The road to CARIFESTA
forging artistic friendships
CARIFESTA - Caribbean Festival of the Arts began in 1972 in Guyana as an incubator for new and reimagined manifestations of Caribbean art and aesthetics through the many artists living and reeking out a living in their home country.
The festival allowed us to 'see' ourselves in the world as contributing to the shards of broken pieces; leftovers from our colonial past. For the first time we met our brothers and sisters from the French, Dutch and Spanish speaking Caribbean which for too long divided us by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.
We met native Arawak peoples who we were taught in our schools as being completely decimated by the warlike Caribs. Such nations as the Garifunas in Belize, the Caribs in Dominica, The Arawaks in Suriname and descendants of the indentured Javanese peoples and the unslaved African bodies known as Bush Negroes of Suriname were Caribbean nationals we came face to face with for the first time. CARIFESTA gave us that portal through which we got to know the many peoples of the Caribbean Archipelago and then some in South America.
The many friendships forged with artists I met at my first CARIFESTA in 1992 are still today my friends and artistic colleagues in islands such as Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and St Lucia. It is this opportunity I want to share with my fellow artists here, some of whom are first generation Canadians of Caribbean heritage.
The technology we have today makes it even easier than in my time when we maintained friendships and artistic reasoning through Air Mail and the occasional long distance call you could probably afford once in two months. Whatsapp, Facebook, Email, and Instagram make the connections forged today at CARIFESTA, a breeze compared to my time.
I am very smitten by the actions of the Barbadian government to open up their hosting of CARIFESTA to the diaspora. Though, I am told the wind of change started two years ago in Haiti at CARIFESTA XII, when a group of Diasporic Haitians were allowed to participate. Nonetheless, we are at this important juncture, representing Canada, the world leader in multiculturalism, now celebrating 150 years as a nation and 50 years of Caribbean peoples' gift to Canada, Caribana. This important cultural contribution being a decisive factor in staking our claim on the Canadian landscape.
Rhoma Spencer is an actor, director, playwright and cultural critic who moonlights as a foodie
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