implement the resolutions that emerge. This may be better than trafficking in that feel-good rhetoric we like to muster on our Festival Days… Strap in.

There aint no such thing called ‘Trinidad and Tobago’. Not yet…

This is an island that has known human civilization for 7000 years according to the Banwari fossil record- making it the oldest home of humanity in this part of the world. Yet still we trace our history from 1962 and call ourselves 54 years old! This is a huge part of our problem… Where is the history of that first 6000+ years and the 10s of thousands of years of geological time preceding it? Where is the monument committed to our real Amerindian founding fathers and mothers? Where is it honoured?… Where is the warning writ large that a civilisation sustained genocide here, on this island, where it was wiped out without hardly a physical trace?!! Where is the cautionary note for we- the survivors and next tenants- to be wary of the fact of genocide so that we do not repeat history and succumb to invasion or collapse, and experience this same extinction level calamity?!!!


This Republic is in transition in many ways, and for us here at ground zero the moment feels like Crisis. Who knows, when we emerge on the other side of this trough we might be just fine and look back at this like a minor rounds of potholes, but- What will determine if this Crisis is real, lasting, and fatal is how we respond to the challenges of the moment and how well we answer the problems that have been the recurring ones in our national life…

The indicators of course are not good. The Oil and Gas wealth and the determining principles of the State have been captured by political party financiers, drug barons, and global multi-conglomerates- seamlessly taking over the reigns of power from colonial Slavery and Indentureship elites. Ritually the working classes- especially the African working class- have been marginalized from access to real capital and decision-making in the direction of the economy. Near 20 year cycles of civic unrest (1880s Canboulay and Hosay Riots, 1900s Water Riots, 1930s Butler Riots, 1950s self-government movement, 1970s Black Power Riots, 1990 Coup, 2010 overturn of Maximum Leadership) accompanied by generational waves of Cultural eruptions has humanised this place to some degree- but on the whole the architecture of the State has remained inhumane. This is still not a place that takes care of children, old people, or citizens lovingly. It is a Marketplace, not a Nation. A Marketplace that has refused to take any of the TRILLIONS of dollars of the wealth that has cascaded through here to convert any part of this rock into a Home. Refused to erect one Temple where the best ideals of the Dream called Trinbago is enshrined and empowered. It is a Marketplace which has refused to create communities where the human beings that reside there- in many cases- can survive far less self-actualise to their greatest possible potential. Yuh know- the ‘Nation’ stuff… I have repeatedly had to say that ‘Trinidad is a place where- for most people, especially the Best- you cannot realise your Dreams’. And this is the greatest indictment of any community I know…

Meanwhile politicians and their stooges, ignoramuses, petty backbiters, the clumsy obstacle-placing public service, and haters ritually block visionaries, activists, trade unions, and Genius-citizens of all stripes from changing the status quo and creating Progressive Change. Change concerned with simply making this place a HOME. And this is the problem. This is a Marketplace- not a Home. So naturally the core problems of the Society never get answered. Not health care. Not education. Not housing. Not fisheries. Not agriculture. Not diet. Not culture and the Arts. Not sports. Not- Well nothing really. Because to answer those questions would mean that this place actually belongs to us and is a Home. And it is not.


Yet still on the ground for the first 6000 years and then especially for the last two centuries of our modern period this island has produced Genius. Communal and individual. Tirelessly. A Genius culture that has emerged from genius communities, tendrils of which have gone out to transform nations all over the world. That Genius peaked at a period I coined our Golden Age 1930- 1956- a period where community and individual Genius consolidated and rose to classical heights creating magical things. It created Pan, Mas, and Calypso in their modern forms which began to spread to hundreds of communities around the world. It birthed our local Trade Union movement which transformed working conditions and wages here and up the islands, creating equity and a middle class. It created a host of cultural, sporting, and liberation geniuses who went on to transform societies all over the world. It created a modern Caribbean literature, theatre, and performing arts that influenced the world. It consolidated and mainstreamed ethnic festivals all over the landscape; and birthed the beginning of Independence. It was all there! All the things you want to begin the creation of a Nation with!!! A generation of superlative Genius… The Golden Age was actually our period of real Independence!

