Former director of culture David Bowen is warning that it is dangerous to tamper with the TCI culture to fit tourism, advising that such a move could degenerate into creating cultural tourism plantation workers.
Bowen made the call during a panel discussion on culture hosted by On Island’s Founder, Manisha Tolani, in Grace Bay, Wednesday, April 13, which was attended by Minister for Health and Human Services Hon. Jamell Robinson and government Member of Parliament Hon. Kyle Knowles.
“Sometimes when you change your culture to fit tourism, it does affect the outcome of what it is. It gets diluted. And if we are not careful, then we would end up being the field workers for the plantation of tourism. So, we have to be mindful of that,” Bowen advised.
He added: “The key for us, as a people and for government is to recognize how important these things are, not only for our people, but for tourism also…but not the kind of culture we change to fit tourism.
“We have to be mindful, yes, that we want to please our tourism, but our art has to go just beyond sun, sand and sea. They can play jazz, they can play other things, but what about our music? Where is our Ripsaw, our Rake and Scrape?”
Bowen surmised that in the process of time the TCI Culture has lost a great deal of its lustre due to infiltrating cultures.
“In the past we had lots of festivals, and back in the day, you would celebrate a festival to celebrate culture. Today, you celebrate drinking and wining, you are not celebrating culture. Sometimes they would use the word ‘culture’ on all the banners, but you never get culture,” Bowen asserted, stating that the recent Rake and Scrape Festival was without its key ingredient – Rake and Scrape.
“We just had Rake and Scrape Festival. Where was the Rake and Scrape? Where was the saw? Where was the teaching? It was just people dancing and wining up and drinking. There was no Rake and Scrape. So, we have to be aware that throughout the years our cultural festivals were about culture, but it is beginning to change. Now a big change happened when we get, I guess, more tourist-friendly,” he said.
“We went through a period in the glory time before tourism came, when we had the island festivals and that was to celebrate the culture of the islands, because we do not have one culture…we have sub-cultures. Every island has their own sub-culture. And then, on every island you have sub-sub-culture.
“So, it is hard to define, really, what TCI culture is. But there is an umbrella that we were brought up under when it comes to our music, to food, to dialect. And so, we were at a place when we were not showcasing our culture for tourism but for ourselves,” He added.
Bowen believes that the reason for the TCI Culture being diluted has to do, in part, with the rapid development of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
“Now, the thing about it is that we have grown so much in such a short time. It is amazing what I have seen in the short time since I have been home. Before I left there was no place to go. Now there are so many places to go and so many things to do, but have we developed, have we progressed internally? We have externally,” he said.
Bowen stated that the Turks and Caicos Islands, geographically located in the Atlantic Ocean, is zoned in the Caribbean region, and as such, locals have begun to copy their Caribbean Neighbors’ cultures, while seemingly abandoning theirs.
He revealed that for the 14 years that he had sat in the culture director chair, he ensured that local heritage had an input in every local event.
“When the Fish Fry first started, the first year and a half I was the emcee, and every single night, no matter what, I would showcase TCI Culture,” he said, noting that now that the TCI has taken on what he described as ‘the spring-break mentality’, local culture has been sacrificed for generic ones.
He pointed out that the TCI culture has something to offer that is unique.
“The saw music is unique, “he said, stressing that Rake and Scrape, which originated in the TCI, has been adapted by The Bahamas, which has turned it into a main attraction.
Bowen argued that while culture is fluid, there are key elements in the local in it which Turks and Caicos Islanders are identified with in terms of who they are as a people.
“And so, if we want to build national identity and pride, then we have to boost the culture,” he said.
He also called for and to the disunity and individualism among the islands, which he said was playing a part in stymying the promulgating of the country’s heritage.
Bowen used the occasion to chastise the Department of Culture for being absent from the panel discussion.
“No matter what happened, they should be here,” he chided.