Stakeholders: In-depth research of Tobago’s culture needed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Mason Hall Folk Performers do a speech-band piece during the 2019 Tobago Heritage FestivaL at Shaw Park, Tobago. – FILE PHOTO/DAVID REID

Two of Tobago’s retired educators have said documentation on the island and its culture is virtually non-existent.

Last Friday, Tobago Carnival Committee ex-officio member Dr Charleston Thomas said research on the island and its culture was limited.

He was one of 15 people appointed to the committee to oversee plans for Tobago’s Carnival, which is being held from October 28-30, 2022. The committee is led by Meisha Trim.

Thomas, a cultural studies lecturer, said this is a result of a lack of archiving and data collection relating to Tobago’s cultural tapestry.

“Therefore, one of the things that needs to actually be very crucial to any conceptualisation of Carnival has to be the way in which we come to understand the place we call Tobago.”

On Tuesday, former cultural officer and independent senator Annette Nicholson-Alfred and curriculum adviser in the THA Division of Education, Research and Technology Dr Verleen Bobb-Lewis said they support Thomas’ view that there is a lack of archiving of Tobago’s culture.

“I know that much is not recorded. I could tell you that and I totally agree,” Nicholson-Alfred told Newsday.

But she said his statement about the lack of research on Tobago’s culture was vague.

“He could say it but which angle is he taking it from? I do not know from which angle he is saying the research is not done.

“But if he is saying that these younger people do not go to groups or do not go to wherever the information is, I totally agree.”

Nevertheless, Nicholson-Alfred said people generally do not want to do research.

“Everybody just want to write and do what they want. A lot of them who are speaking, I can tell you, they know nothing about research and they do not want to know.”

Nicholson-Alfred, founder of the cultural group, Itsy Bitsy, said she has done considerable research throughout her career.

“Research is done by people. But are they going to the older heads to find out things about our culture? I cannot swear for that. I can swear for myself.”

She added, “When I used to be involved in Best Village, I used to go to the older people to find out things. And when I went on my scholarship and I came back, that was one of my main things, to go around to different people. That is how I have a lot of knowledge in my head now. I believe in the preservation of our authentic culture.”

Nicholson-Alfred said people cannot do cultural research properly from their homes.“You cannot find everything on Google. I went all over Tobago, spent hours with people in Culloden and other communities.

Bobb-Lewis agreed that research is limited to certain aspects of Tobago’s culture.

“We just keep focusing on a few things in some communities. So we have to broaden what we do.”

She also acknowledged the paucity of documentation in the field.

“What do we have documented?” she asked.

“We had a lot of tapes which were destroyed.”