Order of the Republic Exclusionary

By Stephen Kangal
December 09, 2006

IndiansI have never ceased to agonise in mental pain at the continuing undue pressures being exerted on our Indian community to exercise constant and eternal vigilance geared to curb and correct the natural predilection of some public decision-makers in Trinidad and Tobago to exclude its presence from public symbols that claim by depicting selectively to represent the cultural diversity of our multicultural landscape. The absence of Indian names of public buildings and notably roadways are relevant in this regard.

Readers will recall that the first stimulus provided to review the symbolic Christian domination of the Trinity Cross Award was initiated by the late Pundit Krishna of my hometown of Caroni and the Mahasabha. He refused to accept the Trinity Cross. His “ratio dicidendi” was that the Christian Cross that was pivotal to our highest National Award insignia was inconsistent with the constitutional principle of equality of creed in a multicultural secular society such as T&T.

Now the Order of the Republic (OTR) that will replace the Trinity Cross emblazons a different but the same brand of exclusiveness. The OTR pays visible homage only to cultural emblems of both the First Peoples (Amerindians) and our African community. It deliberately excludes from its mosaic the inclusion of any clear motif depicting the outstanding cultural and other contributions of the Indian community that makes up 44 % of us. It is in fact using an African artifact to represent the Indian community. Was there any Indian input into the conceptualisation and design processes?

Is ‘Indian’ a bad word in T&T? Is it politically correct to place, “… the feathered headdress of an Amerindian chief,” (that incidentally is the logo of the President of Guyana) to crest the OTR and simultaneously to exclude any remote symbol or “pagree” of an Indian indenture whose blood and sweat fertilized King sugar? Readers will recall the cultural exclusiveness of the “Soca Warriors” label even though the Indo-T&T community patriotically rallied around the team. There was a cry for the more inclusive name of “Soca-Chutney Warriors” that fell on deaf and unreceptive ears.

The principal vehicle/base used for delivering the message in the OTR is the tenor-pan as set out in the accompanying official description. Could not a motif of a tassa drum have been embedded in one of the 12 empty spaces of the musical scales? Will this not have powerfully transmitted the current natural process of cross-fertilisation of our cultures (pan-chutney) as well? Will this have distorted the empirical correctness of the tenor pan on the OTR? By what stretch of my artistic imagination then can the 12 notes of the tenor pan be artificially and misleadingly considered a legitimate symbolic representation, “…of the many social and cultural contributions to the life of this country”? That is, seeing T&T through the eyes of an Afro-Trinbagonian.

The tenor pan is a real physical instrument. It is not a creation of a visual artistic mind in the medallion that may be amenable to the kind of misleading and propagandistic symbolism that is attributed to it in the OTR.

The inclusion of the two pan sticks adds to the tenor pan in a real and not symbolic sense. You cannot attribute symbolic meaning and interpretations to a physical fact that is the outstanding cultural creation of the African community in T&T even if many non-Africans play the pan with distinction. This is misrepresentation – pure and simple – throwing dust in Indian faces. This is a poor justification for exclusion and ample and convincing evidence why unity is so elusive in this society. The heavy price to be paid for subscribing to cosmetic unity in T&T is the surrender and abdication of your cultural and linguistic distinctiveness and personality that make up and underpin the rich crust of our diversity. That is anonymity by another name.

The design of the OTR is therefore ethnically exclusive and culturally insensitive in a society in which “mixed communities” now constitute the basic policy and philosophy of diversity appreciation. What of the Chinese community that celebrated its bicentennial this year? Did they not make an exemplary social and economic contribution that may surpass that of the Amerindians and is excluded as well? Is the distinctive tribute paid to the Amerindians in the depiction of the headdress of the Amerindian chief in the design of the OTR an emotional response and/or a compensating factor to mitigate for past historical neglect by the nationalist movement? Or is it because Mr. Ricardo Bharath, the PNM deputy Mayor of Arima, is the head of the Santa Rosa Amerindian community?

The natural habitat of the national bird, the Scarlet Ibis, decked in their flaming red plumage is the Caroni Swamp. It is not the SW Peninsula as is stated in the accompanying description. Is there an aversion to attributing anything national or exemplary to Caroni at Whitehall?

The elaboration of the design elements in the last sentence of (iii) makes a fleeting and wholly erroneous summation about the “harmonious whole” arising from the distillation of the “many social and cultural contributions”. What invisible hand distilled these separate cultural forces and where is the “harmonious whole” when the Regiment and Police Bands refuse to play Chutney music at National Parades and Indian musical expressions are accorded mere cosmetic representation in national/State events?

