Culture can be defined as the way of the life of a people, with regards to both the material and non-material aspects. However, as a result of a developing and maturing society, in addition to the birth of various generations and external influences, these “ways of life” can be inadvertently retained, renewed and even discarded. Our own Caribbean society, specifically Barbados is not exempt from such occurrences. Cultural Erasure is the gradual removal of various traditions and customs from society. The process of cultural erasure is gradual as these practices generally make a slow but noticeable transition from a state of prominence to a rarity in everyday life. In most instances, cultural erasur occurs as a result of a newer generation disapproving of or having little to no interest or appreciation for certain traditions. A definite example of this would be calypso music in the Caribbean. With the introduction of various genres and artists from around the world, only relatively small groups of individuals actually listen to calypso let alone find it entertaining.
In recent times, various Caribbean countries, namely Barbados have experienced a steady decline in the amount of individuals that still have a burning passion for cricket. In the past, people could have been found in large numbers present at live cricket matches, otherwise “glued” to their televisions in the rare occasion that they could not be in attendance, especially if West Indies was playing England. This however, is no longer the case. Other sports, especially football have become more popular and more entertaining to such an extent that it can be found being played on the streets and on our televisions, as well as being a the subject of conversation on a regular basis. Cricket fans and enthusiasts have dwindled significantly throughout the years and has affected the way in which the country views the sport. Cultural erasure also occurs as a result of the development of newer and more efficient means of technology and equipment and their increasing availability to society.
The practice of utilising donkeys as a means of transport, building chattel houses as a means of shelter and walking to a stand-pipe as a means of water has long become obsolete. These traditions despite being the vital and necessary customs for survival of our forefathers are seen as inconvenient and are even looked down upon by some. It is a certain rarity to find anyone that still relies heavily upon these, especially with the evolution of the automobile, indoor water systems and alike. Cultural Retention, I would not describe as a process but more of a conscious action or attempt to not only preserve, but improve upon certain practices and customs. This will occur when a tradition not only links to a major segment of a society’s history, but when it functions as a source of identity and pride. It also works to the tradition’s advantage when it is enjoyable and/or entertaining. A very prominent example of cultural retention in the Caribbean is Independence Day celebration.
All across the region, no matter the island, the anniversary of its independence is seen as a special occasion. It is an event where the entire island takes a moment to remember its history and where society recalls its roots. It is important to note that this is a period where several cultures, both new and old are observed and analysed to see how they link to the island’s history. In the island of Barbados, Independence Day is recognised yearly as a time where the all the country’s main dishes are prepared and readily available. Additionally, it can be said that the food itself, can be seen as a culture that has been retained throughout the years. For example, Pudding and souse, even now is known as a typical dish on Saturday afternoons while Rice, Peas, Chicken and Macaroni Pie remain as “Sunday food”. It is highly unlikely that these aspects of culture will be removed or forgotten anytime in the near future as they are a source of national identity and pride. In addition, cultures tend to be preserved if they benefit society financially.
Throughout the Caribbean where tourism is our main source of income, any culture that is known for being successful in terms of finances will be preserved. A primary example of this would be Barbados’ Crop Over festivities. Not only do the locals find this festival entertaining and enjoyable, but the tourists share the feeling as well. The final segment of this discussion is cultural renewal. Cultural renewal stems greatly from the idea of “getting back to my roots”. This process refers to traditions and customs that, for the most part, may have been forgotten or neglected but may have been recovered as a result of a fresh desire for said traditions. Most of these customs may have been on the brink of erasure, until a group of individuals that share a common appreciation, seek to salvage a dying culture and hopefully utilise newer innovations, so as to gain the cooperation of others. In addition to this it could have been a custom that upon closer evaluation, benefits society in more than one way.
For instance, throughout the Caribbean, a tradition that certainly regained its prominence in recent times is the celebration and recognition of ‘Black History Month’. Prior to the independence of many islands in the Caribbean, individuals across the region were ecstatic. The thought and feeling of being liberated from slavery and colonialism, after witnessing and experiencing first-hand the hardships and trials would spark an appreciation for and pride in your race and ancestors, generally your roots. All the same, as society evolved and newer generations were introduced, the appreciation and pride diminished. These younger individuals could not relate therefore there was no interest. However, in recent times, this passion and interest in our black roots and history, in the form of Black History Month, has slowly returned to the forefront. Influenced by America due to the availability of television, internet and travel in recent times, we have once again been able to recognise what our ancestors fought for.
This is as a result of some group of people overseas becoming frustrated by the lack of interest black individuals have in their history. Cultural Renewal can even be related to the affairs of our own island of Barbados. In recent times there has been great attention paid to the retail and consumption of local goods, rather than supporting foreign markets due to the Recession’s ‘assault’ on our economy. This course of action is not only to discourage the modern belief that foreign goods are of better quality than local but to increase finances circulating around the island. Yet another example of how Barbados can easily be influenced by external forces. This is nothing new as this tactic was unconsciously used in the past as the export and import industry was not as strong as it is today, as well as Bajans being proud the products they grew, cultivated and procured. To them local was better and it benefitted our economy.
Yet again, as society evolved, foreign goods became more available and enticing as well as the decrease in support given to local products. In conclusion, cultural erasure, retention and renewal are processes that generally unavoidable in modern society. These developments will not cease to be present as long as countries continue to be in contact with and essentially influenced by others, external forces such as a changing economy exist, as well as the continual progress of technology and equipment that allow civilisation to find more efficient methods of doing things. As various benefits and trends present themselves, society will continue to change and evolve.