Caribana 2008 has come and gone and summer is almost over. There were some awe inspiring moments and some disappointing moments during the Caribana festivities. Some of those awe inspiring moments came from watching the King and Queen competition at Lamport Stadium. The brilliantly crafted costumes sometimes made it difficult to believe that so much could be done with items like fabric, beads and feathers. Martin Scott Pascall’s performance as Male Individual competitor can only be described as exquisite. His flawlessly choreographed moves as he did his 'Dance of the Worshipper Warrior' earned him the Male Individual of the Year title. I was so impressed I left Lamport Stadium with Machel Montano’s version of Congo Man ringing in my ears. The next day I was still singing and dancing to “When last you hear bout the Congo man? When last you jam to a Congo drum?” (which were the only words I remembered) until my child (who unlike me is not a fan of calypso or soca) was forced to voice some disapproval.
Another of those awe inspiring moments happened on Saturday, August 2nd at the Caribana parade when the Toronto Revellers made their appearance. The Toronto Revellers, led by Jamal Magloire educated Caribana watchers about Africa when they showcased their band Alkebulan: Beyond the Nile. Alkebulan is the ancient name for the African continent before Europeans renamed it Africa. With the 12 sections which included 2,000 members, spectators were treated to the colourful and brilliantly crafted costumes that brought to life some of the history of Africa. The costumes of the male Masai dancers were perfection. The Serengeti and Ama Zulu sections were also impressive. Especially impressive were dancers performing the Swazi dance choreographed by Martin Scott Pascall and accompanied by drummers resplendent in African outfits. The sight of African warriors, male and female some carrying replicas of the African continent was a spectacular sight. The name of the sections and the costumes made it obvious that the theme “Alkebulan” had been well researched. The 12 sections were Nubian Kings and Queens, Egoli, City of Gold, Diamonds in the Rough, Ama Zulu, Kemet, Gem of the Nile, Clivia Miniata Bush Lily, Ipada Bo-olog Bon, Serengeti, Masai Magic and Sahara Sunrise. There are not many other places where you would see a female Zulu warrior dancing to soca music with a male Masai warrior as her partner.
My disappointment came earlier than August when in March it was announced that this year’s Caribana would be branded Scotiabank Caribana for two years. I thought we had moved on from being branded since August 1st, 1838. The owning of Caribana by Scotiabank came cheap at 250,000 dollars in sponsorship over the next two years and in-kind donations such as advertising in bank branches both here and abroad. 250,000 dollars is a pittance from an organization that has billions and has benifitted from more than 175 years of Caribbean patronage. Scotiabank’s 2008 first quarter profits were $835 million and they made $3.55 billion in 2006 and Scotiabank Jamaica (established in 1889) made profits of $7.6 billion in 2007. Caribana is a festival that brings over a million people to this city who spend at least 300 million dollars which benefits everyone except our community. In a March, 2008 Caribana press release Toronto Mayor David Miller acknowledged: “Caribana is one of Toronto's oldest and most spectacular traditions, I have enjoyed leading the parade and meeting Torontonians along the route from all backgrounds and all walks of life. Caribana not only enriches this city culturally, it contributes over $300 million annually to our economy.” At the same press conference where Scotiabank announced its partnership with Caribana it was recognized that Caribana is a landmark event and a key tourist attraction for the City of Toronto which attracted more than 1.2 million revellers last summer.
From Scotiabank’s website I read: “The Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank) opened for business in 1832 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to facilitate the thriving trans-Atlantic trade between Britain, North America and the West Indies. Agents were quickly assigned to New York, Boston and London, providing a framework for the Bank’s operations and an early indication of its global aspirations. Scotiabank paid its first dividend to shareholders a year later - the first in an unbroken history of dividend payments that continues to this day.” I was relieved that unlike Lloyds of London and Barclays Bank that amassed their wealth from the slave trade, even though Scotiabank came into existence two years before slavery was abolished in Canada and six years before slavery was abolished in the British colonized countries, their money was not made from the slave trade. Instead, Scotiabank’s profits initially came through the maritime trade in cod, sugar, molasses and rum between Canada and the West Indies. Of course the sugar, molasses and rum were all made using the coerced, unpaid labour of enslaved Africans and the cod was fed to the enslaved Africans. Scotiabank has shown on their website that they understand the history and significance of Caribana by describing Caribana as “a cultural explosion of Caribbean music, cuisine, revelry as well as visual and performing arts.
Launched in 1967 as a Centennial Project by the Canadian Caribbean community, the world famous festival (Caribana) has become a major international event and in terms of audience, the largest cultural festival of its kind in North America. Carnival is at its roots, a celebration of the abolition of slavery, has now evolved to become an international cultural phenomenon. Scotiabank contributing financially to the Caribana festival however paltry the sum should encourage the other businesses which benefit financially from Caribana to make financial contributions also.
The hotels, banks, restaurants, the government, people who own parking spaces and anyone who has a hall to rent are among the many that benefit financially from Caribana. They all want the money we bring into their coffers but would prefer it if we were invisible. The Caribbean community has to insist that the three levels of government fund (it is our tax dollars) the Caribana festival as they fund other festivals that do not attract the numbers and the financial rewards that Caribana attracts to this country. We dare not take our eyes off or drop this ball because there are so many others waiting to “own” this lucrative Caribbean festival. It was not so very long ago that a group of white men from the USA obtained a patent for the steel pan. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of the republic of Trinidad and Tobago successfully challenged the granting of the patent. After a thorough examination of the evidence submitted by the Intellectual Property Office, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued an Inter Partes Re-examination Certificate that cancelled all the claims of the ‘Cycle of Fifths’ patent, which in essence revoked the patent. Meanwhile I will continue to annoy my child with Sparrow’s infamous yell; “Oudey oudeyy ohh” as I sing and dance to Machel Montano’s version of Congo Man and look forward to an improved Caribana 2009.
Written in 2008 August