But what did we do with these gifts- since the flag, the anthem, the coat of arms, and the watchwords? We betrayed every single thing we created from within our bowels and hearts a generation before. We spiritually and physically betrayed Butler and our Golden Age. The dark fruit of that betrayal is everywhere. In the last decade plus we allowed the 20,000 VIP Elders of that Genius generation (now all 70 and over) to die without honour, acknowledgement, and without institutions documenting, analysing, curating, and transmitting their Legacy and skills to generations in perpetuity. That’s what we did. We marginalised and ignored most of our communal victories and creations until now most have been forgotten by most of us. The traditions which were born out of the best of us and refined during that Golden time are now all in collapse. We failed to create real industry and honour out of these pathways and professions, and instead left them to a rigged marketplace forged in global and local apartheid to deal with. And true to form that Marketplace destroyed them and their practitioners. Ritually. This is what we have done to our Best. Let anyone lie and say otherwise. A nation exists in the cathedrals erected out of its genius heroes. We have no genius heroes- only martyrs… Martyrs to a Marketplace. No Nation.


So now, 4 generations along, our Golden Age Genius is dead and their Children are tired. Brutalized. By Independence…

Just in the last few months the reality of the fact of ‘No-Nation’ has slapped many of us in the face multiple times. There has been the clustered deaths of people we have taken for granted. The slap is because WE KNOW NOW each passing is beyond final BECAUSE WE HAVE BUILT NOTHING OUT OF THEIR GIFTS TO REMEMBER THEM BY. We know we have nothing left. No. Thing. No Nation. We. Have. Built. Nothing. Out. Of. Their. Gifts… Holly B, Makaandal Daaga, Fitzroy Coleman, Earl Crosby, Valerie Belgrave, Freddie Kissoon, Angela Martin-Hinds, Maria Alonzo, the calypsonian Companero, Fancy Sailor Austin “Horse” Wilson, Calypsonian Alan Welch, fearless adventurer and explorer Harold La Borde, guitar ace George Victory, Scrunter’s Mom- Ma Geoffrey Antonia Reyes, Weight Lifting champion- Hugo Gittens, Ethiopian Orthodox Church leader Garret Springer nee Liqe Tahinat Abraham… Mrs. Claris Clarke, 96, beloved elder of the community of Laventille and Desperadoes Steel Orchestra… And even the young mad artists Brian Anthony Roberts and Darron Small… We know they are gone like the 20,000 Elders who preceded them. Disappeared into a void of total Trini amnesia- because we have built nothing. And have no Nation.

And as a cherry on top, we have the eviction of the legendary Birdsong Academy- one of the most advanced models of community cultural self-generation in the hemisphere- the model for Lloyd Best’s ‘Schools in Pan’ concept… Birdsong’s eviction is the whiplash of reality in case we were even thinking about stepping out of line and escaping the plantation. The lesson is: even when some escape and actually build a successful Maroon settlement- it will be hunted down by the Marketplace and destroyed. This, I repeat, is not a Nation.

Fitzroy Coleman

Fitzroy Coleman

Neither the State nor our private elites NOR US COLLECTIVELY have invested any institutions out of our Genius lives and gifts. No Monuments, Schools, Curricula, Museums, or Centres have been erected out of Daaga’s contribution in dismantling apartheid here a couple levels up the income ladder. None out of the fact that Fitzroy Coleman was once the greatest guitarist in the world and invented dozens of NEW CHORDS and a new style and theory of playing the guitar. We documented none of this and apprenticed no one to him. We did not even see it fit to record him!!!!! Or even look in his direction. Not once. For 40 years. 40 years!!! And on and on…. Don’t fool yourself. You have no Nation.

There is no Trinidad and Tobago Nation. Not yet.


Yes. No nation. But there are building blocks. All the achievements. The heroes. The Festivals. The foods. The creations…. There is also the cement over in one corner. That legendary humour- that capacity to joke and laugh… The genius language craft of punning, picong, nick-names, storytelling, and extempore… The art of liming- of creating leisure and camaraderie out of thin air. That genius, elevated into the ability of normal people being able to create a rhythm section, a fete, a blocko, a carnival- also out of thin air… The ability to fundamentally understand masking, possession, Jouvay, carnival- a human art lost for over 500 years in most of the rest of the world!!!… The ability to negotiate other-ness, to actually de-programme centuries of conditioning telling you to hate and exterminate ‘the Other’, and instead flipping that into communities that annually enter into Festival concourse with ‘the Other’, to build communities with them, to bond with them, to love, to fuck, and make babies with them… All these things. Lying on the ground in a corner over there…

Yeah- we have the worksite. A stunning work site. Unprecedented even. Now we need the twinned architecture and will to build(and there will be no messiahs in this). One that honours each brick, each sterling contribution. One that understands what our cement is made out of… One that applies it lovingly… Because this is actually a participative sport rather than a spectator one. We will all actually have to get off our asses and build! This will be a collective process, a consultative and collaborative one. It is the thing we ignored all those years spent surviving ‘Independence’. It’s called Nation Building.

