The Bocas Lit Fest 2nd Place Winning Essay

February 7, 2024

The Bocas Lit Fest 2nd Place Winner Jada-Marie Giles and UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Ugo Blanco

Trinbagonian Culture 

Where should I begin? Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, and by extension the wider Caribbean region believe that our cultural diversity is one like no other. People often say that Trinidadians are people who only enjoy ‘liming’, partying during Carnival, going to Maracas beach and cooking curry duck by Caura River. Our culture is simply one where we enjoy making any occasion a reason to celebrate, always looking forward to the next national holiday to ‘buss ah lime’ in true local dialect; however little do they know, we are much more than that. Our traditional past has also proven that we are truly an evolved country, that is, we have moved from the colonial days of indentureship to an independent and free society of well-educated people. This essay will seek to discuss present-day life in the twin island state, Trinidad and Tobago, examine our island’s rich history/background and lastly, explore and compare how far we Trinbagonians have come. 

To begin with, many factors have contributed greatly to our country’s societal diversity. From strict cultural traditions to local legends among our citizens, as was explored in some of Sam Selvon’s short stories such as ‘Johnson and the Cascadura’ and ‘Cane is Bitter’. The main theme that seems to connect these two was East Indian indentureship and its associated customs/beliefs. Here, Selvon shows us, the readers and citizens, that arranged marriage was a dominant and debatable topic between East Indian parents and their children. A case in point, in ‘Johnson and the Cascadura’, Urmilla and Johnson’s pending relationship was strongly opposed by Urmilla’s father, Sookdeo. He believed that Urmilla should not defy her ethnicity’s strict custom by marrying Johnson or anyone outside of her ethnic background and class. 

Although this took place centuries ago, this view expressed by Sookdeo is still ingrained in some of our citizens’ way of living, so much so there are some Trinbagonians who still engage in such traditions presently. However, it should also be noted that many younger persons are breaking this generational cycle and are thus forming relationships differently. Similarly, planned marriage also plagues the short story ‘Cane is Bitter’. Here, one of the main characters, Romesh, revolted against this East Indian custom and his parents' decision of planned marriage. Oftentimes, this Jada-Marie Giles rebellious response results in disagreements among family members. Unfortunately, in some cases, East Indian parents even disown their adult children due to them defying this strict cultural tradition and are even left to live life on their own, that is, without communication and the support of their family. 

In addition to this, education and lack thereof also play a major role in the story ‘Cane is Bitter’ and by extension Trinidad and Tobago as this important subject still exists today within our twin island state. That is, some see education as a pathway out of poverty, whereas others do not see the benefits of being educated. Ironically, Slinger Francisco (the Mighty Sparrow) in his well-known calypso ‘Education a Must’, stated the importance of attaining a good education. Here he highlighted the benefits of staying in school as well as the misery associated with being illiterate. 

Forming another part of our rich culture is Trinbagonians’ belief in superstition and legends. A case in point was Urmilla’s belief in the curry cascadoo dish which she prepared for Johnson in hopes of him returning to visit her. In Trinidad, the legend says that “those who eat the cascadura will end their days in the land no matter where they wander”. Another example was seen in Selvon’s presentation of the women in ‘The Village Washer’, where several mysterious paraphernalia were used to accuse another washerwoman of dealing in obeah, thus fuelling the villagers’ suspense. Furthermore, in the short story ‘The Mango Tree’, it was believed that "if girls climb fruit trees, the fruit will be sour". In past years, older generations of citizens, for example, great-grandparents would tell folklore (La Diablesse, Douen, Soucouyant) stories to their children; but with the advent of technology, this tradition has changed. However, it should be noted that in today’s society, there still exists a certain degree of superstitious belief in some rural villages such as Morne Diablo, Moruga and by extension some parts of Tobago. 

The ‘ole time days’ was also a prominent theme present in the stories written in Sam Selvon’s Ways of Sunlight such as ‘Holiday in Five Rivers’. Long ago, during the ‘ole time days’, it was said that women of this village would often visit the river to wash their clothes due to the lack of pipe-borne water in the community. Another aspect of this village life that has since changed was the games that children played back then such as morals, pitching marbles, climbing fruit trees and more.  

Additionally, in rural villages, farmers would sometimes tote their goods on donkey carts but no longer do so. All in all, everyone lived a very basic and simple life in contrast to our present-day routines, which are quite different from long ago. Today's society has changed so much that children are no longer concerned with playing outdoor games and taking risks but instead, they are now fascinated with activities such as going to water parks and amusement parks. Besides, some kids even look forward to travelling and spending vacations in other countries. In the Five Rivers community, kite flying used to be an activity that children often looked forward to every Easter, but today, it has been replaced with electronic devices and holiday camps. This story of ‘Holiday in Five Rivers’ is also quite relatable as I currently reside in this village. Having lived in this community since birth, I have come to learn and better appreciate my parents’ past experiences while growing up in this area. 

Migration for employment or even a relationship is another major theme that still presents itself in Trinidad and Tobago as was discussed in Selvon’s Ways of Sunlight. For instance, many years ago Trinidadians would migrate to Venezuela to get employment and thus earn money in the interim as was explored in ‘Down the Main’. Conversely, in recent years, Venezuelans are now migrating to Trinidad in order to get a better life. Nevertheless, there is one commonality, both then and now there still exists a certain level of "underhandedness" where migrants enter other countries illegally or "through the back door". Besides, illegal migrants often forge certain documents to get jobs, instead of following the legal procedures simply because they believe it is easier and faster. 

In conclusion, it is clear to us Trinbagonians and by extension the wider Caribbean and world, that we are truly a multicultural society. Therefore, we should indeed be grateful to our past, for it is through such events/history that we can see our development. Some say “God is a Trini” but I cannot help but believe that we are a very blessed twin island state; from beautiful beaches to delicious local cuisine and delicacies to exciting Carnival celebrations. Furthermore, we are the home to many world-renowned persons including Keshawn Walcott, Brian Lara and profound authors such as Samuel Selvon and Michael Anthony. Therefore, contemporary life in Trinidad and Tobago is truly worth writing about

In conclusion, it is clear to us Trinbagonians and by extension the wider Caribbean and world, that we are truly a multicultural society. Therefore, we should indeed be grateful to our past, for it is through such events/history that we can see our development.
Jada-Marie Giles