Exploding the Pan National Instrument Myth

By Stephen Kangal
December 23, 2006

SteelpanSimultaneous with my recent objections to the notes of the tenor pan being elevated by the National Symbols and Observances Committee (NSOC) to the status of an exclusive cultural symbol to represent the distinctive Indian cultural presence in T&T in the medallion of the OTR and being snowed in by an avalanche of criticisms reinforcing and re-asserting pan as the national instrument, I must now call into question, in this context, Pan Trinbago’s “black mail” mantra and/or ultimatum of:

“No Savannah! No Panorama!”

I am now even more convinced that pan is the national instrument of the POS Savannah and not of the rest of multicultural T&T. Why then would Pan Trinbago and the Junior Culture Minister Eddie Hart refuse to travel south of the Caroni River to hold the Panorama Finals in San Fernando even if a million dollar first prize is offered? Is the Savannah the natural habitat and the exclusive home of Pan?

What would the burgesses of San Fernando think when Pan that they now cherish and regard as their own national instrument refuses to come to San Fernando to compete in the 2007 Panorama Finals? Does not San Fernando and the South deserve and can lay claim to the ownership of Pan? Or is the national instrument status conferred on Pan a hoax or a form of deception geared to extract blood money from “panatics”, the private sector and the State? Even PM Manning and Culture Minister Yuille Williams seem unable to take pan to Sando even if they dished out millions now and as they have done before.

It is not surprising that both the new Carnival Arts and the Performing Arts Centres will be erected side by side in the Savannah because pan is not going anywhere outside of the Savannah. Pan is first and foremost a POS thing. The center rules and dominates the periphery even today in true colonial-style in spite of the power elite coming from the periphery and south of the Caroni River in an era of independence.

What has Pan Trinbago done to take pan music to delight and entertain the neglected rural backyards especially during the Carnival season to foster and promote a love for the music across T&T? Pan Trinbago is not even keen on taking up the cost-overrun, $7m steel “ajoupa” built on their Orange Grove pan site gift. The declaration of pan as the national instrument in multicultural Trinidad and Tobago by the PNM Government was a political dictat. It was not based on consultations nor on the achievement of any national consensus on the declaration. It was a unilateral imposition designed to justify pouring massive State and private sector resources into pan at the expense of other legitimate musical cultural expressions.

Despite its uniqueness, creativity and distinctive cultural innovation pan cannot and should not be used conveniently to erase and/or marginalise all other cultural symbols from the multicultural landscape of “Dharti Mata” T&T. That will be a form of cultural tyranny. It will be inconsistent with and infringe the multicultural configuration of T&T.

It will also be indoctrination pure and simple being perpetrated by the new minority black ruling elite on the major minority. And Dr.Williams said in 1962 that the minority must give way to the majority in independent Trinidad and Tobago.

6 Responses to “Exploding the Pan National Instrument Myth”


  • When will Trinbagonans learn to accept the steelpan as ‘their national instrument’and stop trying to insert instruments that were brought to the island during slavery and indentureship. The steelpan was born and created in Trinidad by African decendants who used their creativity and skills to invent an instrument that the world has accepted as a member of the family of instruments. If other Trinbagonians created an instrument in Trinbago then surely that instrument can be considered a Trinbago instrument. But, the people who complain about the steelpan fail to show me another instrument that was created/invented in Trinbago. I suggest they join other Trinbagonians and accept their steelpan.

  • Can someone tell me what criteria is used to determine, in today’s world, when an instrument becomes a national treasure/instrument.

    If copyrighting and patenting are yardsticks, then as a nation we have failed miserably in obtaining ownership of “pan.” On the other hand, how many of you know that the saxaphone was invented in Belgium? Who cares?

    The fact however is that the “steelpan” was invented in Trinidad & Tobago. It is not a drum like so many other percussion instruments. If it is to be described as being a drum, then it is a drum with the full scale of musical notes which can produce classical as well as other forms of music. What is exceptionally unique about it is its ability to musically resonate not just via a single instrument but also as a full orchestra because of the differently tuned and shaped pans!

    Pride in this 20th. century invention should be sufficient to qualify it as our national instrument. But alas, its ownership is still up for grabs by the international community. Maybe we should consider it as our gift to the musical world. Its acceptance by musicians throughout the world and the fact that it was invented in T&T should be enough to have it portrayed on any national award. In fact, its unique design should form the backdrop for every national award.

    Henry Harper

  • This guy Kangal never saw something black that he did not dislike. If you did a review of all of his positions you would discover this imbalance. There has to be something screwed about someone with a virtual 0 racial slant in his positions and opinions.

    The problem with Africans in this region is that we do not dissect the race perverted nonsense that comes from these guys and profilerate it across the Americas for Africans in this region to recognize the rebirthing of sentiments that we figure had gone out of fashion with emancipation. This is a deliberate trend, a designed strategy to use false claims of discrimination to mask an affinity and connection with the belief structure of caste system in which Africans become the new “untouchables” I say to hell with diplomacy, call this for what it is.

  • I beg to differ…. I’ve read a lot of Mr Kangal’s colums and I find him to be impartial and fair.
    You should read his column on the reasons for the culture of Indian leadership and Political leanings. We need to try to see through all writings for what they are not who is writing it. What would we think if say an African writer wrote unfavourably about a sita etc…How would it be interpreted. It is the writer’s opinion and that is that….

    Keep scribbling Steven….about all topics….I may disagree with you at times…but as always to the open mind…u open it further….

    Regards.

  • Question:What is being done in Trinidad and Tobago to promote Carnival,Steelband and Calypso on the International scene?

  • Dear Mr. Kangal
    Pan IS the national instrument.
    Your 7 overblown paragraphs will not change that and are a waste of space.
    Pan is a brillian invention and a versatile instrument that can be used to play nearly any type of music.
    Many East Indian Trinidadians (including myself) play pan, are in the process of learning to do so, or are fans of the artform.
    Get a life, and some pan lessons.
    Regards
    Gunga Din

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