I guess what I am saying is that THERE IS NO NATION WITHOUT INSTITUTIONS BUILT OUT OF ITS BEST VALUES. And the nation is the collective web of these Institutions strung together that all embody the best values of the People. And those Values are revealed and encoded in our Genius and our greatest Triumphs. So mapping, honouring, analysing, and housing our Genius and our Triumphs is a priority…

The thing I have learnt in my battles as an activist is that Heroes happen. Genius happens. Magical victories happen to a people. But unless those People invest in that Hero, that Genius, and that Victory- no Nation can be born out of it. That Hero becomes a blip and not a birth. In fact, the continual refusal to build institutions out of our human riches means that our Nation is continually aborted. This happens each time our elites refuse the head cornerstones…

In real life this is what it looks like: This abortion of potential was the main argument that many artists had against the wrongheadedness of NAPA and the then UTT programme. Artists had fought for the proper version of NAPA for 2 generations. 40 years! They fought so that the People of a-thing-that-would-be-called-Trinidad-and-Tobago would have an institution born out of its traditions and its greatest practitioners. But when $1 billion was eventually invested to build an edifice, those same indigenous traditions and practitioners were locked out of the politician’s NAPA. Out of the curriculum, out of lecturing, out of the very architecture of the space itself which had nothing to do with any of our indigenous traditions. Whilst the billion dollar building squatted on our landscape for its first decade nearly our entire Golden Age generation genius cohort of 20,000 died! Completely locked out of the Temple they fought 4 decades for. Locked out by the very same politicians who had ritually refused to build it in the first place!… This is the Trinbagonian tragedy. This is the Birdsong tragedy in back-to-front!

This has everything to do with Jamaica’s 18 medal haul at Brazil Olympics 2016- and or 1 medal win. Jamaica’s legendary Olympians train in a repurposed primary school(!)- whilst T&T has 12 major sporting stadiums and training complexes!!! 10 of which stand idle 90% of the time. A multi-billion dollar investment in concrete and steel. And party cronies… Yet still we have hundreds of grassroots coaches and sporting academies who have produced Olympic, CARIFTA, PAN AM, World’s, and Commonwealth champs who are homeless and under-resourced!!! That’s us. Plenty dollars. No sense… A Marketplace. Not a Home.

The disconnect between the People and our Elites- and the trillions of dollars in between- is the place where a Nation should be. Where only a Marketplace exists. A Marketplace with trillions of dollars. Trillions. Trillions never invested in a Nation…

Our job- the job of Independence- is to connect. Only connect. In the cases where we have built white elephants we presently cannot maintain or administrate competently- we must attach our Genius practitioners and surrounding community organisations to these edifices. As poorly constructed and ill-suited to what we do as most of them are. We must begin by Housing our Traditions.

Every single stadium should be cooperatively owned or shared by the sports clubs and coaches in their districts with priority and pride of place given to the elite athletes, coaches, and clubs- and then all the developmental clubs all the way down to infant level. There should not be a moment when the stadiums should not be occupied with some sort of activity. For this to happen T&T would need to produce- by foreign out-sourcing and apprenticeship training- a class of people we have not had because we have not created their reason-to-be yet- Institutional Administrators.

I am not talking about party group hacks, public service appointees, old sportsmen who have nothing to do, or ‘elected sporting body reps’- I am talking about TRAINED qualified apprenticed Institutional Administrators who complete International Best Practice training. And who are passionate about managing institutions. These are people who know how to run INSTITUTIONS successfully and profitably 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without betraying the core services and values of the Institution and the Traditions it is dedicated to. These are people who understand: the cycles of international Grant Funding; hundreds of methods of generating money at a community level; who understand individual and communal psychology; who understand all the working parts of institutions- facilities, admin and staffing, programming, and sustainability… Activists have demanded the investment in this trained cohort for 20 years without response. They would have saved our cultural, sports, and health white elephants long ago…

This revolution of which I speak is political and human. It will require individual and community activism, lobbying politicians to do what is right. Never an easy thing- especially where the whiplash of the party financier is never far away, where party discipline upholds the status quo, and where the lack of imagination and empathy of our political class is legendary. It also requires a different conception of Trini humanity by all of us- one that transcends race and class for real- because it means unifying communities across those barriers around COMMON INSTITUTIONS! Community Centres, Stadiums, Schools, Cultural Complexes, Museums, Halls of Fame, Health Centres, Hospitals- all which have to be managed and OWNED by communities. In interactive and participatory ways. This means we will have to converse with each other in new ways, intimate ways, about institutions that mean something to all of us, and negotiate a future together. Yuh know- Nation business…

This exercise I am talking about is also a real preparation for that time that will soon come when our Oil and Gas money will disappear forever. Then we will have to manage cities, communities, parks, highways, and buildings built when we were filthy rich- and which cannot be managed through massive State subsidies. Community cooperative ownership and management of well-manged institutions and facilities will be the order of the day… Let’s start to engage that reality now…

So some specifics.

