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CARIFESTA - An Embodiment of Caribbean Integration

The Caribbean Festival of Arts, CARIFESTA, has assumed a pre-eminent place among the elements that define and give expression to the uniqueness of our Caribbean reality. Like other significant institutions such as cricket, CXC and CARICOM that symbolize a Caribbean commonality, the Festival reinforces our unity in the midst of our splendid diversity.
CARIFESTA, which has been hailed as "the inspirational exchange of creative flows", has its underpinnings in the staging of the first Caribbean Festival of Arts in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1952. This event spurred some enthusiasm in the Region for celebrating the excellence of Caribbean artistry.

The creation of the West Indies Federation was marked by the staging of a Festival in Trinidad, through the auspices of the Extra Mural Department of the then University College of the West Indies. This celebratory spirit must have infused the artistic community of the Region, for it was at a regional gathering of artists in Guyana in 1970, that the idea of a grand Caribbean festival was conceived.


The enthusiasm of the artists attending a Caribbean Writers and Artists Convention in Georgetown in 1966 and again in 1970 during Guyana's Independence and Republic celebrations, found favour with Prime Minister Forbes Burnham who spearheaded the conversion of the idea into a resplendent exposition of artistic forms and cultural artifacts that became the first Caribbean Festival of Arts in Guyana in 1972.

This first CARIFESTA attracted the participation of 1000 plus artistes from over 30 Caribbean and South American countries, giving expression to their creativity in music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture, folk art, photography and literature.

The vision of the Caribbean leader, Forbes Burnham, who is most directly credited with the emergence and success of this Caribbean event, was to have a "Caribbean Arts Festival, featuring Guyanese and Caribbean artists whose work in poetry, painting and sculpture project our dreams and visions and help us to foster and develop a Caribbean personality". He envisioned the hosting of the festival as an ongoing event in different Caribbean territories.

The cultural and artistic groundswell generated by the success of CARIFESTA 1972 gave impetus to the call to institutionalize the festival within the emerging structure of the Caribbean Community. In response to such urgings, the Heads of Government, at their 1972 Heads of Government Meeting approved the establishment of a permanent unit within the Secretariat with oversight functions for coordinating subsequent CARIFESTA events. Jamaica's proposal to host the second CARIFESTA staged in 1976 was also favourably considered.

This year is the ninth occasion that CARIFESTA will be staged. Following the first event in Guyana in 1972, it was hosted in Jamaica in 1976, Cuba in 1979, Barbados in 1981, Trinidad and Tobago in 1992 and 1995, St. Kitts and Nevis in 2000, Suriname in 2003 and will unveil in Trinidad and Tobago on September 22 this year.


Each CARIFESTA is developed around a theme and symbol. The symbol of the first CARIFESTA, in the form of a dark hand rising, grasping the sun, depicted the skills and aspirations of the tropical man with talent untold. The symbol of CARIFESTA V111 in Suriname depicts the sun emerging behind a wheel in which a figure is performing on the drum. The sun symbolizes the spirit of the Caribbean; the wheel, the positive movements of the Caribbean, while the figure symbolizes multi-creativity of the Caribbean artist. The drum is the traditional communication tool of the Caribbean.

The event is staged over a period of several days with varied presentation formats that include exhibitions, displays, demonstrations, concerts, shows, recitals, discussions, pageantry and plays within a village atmosphere.

At the base of the design is a stylized steel pan image, which the forms stand on. It’s inclusion is justified not only as a strong graphic element that can hold the logo together, but also as it is one of the most well known instances of Caribbean artistic expression.

In conclusion, we believe that this vibrant logo embodies the CARIFESTA theme and as such makes an appropriate visual identity for the event.
The slogan of the last festival in Suriname, "Many Cultures, the Essence of Togetherness, the Spirit of the Caribbean", appropriately encapsulates the substance of CARIFESTA and its critical function of bringing together the diverse peoples of the Region in a positive, colourful, cultural and artistic expression of their differences which combine to create what is uniquely Caribbean.

The 2006 CARIFESTA logo uses stylized human forms representative of our diverse Caribbean peoples of various colours, creeds and races. The three human forms, which stand on stilt like legs similar to that of the Moko Jumbie, a common part of Caribbean festivals, each portray a different part of the creative mediums that our expressions as Caribbean people take:

• The black form holds a drum, which represents the rhythmic expressions on which our music is built

• The green form waves a flag, which not only displays the CARIFESTA IX name, but acts as a symbol that depicts the tribal movements that is the basis for our unique forms of dance

• The red form holds a book, representative of our oral traditions of poetry, story telling, as well as our written expressions, which fuel the performing arts

The evolution and transformation of the event over its thirty-four-year existence, can be perceived as a response to meeting the objectives of CARIFESTA which aim:

(1) to establish and celebrate the arts as the most important dynamic force for reflection on our dreams and visions in the process of self-affirmation of the Caribbean personality;
(2) to maximize people participation in the arts, promote integration and intensify the interaction between the people and the artists of the Region;

(3) to deepen the awareness and knowledge of the diverse aspirations within the Caribbean Community through an on-going process of exposing the peoples of the Region to each other culturally by means of the development of our creativity;
(4) to embrace developments in communications technology and the media - while accepting the challenge this technology poses - to positively advance our culture at home, throughout the diaspora and the world, despite the fact that that same technology appears to be challenging established traditions;

(5) to foster a vision of Caribbean unity and possibility by facilitating the documenting and disseminating of art works as highlights of the ongoing historical and cultural development of our people;
(6) to expose children and Caribbean youth to the arts and traditions of the Region as a basis for building vibrant and dynamic institutional support for their development as citizens of the future Caribbean;
(7) to encourage excellence by bringing masters and youth together to initiate systems of apprenticeship for young artists; and

(8) to promote the development of cultural industries and merchandising in order to maximize the economic potential of CARIFESTA and the arts, for the benefit of the artists and Caribbean societies as a whole;

These objectives speak to the utility of this highly anticipated event as an embodiment of integration as captured by Edwin Carrington, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community in the following statement made during CARIFESTA VIII in Suriname:

"CARIFESTA embodies Caribbean integration. It is here that the people of the Region come together; co-mingle, creating one community, one people. That is integration. Further, this event strengthens the bonds between us, displays our creativity and ingenuity and demonstrates to the world the best that this Region has to offer. CARIFESTA celebrates our Caribbean being in a way that no other single event can."

