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Christie responds to critics of Bahamian ‘Carnival’

  • Junkanooers play the drums in this Guardian file photo.

Guardian Managing Editor

Published: Jun 22, 2013

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Prime Minister Perry Christie has assured critics of the government’s plan to create a Bahamian Carnival or Mardi Gras that the festival will be “essentially” Bahamian and that a special committee will be appointed to prepare the country and the world for the initiative.

Addressing MPs in his 2013/2014 budget wrap up, Christie said many people rushed to judgement after he made the announcement last month. The week-long festival is slated for a 2015 start-up and the government will spend $1 million to help with its development, which may incorporate a cultural village, public processions and song and costume competitions. The $1 million will be allocated to the festival next year and will be a joint effort between the public and private sector, he said.

The government, Christie said, sees the festival as both a major economic intervention and cultural expansion.

“It will be essentially Bahamian but also include thousands of visitors who will be attracted by what will be an absolutely fabulous affair,” said Christie.

Anthropologist and author Dr. Nicolette Bethel, who is also a former director of culture, has been one of the biggest critics of the proposed festival.

Bethel told Guardian Arts&Culture before Christie’s communication earlier this week that she did not have a problem with the idea per se, and that it was long overdue, but the timing and title were both “awful”.

“As a result I don’t think it’s feasible,” she said. “I have no idea what consultation, if any, was done with the relevant community. It falls during the Junkanoo downtime and I do not think that the practitioners will seriously be able to prepare for it, and in fact many of the most serious (Junkanooers) are out of the country attending the real carnivals that take place all around our region at that time — New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, and of course Port-of-Spain.”

Bethel said she did not see that it would have any real effect on the current Junkanoo parades.

She also criticized the

government’s $1 million allocation to the festival.

“One million dollars according to our data is nowhere near enough money to fund something of this kind,” said Bethel. “Annual Junkanoo parades take up to $3 million of the government’s money — $2 million at least. If that money were invested in creating a Junkanoo festival at the normal Junkanoo time it would go far further, but I do not see any way that we can hope to compete with the real carnivals by introducing something fake like this. It’s a total waste of a good idea.”

Christie noted that many critics questioned why The Bahamas should copy Trinidad or Brazil, and why the country would move away from Junkanoo, which is “spectacularly Bahamian”.

“Let me say at the outset that prior to making my announcement, I consulted with several icons in the world of Junkanoo and without exception they were fully supportive of the idea and immediately confirmed their willingness to work with the committee, which will be appointed to prepare The Bahamas and the world for this new festival,” said the prime minister.

The government will shortly appoint the committee, said Christie.

Paul Major, a former banker and Junkanoo participant, has been invited to chair the committee. Robert Sands and Ed Fields, and other major figures in the cultural field — in painting, music, drama all of which are a part of this new enterprise — will also be invited to sit on the committee, he said.

“I expect the committee to hold full consultations with all of the major personalities of Junkanoo, and associates. “I will, for my part, advise the committee that I do not wish them to interfere with Junkanoo. This is a separate and different activity,” Christie explained.

He noted that the major Junkanoo groups and their leaders will be advised that the government does not propose to licence those groups, unless there is overwhelming evidence of general acceptance by the rank and file.

Prime Minister Christie said for the groups to be licensed, they would have to form themselves into a company and operate as a business.

“This is a massive undertaking which will receive very careful consideration of the government,” he said.

“This is very necessary as the corporate groups will be advertising abroad and inviting persons to purchase costumes online as well as from store fronts in a cultural village or elsewhere.”

The Prime Minister said the committee would ultimately move recommendations to the government for its consideration.

Christie also noted that he has met with Sarkis Izmirlian of Baha Mar and advised him that the festival was one of the major promotions the government was putting in place in view of his introducing 2,200 new hotel rooms in December 2014.

“He liked the idea. The committee will recommend whether there should be a preferred resort destination or leave it to the choice of visitors,” said Christie.

Carnival worldwide industry

The prime minister said carnival is part of a worldwide masquerade industry.

He said the industry has been successful in attracting costume makers, wire benders, painters, designers and performers at some of the largest festivals in the world.

“It has an export dimension. We know of major festivals in Trinidad, Brazil, Toronto, Barbados, New York, Miami and London. Carnival in the diaspora generates hundreds of millions of dollars and creates many jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

“It is big business and it requires business planning, management, marketing of products and organizational structure,” said Christie.

Prime Minister Christie said costumes from carnival inspired designers show up in New York, Toronto, Notting Hill, London, Miami and many other centers in the U.S.

“The committee will be briefed and have the opportunity to visit carnival enterprises in Brazil, Trinidad and even Toronto, where carnival has become arguably the largest festival in the world,” he said.

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