The eviction of birdsong Academy

The eviction of birdsong Academy

The Birdsong tragedy: Birdsong is just one of 239 pansides in T&T. Possibly less than 10%of pansides own the land they live on. Since 2009, after much activism, we won a Cabinet Note which authorised the Regularisation of the Land Tenure of the nation’s panyards! When implemented it will be the largest migration of wealth into the hands of the roots and creative class in the country’s history. Hundreds of millions of dollars transferred to Creatives. The regularisation would be accompanied by the training up of the management and admin of all pansides and the creation of a Venture Capital model with special Heritage Laws. All this will be connected to the Lloyd Best ‘Schools in Pan’ model to transform panyards into Centres of Excellence and multi-purpose Community Centres to ensure success. The Artists’ Coalition first won this as part of a 6 prong ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ package we convinced then Minister of Arts Lincoln Douglas to implement. He instructed his then Advisor Roy Augustus to set up a committee under Nestor Sullivan with Pantrinbago regional reps. A survey of panyards was then done to ascertain what the status of panyards nationwide was, and then the strategy was developed alongside the Cabinet Note. The Birdsong tragedy is going to be repeated dozens of times in years to come unless we honour the Steelband movement by implementing this Cabinet Note. Low-hanging fruit: probably about 60% of all panyards exist on State lands where the regularisation could be done with the stroke of a pen! We- the People- have the power to lobby government to do the right thing and implement this Cabinet Note.

This is what I mean by Nation Building.

Makaandal Dagga

Makaandal Dagga

Makaadal Daaga’s Legacy: I was crushed by the fact that Daaga’s funeral did not have tens of thousands of especially African people present. It means that they do not understand that Daaga and the Black Power movement broke private sector Apartheid (except for ownership). This means that Daaga effectively re-distributed billions of dollars of wealth to African descendants, refining the gains won by the Trade Union movement- especially the OWTU (another institution this country disrespects not understanding its role in humanising our society). Massive parts of the economic humanity we have won in this-place-that-is-not-a-Nation-but-a-Markletplace-sans-humanitay is because of the OWTU and Black Power… Because of Daaga’s death there are 2 institutions we must build. The first is The Museum of Social History which activists in NJAC, Studio 66, and the MSJ won as part of Government policy to be created at the Museum of San Andres in downtown Port of Spain opposite the western end of City Gate and the Lighthouse. This modern interactive multi-media Museum will document the social movements that have shaped T&T throughout the millennia. Such a Museum would honour communities and remind our People of things we cannot- and MUST NOT forget! This is the Museum that lets us not take any of the gains we have won for granted. This Museum reminds us that a Marketplace is not a Nation- only a Nation is a Nation, and it is made up of People.

The other institution Daaga needs is the Daaga Multi-purpose Community Centre in Laventille. I am also going to link this with the building of the Percy Villafana Library in St Joseph. Why? Because these were 2 institutions promised by one Austin Jack Warner to these individuals and communities when tens of billions were flying all over the place under the last administration. Neither were built despite many efforts to get them underway. I take the betrayal of these promises- made to 2 people the People’s Partnership owed a lot to- as a symbol of the ritual betrayal of the idea of the Nation by our politicians. These are 2 institutions that need to be constructed in 2 communities that need them. The Daaga Multi-Purpose Community Centre should also feature an African nursery, primary, and Secondary schools as satellites with fully integrated holistic African-based curricula. It is what he deserves. But moreso it is what the Nation and the community of Laventille deserves coming out of his Genius and Interventions…

There are many other necessary institutions- for example: a proper modernised National Museum split up into a National Heritage Museum which chronicles the cultural adventure of T&T; a Natural History Museum which documents our geology, astronomy, flora, and fauna; and a stand-alone National Gallery which features our greatest visual artists and artefacts. For a comparison between a Nation and a Marketplace consider this- it would take you 2 days of constant walking to walk through the Jamaican National Gallery. It would take you 5 minutes to walk through the floor that houses ours!!! And we have 182 years of Carnival …

