Above: Rubadiri Victor.
In response to a question about his work on Carnival memory, Rubadiri Victor offered the following statement on his efforts.
In the early 90s the census identified that almost 65% of T&T was under 35. It was one of the youngest populations on the planet! At the same time I was investigating the period 1930-1956 and creating the theory of T & T’s Golden Age which was linked to larger African Diasporic Golden Ages I had been theorizing about in papers- to much resistance from senior historians.
A Golden Age is a rare Magical thing that few communities on Earth are blessed with. In our Golden Age period Pan, Mas, and Calypso emerged in their modern forms, the Festival moorings of the consolidated society, the Trade Union and Independence movements emerged, our cultural impact on the globe was stratospheric in Dance, Literature, scholarship, liberation movements , etc.
I put everything together and created a generational read of T&T consisting of the Golden Age 1930-1956, Independence Generation 1957-1980, Generation Lion 1981-2000, and Generation Y 2000+. Roughly referring to people who were active as youths at those times. The critical importance of all this is that Trinidad & Tobago creates no institutions of Memory, Transmission, and Inheritance. We consecrate nothing.
Our legacies are not enshrined in monuments, curriculum, institutions, media, or the mouths or thoughts of our leaders. This meant that we had a large 65% young population that knew nothing about our Golden Age and its Legacies. I also calculated that most of the Golden Agers may be dead by 2012. It meant that the country was in a rapid race against time to record and transmit Legacy before we lost the very things we consider essentially Trinbagonian. Every Festival was threatened with decline and collapse- especially the Carnival.
I theorized that it meant that the country was heading into a ‘Crisis of Inheritance’ in which we would see the collapse of Traditions, Communities, and Institutions- possibly the Nation itself if we did not record, transit, and construct ‘the Missing Institutions ‘.. In the 1990s when I said these things I was considered mad. Look where we are today!
I identified 20,000 VIP Elders without whom the country would not exist in all fields of endeavor and campaigned for people to record them by any means necessary- photography, audio-visually, scribally. Universities, businesses, and the State refused to engage and resource against the crisis- even when in 2000, in 1 week, Kitchener, Sundar, and Beryl McBernie all died and 5 traditions were crippled by their passing.
My group the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad & Tobago (ACTT) created solutions to the problem. I created the methodology and unit called PROJECT MEMORY which gave templates for people to record Elder biography, how to shoot subjects, etc. It is named after a dearly departed friend of mine who represented what matriculation in Tradition could produce- the Brian Honore Oral & Visual Recording Unit.
I created the Guild of Masters as a means to pass on Elder indigenous skill in emergency conditions. Elder Master Artisans working with Master Apprentices recreating Masterworks whilst the entire process is audio-visually documented and schematized. We did it for the 30+ ft Cedros Hosay Tadjah tradition and did up working models for the King and Queens of the Bands among other imperiled traditions.
I was working with the late Aldwyn Chow Lin on a Master Guild template- especially for the King and Queen tradition- before he died. I identified more than 144 traditions in clear and present danger of dying because the information was only in 1 or 2 Elders heads and created templates for their resurrection. More than ¼ of those traditions have since disappeared… At all turns we were resisted by the State.
At some times however they co-opted our work, data, methodology, and programs. We did up copious schematics and shared them liberally hoping people would adopt the solutions. At least some Legacies were partially rescued by this. We campaigned for the UTT-the nation’s indigenous tertiary level institution- to be the Master Guild of the country and to be the repository of Elder Memory whilst billions were being spent on the institution. This was not done, although some historians were able to wrestle the institution to engage the Traditions at the level of Letters.
I have buried literally hundreds of Elder friends who are amongst the greatest Geniuses this country has ever known. Many unsung and in poverty. During this period whilst the Golden Age generation was dying unresourced- this country spent over $ 1 trillion in public money…
I think my mania for the Golden Age inspired dozens of people to treat with Cultural Recording with a certain type of rigor, ferocity, and urgency from the late 90s to the present. Thousands of photographic, audio-visual, and scribal records probably would not have been pursued if it were not for my obsession.
I created the LION Generation magazine as a way to create the PROJECT MEMORY Unit as a living thing and we recorded over 600 members of the T&T Heroic class including many Elders at optimum levels of anthropological and aesthetic capture. It was the largest magazine in the Caribbean.
With ACTT I won grants from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Commonwealth Foundation to increase that work and recorded dozens of more Elders. We rescued artifacts, collections, and physical sites from destruction all over the country. We commissioned histories. We have a massive catalog of material that we want to constitute part of the bedrock for the nation’s future Hall of Fame. ..
Currently I am curating ‘PANTHEON- The exhibition of the King and Queen Costume Traditions of Trinidad & Tobago’ which is in its 2nd year and will be staged at Mille Fleurs from Wednesday 9th March 2022 for 2 weeks. I am working on a book about this aspect of our collective Legacy that we take for granted.
The King and Queen Costumes are the crown spectacles of Trinidad & Tobago Carnival artisanry. They are the culmination of the imaginative, decorative, and engineering arts of the island. We have never had a National Exhibition celebrating them before this. 99% of these costumes are destroyed after Ash Wednesday. This would not mean much if we were passing on the critical engineering skills that we pioneered on the planet as regards costume kineticism. However when you do not document and pass on skill and then do not have artefacts to do forensics on- you are in a crisis.
The competition has collapsed in spectacle precisely because of the loss of the genius of indigenous engineering. We are working to try to arrest the decline with certain interventions. The Kings and Queens however are experiencing a slight resurgence with the advent of new young talents going back to tradition to root their statements- and by a class of Artisans who are very clear that they represent the last hurricane of a Golden Civilization and are determined not to go silently into that dark night.