Creating Community

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 27, 2007

Young PeopleWhen I grew up in Tacarigua in the nineteen forties and fifties my mother made sure I attended Tacarigua E.C. School while my grandparents immersed themselves in their Yoruba religion. Each year, we celebrated the Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.,) but on those glorious nights of October when the Shango drums rang out through the village we all went to Mother Gerald’s Shango tent. Cousin Lily’s thanksgivings; Tantie Lenora’s devotion to the Shouter Baptists; and the respect we paid to our ancestors on All Saints Night were parts of that corpus of ritual belief that gave village life a sense of purpose and wholeness.

In those days magical days, Shango and Obeah kept our community relatively stable. Murders were far and few in between; we left our doors open because we trusted one another; stick fighting, an African martial art, held a prominent place; my mother conducted her susu, an African practice of thrift; and folks came together to help one another during harvests and the building of homes (gayap). In all of these practices a sense of community that transcended our individual concerns. Victor Turner describes this condition as the pull of communitas, an intuition that transcends our coded roles as individuals– a bonding of human beings who are fundamentally equal and associated together in community.

Inherent in these practices was a notion of “dread” that kept our community together. The power of Shango; the fear of Obeah; the respect paid to our ancestors on All Saints’ night; and the respect for our elders told us there was something larger than our puny selves that kept us within the straight and narrow. No matter how much of a bad john (anti-social) a person was, when the drums of Shango called, man and woman left their home and headed toward the palais for a communal rendezvous. Those who believed in Shango, immersed themselves in its rituals; unbelievers respected the power of the Yoruba god. In those days we paid reverence to a force that was larger than us and which contributed “an essential generic human bond without which there could be no society” (Turner).

Today, young people fear neither God nor man. The quality of dread does not exist in their universe; very little is worthy of respect; and their experiences teach them that there is nothing outside of the self. Instead, we preach (and they believe) a gospel of prosperity that glorifies the pomp and vanity of life around them; we revel in the life-giving properties of material prosperity; and legitimizes a quest to achieve unlimited pleasure.

Therefore when President Maxwell Richards analogizes the nation’s predicament to that of “a state that fails” rather than “a state that prevails” and sees the solution of our problem as laying inside the “school bags” of our nation’s children, he does not represents fully the challenges our young people face. Beyond draining the school bag metaphor we need to examine what we are asking of this generation of school-bag carriers?

Our young people need to know what we expect of them and the common values that hold our society together. We should reason with them rather than hector them; explain what is required of them rather than re-echo the same tired appeals; respect their intelligence rather than violate their rationality.

A society cannot exist if it is not grounded in common beliefs nor can it go forward without having a sense that we are working toward the same ends. We can start this process by aiming to achieve a few common objectives: no one should leave school without knowing how to read and write (we used to call it the 3R’s); without a knowledge of our country’s literature and history; and without knowing the common values that undergird our society. No young person should arrive at maturity (that is, around the age of twenty) without having performed some form of supervised community service. S/he should have a mentor, be it a university student or a responsible adult.

Each adult should lead a disciplined personal life (we are the ones from whom they learn their anti-social behavior) and each primary and secondary school teacher should be computer literate. We should encourage more research about our country’s past and present; involve each young person in community activities; and inculcate into every young person a sense of individual worth and personal responsibility. We should use our media (both print and electronic) to promote the values that we deem desirable and place greater emphasis on civic, aesthetic, and spiritual [not necessarily religious] education. Our government should spend less on spectacular buildings and more on libraries, cultural, and sporting centers.

We also need to encourage our “edgemen,” that is, our budding prophets and artists “who strive with passionate sincerity to rid themselves of the clichés associated with status incumbency and role playing to enter into vital relations with other men in fact or imagination.” Let us encourage them to stick to the aesthetic and philosophical vocations that grip them as youths.

In this day and time, if would be nice if we can offer our young people what my elders offered me: a sense of dread and the possibility of human flourishing.

12 thoughts on “Creating Community”

  1. Regretfully, this piece has seen no public comments to date. Cudjoe’s reminiscence on how we were is interesting, but mostly irrelevant to the children of today, being raised by the generation of Cudjoe’s children.

