Trinidad and Tobago has always been dreadful at organising anything but Carnival. Nowadays, we can’t even organise that properly. And it is killing us, in some ways, literally.
The example of Desperadoes and the Laventille Hill is instructive.
Laventille has been problematic but it has produced some of the most talented and competent sons and daughters of our soil (including a US ambassador to Trinidad). It was the crucible, the historians agree, out of which came the steelband and it has also provided leadership and creativity to the steelband movement for many years.
As a result, Laventille’s leading band, Desperadoes, multiple winners of the annual Panorama competition, have had their supporters come in droves from far and wide to listen to their band on The Hill.
Even when the prevailing culture spawned some unsettling fear of going up The Hill, we were always comforted by the knowledge that the community had our backs. Then something happened. I cannot say precisely where it came from but something happened.
Maybe it was the passing of, as David Rudder dubbed him in 1986, “the Man with the Hammer.” Maybe it was the 1990 event which represented, as Rudder would style it five years after “Hammer,” “the night of the day when the prophets died.” Maybe it was something else or all of these things put together that caused things to go steadily downhill.
And what began as petty robberies escalated to full-scale attacks on visitors to the area. Things got even worse when gun-toting bandits one evening ran through a practice session of the band. That was when someone made the decision that the safer option for the band was to practise elsewhere.
The full social consequences of that move are yet to be analysed and measured. For decades, the young people of the area had seen men and women hard at work in the panyard, striving for excellence, mastering their craft. However, I see as the first consequence of the decision the absence of positive role models consistently before the eyes of the young men and women of the area.
They are no more. Those salutary models having been replaced by the often much more attractive—or at least high-profile—images and examples of mainly young men intent on getting rich or dying trying, what can we expect to produce? Gold out of straw?
At the heart of low achievement, arguably, lies the issue of indiscipline. And indiscipline might be the product, well, a product of not seeing the value of the work you are doing.
The aggression and violence which removed Despers from Laventille is both a criminal and a social problem, for which there is no single, one-size-fits-all solution. But no lasting solution can avoid systematically addressing the root evils, which are the omnipresence of low self-esteem and the easy availability of the perceived panaceas of drugs and guns.
From captain to cook, the level of indiscipline which pervades our society is unbelievable. And it does not help for there to be a growing sense that there is perhaps an inability, at least a reluctance, to bring wrong-doers to justice. By definition, wrongdoers do not do the right thing. But they may not do the wrong thing if they feel that there is a price to be paid—preferably a high price—for so doing. And that is the message that the authorities must send. Consistently. Even at the cost of unpopularity.
It simply cannot be allowed to continue; we have to stop merely talking and take action. The public, young and old, must see those seemingly sacred cows who have sinned being taken to the butcher’s shop. Not because we have it in for anyone but simply because it is the right thing to do.
Just as it is the right thing for Despers soon to return to their home overlooking Port-of-Spain to once again bring hope and vision to a community which is now in the wilderness.
Just as it is a tragedy that the children of Despers have chased them off The Hill with their guns and bullets and forced them to go from pillar to post in order to find a spot to practise for Carnival.
Just as it is a tragedy that we allow it to continue.
Just as it is a tragedy that our elected politicians with the power to do something about it are doing little more than collectively wringing their hands as young and old are gunned down in the streets. (Ah! A ray of light! The Opposition Leader has recently proposed that they re-open talks on the anti-gang legislation and Government has agreed.)
Just as it is only when Despers finally return home to The Hill to create their music and lift hearts and spirits that we can feel confident that the country may have turned the corner on crime.
Until then, it’s as simple as ABCD, I shall remain tragically sceptical about all the claims of winning the war against the army of bandits, criminals and desperadoes…
Not condemning, just commenting.