If the architects of the OTR are thinking of the natural flow of the cross- fertilisation process that is in fact taking place slowly but surely (cross over music) then I have made above a suggestion by which this can be effectively transmitted to the national and OTR recipient community.

I do not understand, with respect, what is meant in the second part of the last sentence of Section (iii). That is meaningless elegance of language that can be safely expunged from the unnecessary and ambiguous verbiage.

12 Responses to “Order of the Republic Exclusionary”

  • I have been reading some of Mr Stephen Kangal’s articles lately, and I find him to be so racially motivated, taking away from the facts, hoping to justify his promotion of the continued African and Indian divide in Trinidad and Tobago. Why should we use symbols from India on the OTR, you need to be patriotic to the land to which you belong, you are not an Indian, you are a Trinidadian/Tobagonian. If you believe you are an Indian, then you should emigrate to India, as some peoples of african descent did when they went back to Africa. Do not remain in Trinidad and Tobago and live hoping to make it a little India. Then what about the chinese indentured labourers etc. We could have an argument for all the races in Trinidad and Tobago, and also for all the religious groups. Mr Kangal stop promoting your racist ideas and accept the culture of TNT. The steel pan was invented in Trinidad by trinidadians, and that’s the fact, and the basis for putting the tenor pan on the OTR. I believe if the tassa drum was invented in Trinidad or Tobago, then we coul include it on the OTR….don’t you think so Mr Kangal. Just to let you know I just loveeeee the tassa drum and chutney music.

  • I totally agree with the sentiments expressed above. The fact that the steel drum is used as a symbol of the new nation of T & T is correct and valid. The drum is a local invention and an instrument which all the world recognises as representing the heritage of all the peoples of the island. The use an indian drum will certainly not reflect what our nation is about. It is an instrument which belongs to the Indian Sub-continent as the African drum represents that continent. Either of these would be equally inappropriate. We are all Trinidadians and Tobagonians, belonging to an island nation whose culture has evolved and been enriched by all it peoples. Why is it so difficult for some in our Indian community to cut with the past and embrace the future, like many other ethnic groups in T & T have done. As the product of Chinese and African heritage I cannot imagine championing the cause of Africa or China over that of my native island. I think it is very regretful that lessons have not been learnt from what happened in some African countries, when groups or idividuals are constantly looking back to an idealistic fatherland and refuse to commit to their adoptive country. One should owe no allegiance to lands which they were forced to leave and took no part in their current prosperity. I think that it is high time that people recognise that we have a cultural identity and heritage that is Trinidadian. We are not Africans, Chinese or Indians but Trinidadians. So Mr kangal if you really feel Trinidadian and not Indian, unite behind and be proud of what we have all created, and don’t continue along a path that we all know could only lead to conflict. Open your eyes and observe what happens when people insist and wish to preserve separate ethnic identities and deliberatley work against natural evolution and change. Yes, be proud of your Indian heritage, as we all should be about ours, but move on. Let’s not destroy something which is beautiful. Do you really want such divisiveness.

  • I wont say much… dont want to put out to spend too much of my energy on nonesense like that. I find this gentleman should redirect that distructive energy of racism into something positive. I really think you should listen to what Carol said GO BACK TO INDIA….or come live abroad and see how many indians from indian appreciate indians from the Caribbean… you might literally chew your tongue off and drink it down with some juice or water; because fact is..most of them dont like y’all at all … I know… because I met lots of them and I even work with them. I wont hesitate to say that people in Trinidad that thinks like you obviously havnt travelled to other places and see different people from different places oround the world, because if you did… there is an excellent chance you would be speaking like that. Living you entire life inside a little nest…with their own selfish notion of how things should be and how it shouldnt…when they dont know anything about the world they live in.

    Your remedy is to travel sir… see the world..get the big picture……………..

  • I have in my possession a unique videotape made when the TnT Association of Texas held its annual Independence Gala in 2005. Chalkdaust was our guest speaker. Michael Bruce created a video of Tassa Drumming by a trini group, African drumming- WonLande African Drummers of Guinea, and of steelband music. Any unlettered fool looking at and listening to the video tape, without the voiceover of the MC, would easily see that the steelband is a unique instrument, created from the drumming traditions of Africa with input from India. Listening to Wonlande at another performance today, I would say that the origin of Tassa Drumming is in Africa. If you listen to the hills as I used to do as a child, you could tell if an Indian wedding was coming up, or if the Shango people were holding prayers, depending on where the drumming was coming from, but the drumming was essentially the same. The steelband is a different drum, uniquely our own, perhaps a dougla purebred child, if the concept of a “pure” dougla could be made to fly.