    What does one do to reel in violent children who are murdering their parents, teachers, grandparents and classmates?

    This is not only so on The TnT scene, but anyone following news from the USA would have heard of the third-graders-(9 to 11 year olds) who took to school material to “Harm the teacher”. Including a paper-weight to knock her out, a knife, handcuffs and duct tape. They had divvied up the tasks. One to tape the windows, so no one could look in, etc.

    Now who would think that a teacher would daily need to protect himself or herself from third graders- ten year olds?

    These are the times we live in. The state of Georgia says they are too young to be prosecuted for a crime that could have resulted in death of the teacher.

    Now, how about prosecuting the parents of these children for the crime of plotting/conspiracy to do bodily harm, and for taking weapons to school.

    Worldwide, rescue missions need to be organized to save our youtth. Worldwide, parents should be prosecuted for the law-breaking of their children. Somewhere in at least one household, children were watching ways of subduing and harming someone, unless we want to believe that these parents conduct such courses in their homes. Children watching TV learn too much that we do not want them to learn, but children do not buy TV sets or cable. The parents do.

    Granted, the lurid details of a crime in the newspapers could trigger a similar response, but it has been found that today’s children cannot read newspapers. What to do with these hardened children? Who robbed them of their childhoods and forced them into an adult world where a reprimand results in a plot to kill?

  2. Linda, I totally agree with what you have said. I live in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta, however is not where the third graders plotted to harm their teacher, but we have seen an increase in child violence over the years. There is a 14 year old locked up now for rape, an 17 & 18 year old, and an 8 year old for the same dastardly crime, let alone the murders committed by teenagers more often than not. There is a 17 year old in sitting in jail for killing his mother, and two sisters a month ago. This is surely a problem thats spans the Americas, we see this kind of tragedy going on in Jamaica & Panama the homes of my families roots and of course I have much family in Jamaica still. I recently had a cousin shot, but not killed in Kingston, JA in 2007 and my nephew was murdered in San Diego, California in 2006. Yet with all that said I have no idea what we can do to stop this human distruction by our own people.

  3. The rot is too endemic. We are precariously perched on the brink of social collapse, and like it or not, if we are to be pulled back from the brink, we need to be first rescued from our present crop of political leaders. They cannot be part of the solution because as creators of the rot they themselves are the problem

  4. We blame the politicians for too much. Worldwide,children are out of control. Trinidad only had 1.5 million people of the 6.2 billion.Children everywhere are murderous, hateful, short-tempered. Is it the water? The food? Electronic bombardment? This is happening in Britain, the US, Canada and the Caribbean- places from which we get the news. It may be happening elsewhere also, so to blame the politicians of Trinidad and Tobago, is to beunrealistic.

    Those third graders in Georgia are not trinis. They are just part of a world-wide syndrome.

    Imagining the chldren this generation would raise, is nightmarish.

  5. I believe the thread refers to Trinidad and Tobago. Third graders in Georgia are of no real interest to someone living and experiencing the hell that is Trinidad and Tobago today.

    While the problem may be global as Linda Edwards suggests, I am certain that the causes are not universal because what is happening in Trinidad and Tobago can be attributed to a local phenomenon that other countries have been spared. That phenomenon, my Dear People, is known as the “PNM Mentality”. It is a national blight; it is incapable of legitimate or noble expression and it is the root cause of the malaise that afflicts Trinidad and to a lesser extent Tobago.

    Fortunately for Tobago, the PNM’s tentacles were not as deeply rooted there so the sister isle had over the years been largely spared the ravages of that ignoble mentality. But since the PNM’s retaking of the island in 2001 the deterioration of Tobago began in earnest. Look at the crime wave in that part of the country now. No part of Trinidad or Tobago can be regarded as safe from the ravages of the predatory PNM savages and their degenerating, devolving progeny.

    The acronym “PNM” has assumed unflattering adjectival connotations of its own. Given time it may well find itself in a Standard English dictionary and in everyday use. When reference is made to that “PNM mentality” the uncomplimentary and negative innuendo are crystal clear to every single Trinbagonian, particularly to those opposed to the party.

