Letters & Opinion

Culture or Tradition?

The Independent Eye - By Kensley Peter Charlemagne

“THE cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc. in an artificial medium containing nutrients” and “the cultivation of plants” are two of the definitions that Google provides for the term culture.

I am sure though that this concept was not what was being discussed on Tuesday August 30 Newsspin programme on Radio Caribbean International. The host, Timothy Poleon, started the show with a preamble: an elaboration on the observance of the flower festivals here in Saint Lucia. That very day being celebrated was the feast of Saint Rose de Lima.

Now if you asked me, this feast means little or nothing to me but it has been deemed to be uniquely Saint Lucian. If that is the case then preservation is a must. But that is a whole other topic by itself. What I want to highlight is our misuse of the term culture. One caller said that Saint Lucia has no culture. If we accept the definition that culture is the way of life of a people, then we always have culture. What the caller meant to say is that we are not steeped in keeping or observing tradition. Culture can be traditional but it is never tradition. As another caller advanced, culture is dynamic; therefore it is always changing.

It was cultural in Saint Lucia for children to say good day to their elders on the streets. That practice however has become traditional. Lost. A few years ago, about a decade, I was in Barbados and everywhere I passed the school children greeted me with a good morning or afternoon on the streets. Boy was I surprised. “Children still do that?” was the perplexity in my mind.

Culture is live science. It is what is happening now. Some say Country and Western is not our culture but it is. There was a time when that music was foreign to us but we have embraced it. So it is we culture. Sadly, what is becoming cultural is our untidiness. Nicole David in one of her songs asks, “Are we a nasty people?” This prevailling negative behaviour as displayed round the island especially in the city is fast becoming our culture. I have always contended that the answer to that question is yes as much as Nicole may want to deny it.

There was a time when it was cultural in Saint Lucia to speak standard English; it has now become a tradition. I was confessing to a young lady a few days ago that the Saint Lucia I grew up in, is not the same. All our good values and mannerisms have been turned on their heads so much so that soon it will be cultural for two men to kiss in our streets, let alone marry in our churches or on our beaches.

The thing about culture is that behaviours, art, music, language, dressing, cuisine and the like have to get general acceptance. So when I write about the raunchy music being played on Hot FM and there is no loud cry about it, silence is a mere validation of the behaviour. When our girls walk the streets half naked and they get noticed or complimented by our men and our older women have nothing to say to them then our culture is changing. Same goes for our young men and their gangsta dressing. That is fast becoming cultural. When our children’s desire is to be fed on fast foods day in and day out and we satisfy that indulgence, then that is we culture.

Sadly many of our ministers and talk show hosts do not know the difference between tradition and culture and so if the blind leads the blind, we ought to know where we will fall.

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