Last night was the on-line debate on “culture and decolonization” organized by the Mama Jaz Festival, the third and final debate in the series accompanying their virtual jazz concerts. Moderated by Anupah Makoond, the full title was “Nation-building, Decolonization and Human Life: Towards a National Policy for Culture and the Importance of Promoting Art forms”. Despite the floods and concomitant power-cuts and Wi-Fi fluctuation in many areas, the event was untouched by all this, and was a success. People tuned in on YouTube or Facebook. The debate was characterized by the clarity of the different “political currents” of the speakers’ – the particular world-view each of us has. This kind of clarity is important for debate, and it immediately appeared as speakers addressed the first question – a brief definition of how we see the two concepts “culture” and “nation-building”.
Joseph Tsang Man Kin, former Labour Party Culture Minister, spoke about multi-cultural Mauritius, “ancestral” culture being his starting point. He sees nation-building as how to share the “different cultures” with “everyone”, and bring them all together, or as he put it, “little clouds that need to be gathered together”. He was proud of having brought culture festivals to the countryside, when he was Culture Minister, whereas they had been in towns only before that. For short, we can call this “the multi-cultural current”.
Rama Poonoosamy, first-ever Culture Minister, in the MMM-PSM government, came from the “enn sel lepep enn sel nasyon” starting point. He composed the song that started this slogan. He spoke of uniting everyone around a single “nation”, and said how the first-ever Kreol news bulletin on the MBC, was on his watch. He did also link his “one people one nation” to “the importance of the class struggle”, though there was not really time for him to discuss how that conflict takes place within the “national unity”. For short, this is “the nationalist current”.
I spoke on how culture in Mauritius has taken its form in the struggles of working people against colonization and against the ruling class, a nation being a geographic place where you struggle for more democracy. Mauritius is not even decolonized in terms of territory yet, Chagos still being occupied militarily, while our minds, too, still suffer. Art-forms need an end to repression on artists and the opening up of school buildings and outdoor space for artists. For short this is the “class struggle for democracy” current.
Hans Ramduth spoke on the role of the “state” in all this, in particular the state’s attempt to counter the effects of western colonization. He also brought up the spectre of a world-wide consumer society “culture” threatening the world with the 6th extinction, unless we change our ways. Hans did not really represent a “line” or a “current” so much as looking at things from the perspective of the state or of an organization of states, like UNESCO.
Anupah Makoond moderated ably – neither having to cut anyone off, nor having to worry about silence – and was amused, to laughter, by the variety of perspectives.
If anyone is interested in reading up on culture and decolonization, I suggest the following as fantastic introductions. Raymond Williams, importantly from a Welsh working class background, an activist and Cambridge professor, on all aspects of culture. Then CLR James, the Trinidadian activist, playwright and intellectual, thinker behind Pan-Africanism, again on all aspects of culture. His The Black Jacobins is the finest book on the Haitian revolution, and it brings to life the French Revolution – from a Mauritian or Haitian perspective. And then, better known in Mauritius, Frantz Fanon, the Martiniquan intellectual and activist on colonization of the mind, and Edward Said, Palestinian analyst of culture and activist.
Anyway, today, I am flying off in a hurry for my flu vaccine. The teams will be in Bambous today. At the Social Centre. So, I’m wearing something that slips off the shoulder easily (from past experience of not doing so), and remembering to take along my Covid first dose “card” and print-out of my second dose appointment – because we need 2 weeks in-between. Bless our health care services and preventive services in these times of pandemics.