    Can we build a valid community called Trinidad and Tobago, on the basis of blended people, when a small pocket of people climging to ancient ways of their past refuse to come along with the rest of the society? Can we do this when the society to which they once belonged has moved so far from where this community is now?

    The Amish people of Pennsylvania refuse to integrate. They are a separate group living in the USA who do not marry outsiders, go to separate schools, teach their own children and so on, but they do not ask the government of their state or nation for anything. They are self sufficient and are left alone, without cars or telephones, as they choose. Recent tragedies in their community caused outsiders to call 911 on their cel-phones, and provide cel-phone links to hospital where their children, victims of a school shooting, were hospitalized far from home. Neighbours also drove them back and forth. Their buggies were no good covering 200 miles to a hospital and back.

    There are no independent Amish-like communities in TnT. Everyone is educated at state expense, has equal access to the universities based on academic merit, and equal access to the police and other protective services,(Notice the two “Afro” coastguardsmen charged with stealing the drug evidence last week, and the two Indian policemen convicted of kidnapping the brother of the girl one dated)
    Equal opportunity criminality within the service. This proves that there is equal opportunity. So, we need to move forward behind the new award, unless people like Mr. Kangal would publicly state that they will be satisfied with nothing less than the Order of Indian Arrival and Deyas. Now, where will that leave the rest of us? I would hate to think that buying a roti is a racial decision, and that therefore I should stick to currant rolls, bake and shark and fried wontons.

  • I can fully understand if Mr Kangal wants to protest the exclusion of Indo-Trinidadian symbols. What I can never understand is the persistent flaunting of dumb ignorance or the skirting around of facts in order to promote one’s agenda. I’m hoping the culprit here is ignorance although I am no longer forgiving even that. I’m talking about this still-extant ‘soca-chutney’ warriors nonsense. Simple research (even if it’s done on the Web) would have shown Mr Kangal that “soca” as developed by the late Ras Shorty I (Lord Shorty) was a fusion of calypso AND the strong Indian musical influence he grew up hearing.

    It’s bad enough that the new name for the award is longer than a thesis — suggesting somebody’s condescension over the whole request to change the name of the award — but it’s not being made any better when the protests against the new name are just as ignorant of historical facts.

  • Corey and others, I agree with you all.

    *** Any unlettered fool looking at and listening to the video tape, without the voiceover of the MC, would easily see that the steelband is a unique instrument, created from the drumming traditions of Africa with input from India. (From Linda Edwards)***

    Linda Edwards, what is the evidence, historical or otherwise, for the assertion that the steel pan was created with input from India?

  • South India was “conquered”, “invaded”,”occupied” by Africans about twenty thousand years ago, taking their culture with them. The drum as a musical instrument made its way from Africa to Australia among dark-skinned curly headed people who now live in the Middle East, South India,and the Andaman Islands, the Islands of the “East Indies”- New Guinea, so named because the people are the same as those found on the west coast of Africa- the Guinea coast where the ancient Kingdom of Mali once existed-and what is called Polynesia, including the Phillipines. Drums were originally made of wood, the wood of the Iroko tree being a favorite, and these drums were too big to be moved, but their boom, when heated, could call people for miles. Where there were no trees big enough to make these booming drums, people have used gourds and other instruments to make resonators. The drum went with the culture, where ever it went.Although West Africa was smelting iron about two thousand years ago, iron did not seem to appear in the evolution of musical instruments until later. Wood was sacred, iron was commercial. The drum was sacred too.

    I tell the same story about spices- especially cumin- a spice mentioned in the Bible. Both Indians and Mexicans use it in their food a lot. How come? Islam went out from the Middle East and North Africa to India, and to Spain. El Andalus was the Islamic name for southern Spain for six hundred years. “Islamic” or Middle Eastern spices for making lamb taste good, moved there too, and came with Columbus and his men to season the meat of the new world. This spice was used throughout the Middle East in Old Testament times, and is still used there, by Jews and Christians as well as Muslims. Thus both Hispanic-Americans and Indians find cumin indispensable, and both claim it is theirs, so also of cardamon.These spices were once as valuable as money.
    Now, perhaps it also grows naturally in India, but India did not contribute to the Old Testament,although it is believed that Melchoir-one of the Magi came from there, some insiist he was from China, not India.

