Rosemary Parkinson, Contributor
Our seas teem with more than fish, shell-fish and seamoss. - photos by Rosemary Parkinson/Gleaner Writer
"The Absolute Fashion Show is portraying 'Absolute Caribbean Fashion' to Barbadians, Caribbean people and to the world. Caribbean people have so much to offer yet have become imitators through outside influences, allowing ourselves to spiral into a cultural identity problem. It's time, though, to wake up, believe in each other and walk hand-in-hand towards our culture rather than away from it!
Now, I have this idea - after all, the designers have showcased their collections, just before the show closes - to create one last spectacle: Think - pounding music, 10 Caribbean models walking down the catwalk wrapped in plastic wrap, they stop in the middle of the stage, two children run out and start ripping the plastic off the front model, she frees herself (awakens), now dressed in a beautiful Caribbean sea-island cotton caftan with all original naturalness printed on it - TRUTH, FAITH, PASSION, HOPE, LOVE. Suddenly the message appears - "Don't be imitators, be INITIATORS!"
The model unravels the rest of the girls - they too are dressed in amazing colourful caftans of hand-screened cloth made from our resources (bamboo, wood, reeds). Leaving the stage, the message changes to - "Don't imitate, INITIATE!" What does the plastic portray? The influences (western world, technology), that stop us from accepting ourselves and denying what we can offer as Caribbean people. What do the children portray? We may not be able to completely turn into initiators but our children can - the future can! And the caftans portray our resources, designers, creativity, fashion and culture!
This letter was written (weeks ago and unbeknownst to me), by my daughter Sara Collins to the organiser of the Absolute Caribbean Fashion Show held at the prestigious Holders on the platinum coast of Barbados last Saturday. Sara is doing her Masters degree in design studies and conceived the above as part of her dissertation. She flew in to the island having been given a three-minute slot in which to get her message across. The section was placed (I thought fortunately) before the final segment - the Simon Peter collection (Caribbean Fashion Week 2005 - Jamaica).
Notwithstanding, the presentation received the exact feedback desired by Sara. Some of the audience were baffled. Some thought it foolish. Others gave it thought. But mainly it opened eyes, forced people out of the box and many questions resulted. Who got the point the most? 'Twas the young. I was taken aback by her ability to deliver the message about what is happening to us so strongly through fashion. And what a coincidence, I thought, that this surprise visit should come after my column of last week (see www.jamaicagleaner.com - Archives - Thursday October 25).
As Caribbean people we are systematically imitating constantly in almost every facet of our lives. The rest of the show, for instance, proved Sara's 'act of rebellion' to be truth. Designer after designer - from Guyana, Trinidad, The Bahamas, Barbados - tried to imitate designers seen on any catwalk anywhere in the north and to boot, very badly. Imitation equals fake, simulated, artificial, mocking, therefore, in my mind, digression. The saving grace was the Barbadian partnership of Simon Peter with pieces that flowed with 'Caribbeaness' seeking to express the wildness of our nature, the influence of those first Amerindians - a fitting, not previously planned, follow-up to Sara's implied note that ended the show squarely 'on our grounds'.
INITIATE, DON'T IMITATE
What does this fashion show have to do with a food column? Actually, in the broad spectrum? A lot. To start with, on the menu for VIPs who paid US$62.50, not one Caribbean hors d'oeuvre was in sight. But imitation cocktail time in some spurious northern city was there in (for example) tasteless puffed pastry covered in salmon mousse with vodka the drink of choice, not rum. How about a flying fish mousse? And an aged rum cocktail?
As I listened to Sara and the youth who flocked around her wanting to know more, there was another instant message. The children. With only a few in our midst not wanting to see progress change us into worse imitators than we were under colonialism instead of initiators of our very own cultural roots, I thought of the children. We have to start with the children. In the schools then, first thing in the morning, should be: Be Initiators, Not Imitators. Our universities' prime message should be: Be Initiators, not Imitators. In our culinary schools and classes, the strong lesson should be: Be Initiators, not Imitators. The hope of the future must be taught now if we are to be saved, so INITIATE, DON'T IMITATE.
Questions and Answers
At least one island oozes with oil, many with natural gas, so why 'give' our fuel away? Our soil is rich but we build concrete on it? The hardiest woods, the best of medicines in the world are in our forests - why not plant more trees, use wood for building, create our own healing? A vast amount of 'wild' bamboo, reeds, cane-bagasse, sea-island cotton (small examples) ,are natural fibre bases. So where's the cloth? Exotic fruits and vegetables are ours. Where's agriculture? Why not grow more foods organically? We could spoil ourselves with 'clean-food' in homes and on restaurant gourmet plates?
The seas have more than fish, shell-fish and sea moss, i.e. sea urchins and vegetables that give possibilities of natural, filled with minerals, food resources. Why not investigate? There is so much. I once ate roasted beetles - the same black ones that fly around at night. Tasted like slightly over-roasted peanuts and were good! Lawd, sometimes me feel de Caribbean air we breathe could be made into something more physical than just a breath. Oh! Please, of course it can, electricity!
Does not all of this (and more) make us sustainable as a group of islands? Hmm. Plenty food for thought.
So Initiate, Don't Imitate.
See you at the BET Maco St. Lucia Food and Rum Festival this weekend!