The myopic James Catalyn
James Catalyn has amassed a following peddling a brand of snarly, in-your-face comedy depicting the farce of life in these islands. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but he has carved a niche for himself.
That in and of itself doesn’t elevate him to the level of culture champions like Ed Moxey, Clement Bethel and Kayla Lockhart-Edwards.
Catalyn went on a local radio program recently and spewed a nauseating tirade in defense of Bahamian culture. Trouble is, his idea of “bigging up we culture” is to sideline those he considers “foreign”.
Culture is a collection of various art forms and other recognized manifestations of human intellectual achievement. “We culture” therefore can never be the exclusive monolith that the myopic James seems to think it is. Ours is an amalgamation of many different art forms, mores, customs and norms.
One comparison that best describes our culture is to refer to us as being mixed up like a good conch salad. The ingredients hail from all over with different flavors, unique spices and delicate tanginess that makes the conch salad work.
But in James’ mind “we culture” is static; it is Junkanoo and, at a stretch, maybe goombay summer. I agree with him that we don’t need to mimic Trinidad’s carnival, but we cannot dispute that aspects of Caribbean carnival have found acceptance here.
Our culture is dynamic. It weaves aspects of many cultures while safeguarding the supremacy of Junkanoo as the art form best associated with us. But surely even James must know that Junkanoo is not unique to The Bahamas, just as carnival is not indigenous to Trinidad.
If James can climb down from his pompous high horse for a minute and control his xenophobia he will see that Bahamian culture is, and must be, the by-product of African, American, Asian, European, Indian, Latin and, dare I say it, West Indian culture.
James emphasized that he was not American or European or West Indian, he was Bahamian. Far be it from me to point out to him that European and West Indian are not nationalities but rather political and cultural associations.
If he can control his disdain for the West Indies for a minute he will discover that Bahamians are in fact, West Indians. The West Indies is a grouping of the islands of the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, the Lucayan Archipelago (us here in The Bahamas) alongside Belize in Central America and Guyana in South America.
I find it ironic that someone with (dare I say it) the very non-generic name of Catalyn would want to put Bahamian culture into a straight jacket. To truly be able to “laugh at we self”, we must embrace our differences and not close our minds and our hearts to the many gifts that others bring to enrich our Bahamian experience.
James must know this as he has served his country in many capacities – from the Ministry of Tourism to the high seat of cultural ambassador to the annual international fair.
The Wongs are woven into our culture just as surely as the Ijoemas, the Lavilles, the Garraways, the Ifills, the Guillaumes, the Gomezes, the Lowes and even the Catalyns.
Junkanoo is most surely African and Caribbean, but no one disputes that we are the queens and kings of the art form. It is we culture. We culture is also asue (African), obeah (Haitian), bashment parties and the electric slide (Jamaican), quadrille dancing (Scotland) and the hully gully (U.S.).
The theater has long been the fulcrum of diversity. William Shakespeare tellingly called his theater “The Globe”. All are welcome on the stage and through laughter we gain acceptance of tough issues. It is the art form through which we grasp the ungraspable and catch the ambiguous.
James’ fellow playwright Winston Saunders embraced all aspects of culture and was, by nature, a very inclusive, diversity seeking teacher. He would have applauded the rich diversity and multiculturalism of the James Catalyn and Friends ensemble.
Jamaican Rex Nettleford was a Rhodes scholar and a former vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, who wrote an insightful book called “Caribbean Cultural Identity”.
The professor detailed the role that the performing arts play in shaping the development of the Caribbean. He declared that cultural identify is as fundamental a reality as food, shelter and clothing. It gives us both place and purpose in a globalized world of continuous change.
I remind James of a line that Nettleford was never tired of saying: “If it comes from anywhere in the Caribbean then it can’t be foreign. It is a part of us.”
Our strength lies in our differences, not in our similarities.
– The Graduate