    When one takes race out of things Trinidadian, and looks at how cultures move and shape and reshape themselves, the wonderful weaving of the fabric of humanity is obvious.

    If anyone can cite a picture or a reference to drumming in North India, or in any work of Sanscrit or in any ancient raggas, I would like to be told.I do not read Sanscrit, Bengali or Hindi.- I could have missed something.When drum corps were added to European bands, their headdress was often that of an African- leopard skin or something African. People recognize the piano, the bugle, the fife as European, the sitar as Indian and the drum as African. Modern variations have made them all international, and so too is the steelband. We must ensure that our children unto the tenth generation after us, know that the steelband is uniquely ours.
    “If you plan for a year, plant rice, if you plan for ten years, plant trees, if you plan for a hundred years and beyond, educate people” A variant of an ancient Chinese proverb.

    Linda on Sunday.

  • Linda Edwards, you have not presented evidence that the steel pan was created with input from India. Thanks for the response though.

  • Corey Gilkes. Sir, I must say, in two short paragraphs you have made more sense than 90% of the people in this Blog.

    Linda, that is an interesting topic you brought up in your last comment. It is something we could discuss till the end of time. But, as you requested, I must point out that drumming has existed in Northern India for thousands of years. You say that Africans settled South India 20,000 years ago. Now, for me to point out out anything specific like a raga (approx. origins at 2,000 ago) would be pointless since according to your figures, the arrival of Proto-Africans predate that.

    Maybe when you post a new topic we could further discuss.

  • You are all too hard on Stephen Kangal.
    I think the message here is respect and recognition for the contributions of the Indian segment of the Trinidad and Tobago population.
    He is making an argument for the Indian presence to be front and center in the making of our national image and not simply an after-thought.
    He is demanding recognition of deserved first-class citizenship not simply an attitude of “we are all Trinidadians”.
    In the U.S. there is a continual argument made for “race neutrality”.
    The idea is that Americans should not worry about racial representation because “we are all Americans”.
    However the dominant symbols used inevitably leave out or denigrate whole segments of the population.
    The “race neutral” argument is inevitably made by the majority to tell other populations to be “satisfied”.
    But it is natural to look for yourself in the images of national life.
    Now TnT is way ahead of most places in the world when it comes to real brotherhood and respect among racial groups.
    Also, I’m sure Kangal have gotten some of his facts wrong as to the historical nature of some symbols as many of you have ably pointed out.
    Maybe he didn’t know that Ras Shorty I payed much homage and gave copious credit to the Indian influence in Soca.
    But I think I understand where Kangal is coming from. We have pointed out his many historical errors but this should not blind us to a very real concern in the way Indian people see themselves in this country.
    Often its a subtle thing. But there is a patronising attitude. A kind of secondary notion that says “you are important too” rather addressing feelings of marginalisation in a spirit of brotherhood.
    I’m sure many of us enjoy Indian culture. But Indian people should not be made to feel that this is enough.
    Respect means that we should all be involved in determining and debating the representation of our national identity.
    Only then we can say that we are all Trinidadians.

  • Andy:It may seem that we are “hard on him” but not if you read all his comments as one long monologue. try it and see. I’m brief. I’m baking mi fruit cake today.

  • [South India was “conquered”, “invaded”,”occupied” by Africans about twenty thousand years ago, taking their culture with them. The drum as a musical instrument made its way from Africa to Australia among dark-skinned curly headed people who now live in the Middle East, South India,and the Andaman Islands, the Islands of the “East Indies”- New Guinea, so named because the people are the same as those found on the west coast of Africa- the Guinea coast where the ancient Kingdom of Mali once existed-and what is called Polynesia, including the Phillipines.]

    Thank you Linda. Stumbled on a Tassa performance on Youtube here:
    Your point is well taken, and this is where ‘we’ need to take this national debate. One only have to look at ‘why’ the Grand Ole Opry (Country Music) offically barred the Drum-Set from their stage until 1973 to fully understand your point.
    The ‘African Presence in India’ must be raised to neutralise the stench that is coming from many of these writers (Some of whom would only have to look into the mirror to confirm this presence).

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