This has everything to do with the Honourable PM’s statement as regards the 10 Cazabons he bought and now has exhibited in the PM’s Diplomatic Centre: “A people uninterested in its art…its artists and its history are a people not worthy of an independent state… and we in Trinidad and Tobago are worthy.” Hold up- we ent worthy yet. Worthiness is something you earn, and 10 Cazabons does not a Nation make. A National Gallery however begins to make a Nation. The Artists’ Coalition has outstanding activism calling for the entire Diplomatic Centre and parts of the under-utilised PM’s residence to be given over to house the National Collection and form the stand-alone National Gallery for at least 3 years whilst a permanent purpose-fitted site be created for it. The gains T&T will make internationally for our Creative Arts and national brand if this government were to make this phenomenal magnanimous gesture would be enormous. Our entire nation and thousands of foreigners would visit this Wonder. Imagine the work of Minshall, Leroy Clarke, Bowen, Hinkson, Bailey, Boodhoo, Shaw, Embah, the Holders, Baney, and more all housed in that sprawling mansion. Game changing. Nation Building.

The final institution I will mention is a National Hall of Fame. However I am not advocating for the State to build this. This must be built by the People! I am here declaring that the Artists’ Coalition of T&T (ACTT) will embark on a national mobilisation to create a National Hall of Fame with a wide range of partners at all levels. We believe that this is an institution that must be built from the ground up!!! From grassroots individuals and communities, from the middle and upper classes, from philanthropic patrons to labourers contributing sweat equity, from collectors and historians, archivists and hobbyists, from NGOs and businesses. We must all band together to build this needed thing at our Heart Centre. Our Hall of Heroes. We must collectively build our National Hall of Fame as a starting point for the Nation. A rallying cry. To chant a Nation into existence.

I would be remiss if I did not place one cautionary note about this moment in our history: Presently there is a curious centralising of power into the Prime Minister’s Office. On the face of it, it seems benevolent. The Honourable PM has showed especial concern as regards matters of the ‘nation’s’ Visual Arts and so has purchased 10 Cazabons and exhibited them in his Home- however there still there is no National Museum board appointed. The PM has also created a special Ministerial committee for National Heritage in his Office to see about the Magnificent Seven- however there is still no National Trust board appointed- a board which we artists fought 25 years for and which we finally won 2 years ago. The PM has also created a Diversification and Local Content committee overseen by him to look after the Diversification and Local Content Agendas of the nation- this effectively folded up the independent private-sector-led Local Content Committee and the historic Local Content Chamber of Commerce whose existence inspired nations across the world! Everywhere I look institutions which people on the ground laboured hard to win are being folded up to get proximity to the Prime Minister and the power that exists in his Office. This is wrong. This abdication of responsibility and sovereignty by individuals and groups is dangerous- as is the centralising of decision-making power into the hands of one person- especially a Prime Minister. No matter how benevolent his or her intentions.

A nation is built by increasing responsibility to the collective, not in relinquishing control to one man. That is the meaning of Democracy and Independence. The dangers of secrecy, non-consultation, and non-transparency in decision making and outcomes then becomes real in such a situation. And as regards Nation Building- such a neutering of independent institutions to centralise power in one man- can prove to be fatal to the Nation-building exercise. We must also always be wary of the shadowy presence of the real winners of our ‘Independence’ thus far- the predators who have ruled over the rigged Marketplace that masqueraded as a Nation- a class British writers call ‘The Feral Elite’ and Americans call ‘the 1%’. They are an elite made up of party financiers, drug barons, and globalised capitalist merchants who have no affiliation to a thing called Country- or even Humanity. Their God is Money. And they are the People who win when the Nation aborts and fails… I urge all groups currently acquiescing their power in the ambrosia of believed maximum leader benevolence to re-establish their independent institutions so that you may have shelter if and when the ghobar hits the fan…

So. In conclusion. Flags, Anthems, Coats of Arms, and Watchwords do not a Nation make. Neither Genius, Heroes, Festivals, Songs, or Triumphs springing from the ground. They are only first steps. Raw material. They are like genes- you can’t help being how you are born. Nationhood comes with the consecration and institutionalising of your Gifts once they have appeared. We have not done so. So no Nation exists. Not yet. So let’s go get started!

In Part 2 of this series Rubadiri will look at the T&T Olympic 2016 adventure through the lens of this absence of Nationhood…

Posted on September 2, 2016, in President's Blog and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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