  6. In today’s world, the world has shrunk to a global village.
    Tomorrow marks the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Where were you on that day? Born yet? well, I was proctoring the Easter Term Exam at a teachers’ college when a colleague dropped me a note that carried the news. I stooped, and informed the students. Should we stop the exam? The students’ wanted to know. I pointed out that his mission would not want us to stop. We went on with the exam with some students pausing to pray first. The same was true of the Kennedy Assssinations.They affected us.

    We could pretend that the children in Georgia do not afect us. That would be foolish. We live in an age of instant contact. whenever I visit Trinidad, the only place I could escape Americana is on a remote beach somewhere, before the crowds arrive.
    We are part of the world. Our violent, unpredictable children are reading the same news, watching the same programs and trying to use the same cell-phones in class. Their ideas of what they want for and of their lives are no longer driven by parents, but by media.
    I know this becuse I kkep my fingers on both pulses, in both countries.

    We could say it’s irrelevant, in trying, perhaps, to score a cheap shot, but that is not so.

    Even as a small child, my world in TnT was defined by America. Chewing gum, chocolates, and toys at Christmas were part of the Americana that affected my tiny life.

    We survived the bombardment because we were lucky enough to have two strong parents, rooted n our African heritage, who knew who we were and whose we were, and a mother that was at home, waiting at the gate.

    Today’s children have few of these things. We may have bben poor, but we did not know it. Today’s child measures his or her life by the biggest Pizza Hut in the world- Roxy theatre, wanting to go to movietown and mall crawling as an ambition.

    Let us get our heads out of the sand. Our children are psuedo American, like it or not.

    Go out and ask them, they’ll tell you.

  7. Okay. So the world has shrunk to a global village, what else is new? Why are you looking to blame T&T’s predicament on foreign influence?

    Who is to be blamed for allowing foreign influence to replace parental authority?

    Why have several generations of parents in Trinidad and Tobago, specifically Corridor parents and those from other PNM strongholds abdicated their parental responsibilities giving rise to today’s crime rampage?

    You say you and your siblings survived the bombardment by American media because you were lucky enough to have two strong parents, rooted in your African heritage. What happened to all the other African-Trinidadian parents? Have they been asleep for the past fifty years?

    I think you overestimate the power of “Americana” and “foreign media” and ignore the destructive effective of forty-two years of incompetent Afro-Trinidadian rule.

    You talk about burying our heads in the sand, but no serious discussion on Trinidad and Tobago can overlook the forty-two year stewardship of successive Afro-dominated PNM governments.

    By whichever yardstick you choose to evaluate it, the PNM is much more than just a political party. The PNM is an institution and a way of life; some may be tempted to call it a cult. It has dominated the politics, governance and everyday life of the Nation for forty-two of the last fifty-two years, thirty of them uninterrupted, even during the brief periods when it was out of office.

    The PNM’s tentacles have influenced and defined – some say undermined – the intellectual, moral and spiritual fabric of our society, destroying in the process the country’s work ethic, productivity and national pride, pervading nearly every aspect of our national life since the severing of the Colonial umbilical cord.

    No public sector school, public institution, state agency or government department has escaped its influence; neither has its ethnic support base where that “PNM mentality” took root and today is proving to be the greatest blight to have descended on this country, worse even than the nefarious drug trade.

    The social negatives that afflict us today can all be laid quite justifiably at the doorsteps of the PNM since no other political party has stayed the course long enough to have made an impact, positive or otherwise, on our way of life.

