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Bocas Lit Fest 2023 in Trinidad and Tobago is an annual literary festival: a celebration of books, writers, writing and ideas, with a Caribbean focus and international scope. Like Carifesta, it is truthfully an Afro-centric festival disguising itself as being multicultural and inclusive. The opening line of its promotional flyer states, “Trinidad and Tobago’s traditional Carnival arts, from Extempo to Ole Mas to Chutney will be on display and accessible to all.” However, no other information about chutney or other Indo-Caribbean art forms, is given in the succeeding six paragraphs.
The Bocas Lit Fest promo advertised 80 events, but placed special emphasis on Extempo Debate, tributes to calypsonian Black Stalin and scholar Gordon Rohlehr, prose and poetry on Moko Jumbies (Tall Tales), Jumbie Cinema – a lineup of short films on Moko Jumbie mas, Ole Mas and an event for children. Take note that Moko jumbies have nothing to do with literature or writing or speech making.
There was no mention in Bocas Lit Fest of the recently passed chutney-crossover singer Anil Bheem and/or composer Satrohan Maharaj. Bheem’s final song “The Indian Anthem” has over five million views on Youtube, a great feat considering the Indo-Caribbean population is just over a million people in Trinidad. Maharaj’s popularity in singing Kishore Kumar’s songs took him to perform in Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, USA, Canada, UK and India.
The festival did not even mourn the recent death of Ramdath Jagessar – a journalist, author and pioneer of Indian Arrival Day observances in Trinidad, which, in later years was recognised as a national holiday. There was no mention or performance of Ramleela which has been recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008. No mention or inclusion too of biraha, the Indian style of extempo. Again, no mention or performance of pichakaree, composed by RaviJi as an Indo-Trinidadian counterpoint to calypso. No mention or performance of tassa. And finally, no Indo-Caribbean artiste in its slam poetry segment.
Literary festivals are events that are supposed to celebrate literature and writers from various backgrounds, genres and cultures. The representation of different art forms and communities in these festivals is important for promoting diversity, inclusivity and representation in the literary world. But the organisers of Bocas Lit Fest produced a one-sided event, making a gimmicky and farcical attempt at promoting inclusion by including the word “Chutney” in its opening lines.
To remedy this ethnic underrepresentation, the Bocas Lit Fest should actively seek out and promote works by Indo-Caribbean writers and performers, invite more to participate in panels and events, and create opportunities for networking and collaboration between Indo-Caribbean performers and other performers from the Caribbean and beyond.
Ms. Fatimah Mohammed
Chin Chin Road, Cunupia, Trinidad