It is hard for me to visit Government House and not feel shackled, physically if not also mentally, by what we often refer to as our colonial past, although by all appearances it remains our present. Government House, although immaculately redecorated with much input, I am told, by Dame Pearlette Louisy herself, nevertheless suggests plantation sweat.
Sometimes I think I hear the wooden floors jeering at me about our insanity that permits us still to be governed by protocols and to a large extent a constitution that have more to do with our former colonial masters than with our own wishes. Better days huh? But let me not get too far ahead of myself.
I last visited Government House on Thursday January 11, 2013—a special occasion designed to attract media buy-in for Nobel Laureate Week: January 20 to 26. It is the period when we celebrate Saint Lucia’s two Nobel Laureates: Sir Arthur Lewis, honoured in 1979 and Derek Walcott in 1992. Another record: both men were born on January 23.
For all I know, the organizers of Nobel Laureate Week also see it as a time to remind ourselves of whom we really are: despite our smallness, “two little black boys” from Saint Lucia had excelled on a universal scale. What better inspiration for the thousands of other little black boys all over our island, those on the blocks and in our countless ghettos included!
Alas, even as we seek to promote our two intellectual giants (only Walcott survives) it seems we pick and choose from their writings and speeches only what is convenient. Both, in one way or another, had observed that a nation is dead that shows scant regard for its natural and cultural heritage; that does not encourage creative expression by its people. Walcott had with characteristic eloquence brought the hammer down on the head of the nail when in his 1991 poem specially written for publication in the STAR in relation to Jalousie Plantation he’d written: “May the next generation curse a government so blind it handed over a nation sealed, delivered and signed.”
Well, on Thursday the surviving Nobel Laureate again had reason to comment on local tourism policy. While talking to reporters about his thoughts on the newly established ministry for the creative industries he resurrected the undead M-Group and Jalousie story while commenting on the Freedom Bay project at a location designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The area has been a source of controversy as far back as the Eighties, when the M-Group and the day’s government first announced plans relating to Jalousie Plantation. Back then, local reporters were barred from the site but one foreign journalist who gained entrance later wrote of the M-Group: “All they care about are the rich tourists they felt certain would come in droves to Jalousie once their resort was open for business. Visitors will have no reason to venture outside the periphery; every luxury will be provided for their enjoyment.”
The story of the Jalousie project, covered in great detail by the day’s STAR and featured in Rick Wayne’s Lapses & Infelicities, drew strong protest from environmentalists the world over, all of whom shared a special fascination for Saint Lucia’s Pitons. One of the protesters against Jalousie was a son of environmentalist Jacques Cousteau.
The project went ahead anyway, with the government making the usual promises of jobs, jobs, jobs and a leading politician labeling a critical Walcott “a reckless armchair politician in Boston.” Kenny Anthony, also then a protesting leading member of the Saint Lucia Environment and Development Action Council (SLEDAC), took his fair share of verbal blows from the day’s government. Not surprisingly, Anthony had not a bad word for the Jalousie project after he was elected in 1997. Indeed, he echoed much of the praise earlier heaped on it by John Compton.
On Thursday, in reference to the arts here, a somewhat more diplomatic 82-year old Walcott told reporters: “I don’t want to make a judgement that is going to incriminate any one party or any government. Saint Lucia is going through a very tough economic crisis and naturally the arts suffer. What we have to do is keep thinking that no matter what the crisis , the arts are a necessity. But we have to have the money to sustain them. So, yes, more should be done but we need to look for subsidies for sustaining the arts. We still do not have a museum or a theatre—and that’s criminal. And no party should excuse itself for not doing that for the people. These things are not for the artistes, they are for the people of Saint Lucia.”
As for his thoughts on the establishment of a Ministry of Creative Industries, Walcott asked in apparent shock: “That’s the name of a ministry? Someone who was creative did not do it? It’s not a nice title. I don’t know what creative industries means!”
When the subject of Freedom Bay came up, Walcott shifted uneasily in his seat. “What are they doing now?” he asked, somewhat bewildered. “Who is allowing that to happen? This government? I didn’t know that, but that’s very bad news to me. That’s terrible news and the messenger should be shot!”
The Nobel Laureate went on: “How can they find the place to build a hotel at the foot of the Pitons and they can’t find a spot to build a museum. That’s the rage that I have, the anger that I have. When I see something like that happening in comparison to what is not happening and the excuses being given . . . My brother Roddy died working for the arts in Saint Lucia. He never saw a museum go up or a theatre go up. I suppose I too will die and not see it happen either—it is shameful.”
Walcott said the whole thing speaks to our disregard of our natural heritage. Apropos of the “relaunched” Freedom Project, he asked: “Where is this hotel going to be located? Have they begun it yet? When are they starting? And exactly where is this place? Will you see it in any projection of Petit Piton? And nobody has objected to it? They have not objected to it in parliament? So the deal was approved by the Saint Lucian government?” From the eloquent mouth of a hurt-to-the-bone Derek Walcott, unanswerable questions tumbled like loosened rocks from the top of Gros Piton into the Soufriere sea.
“I am ashamed of my country,” he sighed, “because that’s whoring and you can quote me on that. If you are telling me right, that there is going to be a hotel built at the base of Petit Piton, visible as a hotel, then that is whoring and I am ashamed of my country. There can still be time for protest but what can you say when a country approves of its own disfigurement?”
It is anyone’s guess whether Walcott will stage his own protest by refusing to grace this Nobel Laureate Week’s activities with his illustrious presence!