  8. And who raised the Poolool brothers, Dole Chadee and company and all the Indo-trini wife murderers over the last forty-two years? You are turning this into a race discussion. People rooted in a belief system, no matter its origins, that is centered on life and family, will tend to be strong. Never forget that it was the grand-child of the Cropper family(Angela’s) who did in her husband, mother and aunt, or was it sister.
    There always were single parent families in TnT. Slavery and Indenture saw to that. Today, if you go to the St. Mary’s children’s home you will see that there are children there from every ethnic group in TnT, except Europeans, so the stress of familial prssure is being felt by all groups. The video feed people, and owners of cable companies are not PNM-COrridor, (where is that place, incidentally?) people. The two parents who recently fed their chhildren lanatte and paraquat, maybe lanate is paraquat, I am not up on my poisons, may live in the east west corridor- I think one was from Sangre-Grande, but are not Afro-Trinis. It seems that the foundations of two parent families in every category have been weakened. We need to find ways to strengthen parents, not by rigmarole and political cant, but by sensible proposals for positive change. Who introdued American values? The leased boat, land for destroyer system, that put an American air and army base at waller Field in 1941, and chanfged he complexion of the twon of Arima, . This also brought in thousands of MENONLY from Grenada, BArbads and St. Vincent to work in the base. the lived in cumuto, san RAfael and Arima. This was a repeat of the indentured system which first brought only men to Trinidad, and later brought one woman for twelve men.(check the historical record).

    Societies are seriously damaged by such massive undertakings in the name of development and employment. It was these bases and the one at Chaguaramus, that drastically altered the northern part of the island. In the south, the oilmen who used to come, brought familes. This made a difference. Today, they all have returned to “bachie” status, and the south will begin to feel the pressure of randy white males from metropolitan countries, on their daughters. There used to be no Indian prostitutes in TnT. that has changed also. Shall we wait for further deterioration to prove who is right? When a man has a grass cutter’s salary, and a pretty daughter or wife, whom others with money desire, how long will it take for her to resist the pressure?

  9. Linda, it is very unfortunate for you to try to match societal variables of T&T and the US. They are very much different, for the most part. Given the share difference in size, racial, and ethnic make up, 1.3mil people should not be undergoing such rampant turmoil on a daily basis. Let me say this, just about every institution is broken in T&T. Even given the enormous growth of its economy, the country’s distribution of income is grossly short of enabling the majority to enhance their quality of life. Imagine, $80,000 a month et al for the president of UTT. “Can u feel me?” You clearly mentioned the solution, parenting. But at the same time, u blame the children. Particularly, in Trini, it is the parents and the government PNM. Why PNM? They have been in power for a very long time. Incidentally, I presume u must be a fan. Nevertheless, they are less of the solution and more of the problem. So, take some time off the beach and check out T&T, if there r roads to get you there. And yes, where were you when so and so was this and that questions, only reveal the influence of the old guard theme. It is the kind of thinking that T&Ters are gradually moving away from. Doh spend all yuh time on the beach and check your spelling.

  10. Jethro, you’re an impertinent little rascal! Imagine your telling me to check my spelling while using words like “Doh “, not as a musical note, and “yuh”. Solutions to any nation’s problems must be milti-generational. I will gladly surrender all leadership roles to the under forties, when they stop the killing, the burning alive of a man mistaken for another, the murders of wives and rival gangs and so on. I will gladly surrender all leadership to the youth, when they are willing to volunteer time to help build the society we are passing on to them. I may have to wait till I am ninety-five, but I’d wait. meanwhile, regardless of what government is in power, from the 1940’s onward, Trinis have been looking to the US for leadership.-This is our historical past and our presnt economic problems. We want to fill our suitcases with the expensive goods of North America, shop in West Mall, the TnT equivalent, and yet seem unwilling to save for one’s old age and the education of one’s chidlren. We also seem content to dig out each other’s eyes when it comes to the costs of daily living- food, rent, transport.
    In the country we are busy imitating, there are regulations. Our only rule seems to be that we do our own “ting”.

    People who do the same things over an over, and expect different results, qualify as insane people.
    The entire society may not be there, but we seem to be heading that way. It’s not the PNM,…it’s the people, all the people. I continue to lift my beloved land in my prayers daily.
    Check the population of Europe’s tiniest country, called Andorra. It’s not big at all, but it works.
    I hope my language and spelling meet your approval. I was using the PC for this one, not the laptop, and I am wearing my glasses.

  11. The drug trade and fast wealth has caused adults to neglect training their children.Even the children are used in the fast growing drug trade across the world.People no longer make it a rule for their children to attend church or Sunday school, things have drstically fallen apart. I think it is beyond repair if the drug market keeps growing.

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