Days after the premature 2016 elections, ministries with strange-sounding names were assigned enthusiastic individuals by an uncommonly ebullient prime minister. The Ministry for Culture and Local Government landed in the lap of Senator Fortuna Belrose.
In 2014 the Merriam-Webster Dictionary declared culture its 2014 Word of the Year. Use of the word, according to Merriam-Webster, “has moved from the classroom syllabus to the conversation at large, appearing in headlines and analyses across a wide swath of topics”, giving people reason to decipher between its many meanings.
There are predominantly three contexts in which the word is used, declared The NewYorker in a blog following Merriam-Webster’s 2014 Word of the Year.
Two of them might be associated with Fortuna Belrose’s responsibilities. The first is usually paired with heritage (eg. New Zealand’s Ministry for Culture and Heritage). The word culture, as used here, is a noun defined as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”.
Although there is, within the Ministry of Tourism, Information and Broadcasting, a department headed by Minister Dominic Fedee called Creative Industries. Its motto: To create an environment for the rejuvenation and celebration of Saint Lucia’s cultural heritage and the development of vibrant national creative industries programmes.
Unless the Government of Saint Lucia’s website needs some updating, or Fedee has a shared responsibility with Senator Belrose, then the definition of the culture assigned her should be the plural noun: “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group,” a synonym of society.
If so, then Senator Fortuna Belrose had every good reason, when asked about the influence of politics on our nation’s culture, to say: “It has destroyed our culture and Saint Lucians need to recognize that.” But then her statement sounds imprecise, technically at least, since anthropologists tell us culture is ever-changing, not being “destroyed”. On the other hand, the senator’s meaning was clear when she spoke last Thursday: “I think over time we’ve moved from who we were – a friendly, loving, engaging, warm people who always looked out for their neighbour.”
If I may dare to disagree with Rick Wayne, there is more to our culture than bobol and gwenn anba fèy. Maybe not enough to overpower the ridiculously excused rapes, alcoholism, violence and corruption, but a foundation of Saint Lucian culture, as much as food, music and rum, has been community spirit. Our society was heavily influenced by agriculture and there was a concept of sharing or bartering, where you’d bring your neighbour a dasheen today and receive a hand of plantain the next day; and children felt at home in every house on their street.
But back to Senator Belrose: “Too many people are divided for political reasons; too many neighbours do not talk to one another, just because of politics. Too many of the projects that we undertake in the communities are political. People are negatively impacted. There is a breakdown of the systems with respect to community organisations. While you do have a number of groups that function, you still don’t have, to my mind, sufficient activity on the ground, in small communities, in terms of keeping people engaged on issues.”
Additionally: “The political parties influence what happens to our culture. When you have a government or a party that pushes an agenda that provides only for its supporters, that operates a system of affirmative action; it means the society is disenfranchised because only a select few would be able to get that attention. And as I go around in my community, in my new position as a politician, I can see the consequences.”
Belrose says, encouragingly, that her ministry was strategically designed to ensure the Saint Lucian populace is being empowered to determine its own destiny. “We will use the culture in whatever way we can for economic gain for our people but, more importantly, to continue to build peace and social cohesion within our society. The onus is on us now, as a new government, to ensure that we pull our people together to ensure that they understand that they all matter. We are all part of this beautiful country called Saint Lucia.”
Does this mean that Belrose has embarked on a cultural revolution? The term was defined in 1996 in A Concise Dictionary of New Words thus: “The social and political movement to purify and reinvigorate communism by replacing bureaucrats and intellectuals, reforming the educational system, and re-educating the bourgeoisie by forcible exposure to manual work”. But what about a supposedly free state like Saint Lucia? Will we have to become a little bit communist in the best interests of “social cohesion”?