Beyond the dramatic and inspirational performances on stage, the music, the dance and folklore, the artistic manifestations of painting, sculpture, craft, beyond the exhibition of our cultural creativity, our way of life, CARIFESTA engenders a nostalgic pride among Caribbean people, of who and what we are, what we are capable of achieving, what we possess, our peculiarities and similarities, and that which is excellent among us. A sense of warm rivalry in presenting to the world our best, inspires the preparation of national contingents which separately and collectively showcase the ingenuity and talents of nation states and the Caribbean as a whole.

This imbues in Caribbean peoples a sense of unity as the cultural face of the Caribbean is presented in its diverse splendour. It fosters a sense of pride in things Caribbean. CARIFESTA offers a unique opportunity to "depict the life of the people of the Region, their heroes, morals, myths, traditions, beliefs, creativity and ways of expression". It provides a forum for the people of the region to be exposed to each other's culture, and in the process, cultivates tolerance and appreciation for differences, an integral element of any movement towards integration.

Functional co-operation and the advancement of the economic, social and cultural development of the Region's peoples is a firm pillar of the Caribbean Community and is among the ideals set forth in the Treaty establishing the Community. The Regional Cultural Policy of the Caribbean Community establishes the crucial link between culture, the Arts and development. "Culture is not only the fruit but the root of development and must be considered in every phase and aspect of the development process" (Regional Cultural Policy of CARICOM (1994).

The policy document entreats CARICOM governments and people "to recognize and endorse the particular value of CARIFESTA" and its "potential for setting high standards, developing a Caribbean ethos and fostering regional unity...." No other regional event has surpassed CARIFESTA's potency for underscoring the importance of cultural development. The aesthetic value of our culture and the Arts enrich our lives in the midst of the challenges and struggles for survival in the increasingly difficult social and economic environment of the Caribbean. They humanize our existence. Through the depiction of our history and the representation of our present in various symbolic forms, our artistes and cultural craftsmen and artisans help us to keep in touch with our origins and to foster a sense of pride, dignity and respect for ourselves as Caribbean people.

CARIFESTA provides the mechanism for uniting us as a Region in celebration of our achievements and accomplishments as we triumph over our adverse experiences. It is the unifying Caribbean carnival and should be so structured to make possible the greatest participation of Caribbean citizens. It is, as Hon. Jacinth Henry-Martin, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport of St. Kitts/Nevis, states, "the celebration of ourselves as a people, the latent desire within us all to give life to our artistic urgings", and, "should be provided every scope to blossom and bear fruit on a more regular basis".

This vision of moving CARIFESTA "beyond event to process", is a critical one. The process of ongoing interaction among Caribbean artistes and people and the continuous exposure of aspects of our culture to the wider Caribbean community through organised activities is necessary for a fuller participation of Caribbean citizens in CARIFESTA.

The economic boost that CARIFESTA presents for host nations and tourism generally in the Region underscores its impact on Caribbean development. Every hosting of the festival refreshes the cultural industries of the region with new talent. New productive outlets are generated for the multiplicity of Caribbean talent waiting to be unearthed or propelled to prominence.

As Professor Rex Nettleford notes "the creative diversity of Caribbean life has long led me to insist that we have more artists per square inch than is probably good for us in what is our contradictory, contentious, well nigh unruly but exciting Region". ("Survival and Beyond": 2000) Opportunities are created for the spotlight to be placed on the issues and concerns of the artists and cultural workers of the region whose labour of creativity and seminal contribution to the region's development and the integration process often become overshadowed by the urgency of economic and other regional development priorities dictated by the new global dispensation.


CARIFESTA has persisted in spite of threats to its continuity. Competing demands for resources of the region have, over the years, determined the frequency and grandeur of the regional festival and necessitated a restructuring of financing arrangements and cost sharing among participating countries. Its persistence may be an admission of the centrality of culture, the arts, and manifest events as CARIFESTA to the Caribbean psyche, the well being of its citizens and to real development.

As the Region's cultural institutions battle against submersion by the invidious penetration of imposing super cultures, CARIFESTA provides a constant reinforcement and replenishment for our sense of self and for our diverse cultural identities. Professor Norman Girvan (El Gran Caribe) challenges the concept of creating a specific Caribbean identity by means of something called "cultural integration". He posits that what is useful is to speak of cultural understanding, interaction and exchange; of mutual respect for and tolerance of cultural differences and the practice of cultural compromise and consensus. CARIFESTA, through the coming together of diverse racial, ethnic and cultural strands of Caribbean society, embodies each of these elements. It is an institution of integration which is to be nurtured and harnessed to retain and preserve the crucial elements of our art and culture as we present ourselves to the world as a diverse but unified Region.

All this being said, as CARIFESTA IX approaches, bearing the theme “Celebrating Our People: Contesting the World Stage, we can confidently say with George Lamming: