As the world gathers to discuss the plight of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) - what some of us have presented to the UNESCO community to be rebranded as Big Ocean Sustainable States (BOSS) - the vulnerability of islands like ours and the fate of near-coastal districts like those in Nariva/Mayaro in Trinidad and Tobago’s south eastern corner come sharply into focus.
Invited to its centenary celebrations to prophesy what may portend for the Rio Claro of 100 years hence, I envision, in what follows, beyond the ‘bush’ (as the district is often described and the tendency to think of development as urbanisation), to the intrinsic value of ‘bush’ and pronounce on the potential realities of its vulnerability as a SIDS and its sustainability as a BOSS, gleaned from my Kristal ball of research on the interconnectivities of the globe and our island, the global island .TT (Dot TT – Global Island):
Rio Claro 2114: Through the Kristal bowl
Knowledge Centre of .TT, the Global Island
Address by Dr Kris Rampersad Independent Media and Cultural Educator and Producer
and Trinidad and Tobago Representative on the UNESCO Executive Board
on Perspectives on Sustainable Development - Rio Claro next 100 years,
I’d wondered when I would get a chance to say that last line, altered from one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces of oratory: Friends, neighbours, countryfolks.
Here, in Rio, it rings true: Though I migrated out on graduation from high school to the big city, and as my mother still says in her exaggerated style, I left her house and never came back. Indeed I have been somewhat of a wanderer since, T and T based, but about 250 global districts and more than 50 countries later, here I am, on home soil.
To be honest growing up near this district, Rio was just a place we passed through enroute to the beach at Mayaro or Guayaguayare. The folks may stop to stock up on ice or other liquid supplies while we young ones crammed as sardines into my brother’s Cortina, would peer over the wings of the always-polished silver angel that graced his car bonnet, wondering when they would get the show on the road: After all, the beach was calling.
Sometimes, on the way back, exhausted and ready for bed, ma or pa would remember they had family around, and we would have to put the sleep creeping up on us, on hold.
So in fact, my roots run somewhat deeper here in Rio, than just neighbour status. My mother was from these parts. Navet until she was whisked away as a child on the death of her mom to live with an uncle and aunt in Fyzabad, returning to New Grant to begin a family with my father, the Sheriff, in her mid-teens, and sixty years later – she is now a young 80 something, here we are. Some of our folks still live around here.
Ma’s life, indeed, spans much of the past 100, Rio is now celebrating – That thought struck me with the enormity of the task before me of trying to envision Rio 100 years hence. Would she, as a child in Navet, have envisioned anything of what the district has become today? So how can I, begin to approach to do this.
In parenthesis I note here that Rio is celebrating100 years since the trainline enhanced the population of the district. The soil on which we are now, holds more than 10,000 year old history and heritage which we need to harness which is where I see its future. These are the kinds of specificities of our history that we need to be conscious of and that we need to correct – including misrepresentations replicated on our National Coat of Arms and National Anthem.
In preparation for this, I did what anyone of the now generation would do: I put out a call on social media – they call it crowdsourcing: ‘Share your thoughts? What would Rio look like in the next 100 years?’ I got plenty ‘likes’ ad thumbs up, but no thoughts save one who advised to consult a politician sitting here today, not at the head table.
Sigh! So much to do to develop critical thinking. I wasn’t looking for ‘likes’ or commendations, but ideas.
I searched further and found the Rio Claro/Mayaro Development plan. I was already familiar with the Ministry’s national development plans having participated in one of its consultations and made some suggestions which I am yet to see reflected therein. You see, the National Plans identify various growth poles for Trinidad and Tobago, but there is none for this region, even with the enormous potential of what The beach pictures on the Municipal Corporation’s website triggered thoughts of global warming, sealevel rise and vulnerability of what the so called developed world call small island developing states – SIDS - but what myself and a couple colleagues from the Pacific/Oceanic region on the UNESCO Executive Board in Paris are now trying to change to Big Ocean Sustainable States: BOSS. But that is harder than trying to change the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution. It means moving 193 countries in the UN system to agree. Pressure!
In addition, I looked at the data and projections on sea level rise from climate change (with its associated erosion, flooding and submergence of land); the potential for earthquakes and other natural vulnerabilities we may be subjected to. And I drew from my travel/research experiences Port Royal, Jamaica: sunk by earthquakes of 1692 and 1907 – buried below the sea; nearby in Guyana, parts of what used to be its coastline is now invisible – in the sea; no different than parts of Cedros, here and the Mayaro/Guayaguyare coastline.
It’s a heavy thought. Would Rio even be around in the next 100 years? I couldn’t come here, like a prophet of doom and gloom. I wanted a more positive flavour for my home district.
With this looming sense of hopelessness, in desperation I turned to my Kristal ball. Yes. I have one of those. Every consultant should in times like these, when all other sources fail, one must have something to consult, ent?
My Kristal ball is a little murky itself: dust had accumulated, especially in the spots around Trinidad and Tobago, because it had been a while since I had been called by my islands to look into it and share its prophesy.
My friends call it my fishbowl without fish. My niece has threatened to throw it out. It contains no fish, nor any fluid transparent liquid that transforms into visions of the future. It is really a glass fishbowl with an accumulation of nondescript rocks and pebbles – of no value or worth except to myself – from the soil of the some 250 districts in more than 50 countries I’ve visited: some to prepare communities like this one to be empowered, resilient communities and face whatever the future may hold.
My Kristal bowl of pebbles surfaced this memory: from North England, near what is now known as Hogwart’s Castle from the Harry Potter film complete with a princess whose specialty is poisonous herbs! I was invited to speak at the World Summit on Arts and Culture and went on a field visit to this place. Keilder Forest: looks so much like Biche forest: art and architecture transformed this region from bush it was considered – with the darkest skies in all England, they say: into a carefully managed world attraction close to half a million a year and could have more if not controlled. An observatory, to watch the night sky in all its glory and make use of the darkest skies in all England;
The skyscape is viewed through what we would call an obsokey building, but enter it and you’d realise that the artist who designed it meant to change the way you look at the sky, forever. It includes a cycling trail, bits of manmade art scattered around the woods that regenerated what was believed to be a district in decline into a vibrant visitor retreat and a place locals value and enjoy.
Even without the manmade art and architecture, the Biche forest is a natural wonder: the self-growing stone, the vegetation, and something else I’ll share later. I got lost in there once on a hike with Dr Brinsley Samaroo. There was a reason for that, you may be astounded at what I found.
My Kristal ball moved a little further north on the globe: Glasgow, Scotland. In 2007 I participated in a global civil society summit, where I presented what that movement now knows as CivicCalypso: a calypso recounting the value of the civil society movement, and my experience of the New Lanark World Heritage site. Rio’s rural agricultural character could extract something from this example. New Lanark had revolutionised the labour practices for the cotton industry in Europe, and New Lanark recreates that industrial heritage along with the near half a million visitors it attracts annually. It revitalised interest in the wool textiles sector.
You see, organisations like UNESCO, in its sustainable development thrust is friendly to how industry changes the world. For the last three years I have met with enthusiastic nods mixed with mounting rumblings every time I speak about World Heritage status for Trinidad and Tobago – with murmured fears that such moves would negatively affect the oil industry. So far from the truth. In fact, the nomination I have presented of an ecosystem of Trinidad and Tobago’s natural, cultural and industrial heritage that incorporates the collective values of several of our elements into an unparalleled global continuum and to which Rio and its surrounding district is pivotal, has already won widespread support in the international community. It is now for us to move our officials to action.
My Kristal ball is now moving away from Europe which you might say is rich and developed. to. an island, like ours: Bali, Indonesia. The year is 2011 so clearly this Kristal fishbowl with rocks not fish turned has no sense of chronology. I am participating as an Independent member of the consultative body of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage and your Member of Parliament, and now Minister of Community Development who was then the Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism is representing Trinidad and Tobago and I am sure he has much to share of that experience.
Everywhere one turns, it seems, talent and art coming out of stone, literally too. I only last week heard the current Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism describe Trinidad and Tobago in those words “talent growing from the pavements.” Bali lives it: in one example, a UNESCO programme on strengthening its intangible cultural heritage has helped transformed its batik cottage industry into a multibillion dollar international trade, providing employment for what is considered the world’s most populous country, with a satellite of spinoff industries in tourism, agriculture, all tied into attractive interwoven natural, tangible and intangible heritage industries.
There are countless spin offs too: as each of these draw crowds of tourists who throng to Bali for its sun, sand, sea, and Bali has another “S” – not the one that you may be thinking of, but for its spirituality that has gained added impetus from the book and movie Eat Pray Love. All heritage tourism which it combines into arts and crafts tourism – because people curious about how things are done, and agricultural tourism, and its natural eco tourism, flocking to the ornate terraced rice fields and the range of what is sold as ‘attractions’ but is really the everyday life of the average citizen. That’s what heritage is about: being what you are can be an attractive commodity – and we all know that apart from how we does walk, talk and cook, we does make good company.
Even without the terracing, the site of rice fields is beautiful, with the sun reflecting off them. Some of us here have planted rice at one time, right? It seems like drudgery that work, but when you add appreciation and wonder to any task it becomes noble – ask anyone in Bali. In connecting the dots of my research, I also went to the neighbouring island, home of Java Man, one of the earliest humanoid known so I could draw the connecting dots to our own best kept secret on the site next door to here where Banwari was found. This is the site. I took time to get there from Bali, is also a World Heritage site, really a wilderness but endowed with value that we need to start developing for our own.
And incidentally, I met no one, not a single person in Bali who had dreams of leaving the island. That’s what connection to self, through heritage, supported by a state system can do. That’s what we mean when we talk about building resilient communities.
That’s what we do, as we have done, my Kristal ball is changing coordinates to closer home now:
Brasilia, most recently. There to devise plans for World Heritage for the next decade, earlier this year in May – alas, just before the World Cup: someone clearly got their timing wrong. But it was opportune to be in this city before it was overrun by football fans.
In the 1960s, a rare, you might say, visionary politician, decided to listen to a prophesy of a century earlier – for true – and move the capital of Brazil from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia, lock, stock and barrel as we say. He must have been an extraordinary politician because he didn’t mind people dreaming bigger than him. In fact, he got someone to dream up a design for the city and an architect to fill it with some of the most astounding buildings I have ever seen: and that’s what the Brazilian capital looks like: Awesome and awe-inspiring from every angle, and carefully managed with laws that protect the city from overpopulation that is now threatening. So it’s not about just putting up buildings, but having the back up resources, infrastructure, legislation and policy to maintain and protect them and I can present on how this city has done this, as well as several others we have worked/are working with including those in the Caribbean: Cuba, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, Curacao etc.
At the back of my mind, this picture of doom still lurks. Who’s to say that with the flooding in Port of Spain, as the sea reclaims with was taken from it – how many of you know Port of Spain is built on land reclaimed from the sea - Well, with sea level rise, the perpetuation of flooding etc, it is not difficult to imagine that there might soon be a need to find a new capital. (I describe this in my most recent book LiTTscapes, published as a commemorative book for the 50th anniversary of Independence: One of our Trini writers, Arthur De Lima in a book called The Great Quake envisioned the city destroyed by an earthquake and we all having to return to rurality. Remember I mentioned Port Royal in Jamaica, now below the sea and which we are preparing for World Heritage status. Who knows, Rio Claro could envision itself as the future capital, with its own portals to the sea, as Brasilia, built in the 1960s, with such breath and vision, and is considered the world’s most modern city, and since inscribed as such and as a World Heritage city: so UNESCO not only looking for old ruins, you see. The vibrancy of our own lives make several of our districts candidates and in the continuum I am preparing, unparalleled.
I thought that would be enough by way of comparison to now lay out my vision for this district for the next 100 years, but my Kristal bowl was on a roll…remember I have about 250 districts in it from more than 50 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas; we’ve only drifted through four.
It hurriedly turned to Peru. In 2013 to work with others in the region to help develop the Latin American and Caribbean regional blueprint for intangible cultural heritage in Cuzco, the centre of the12th century Inca civilisation, headquarters in breathtaking (literally, high up above the sea) MachuPichu – a world heritage site with Cuzco itself being a centre of intangible cultural heritage. They say the Inca empire lasted just about 100 years – by the way – perhaps an historical accuracy, but a lot can happen in a 100 years you see. The Inca empire extended in its heyday all the way through to Argentina, and not just its remarkable feats of building at high altitudes, an astounding road networks, but it has also left a legacy of an ability to feed itself through time tried agricultural practices of hydrology and fertilisation. Peru’s boast even today is its self sufficiency in food and I note that’s one of the dreams in the development plans for this district is self-sufficiency in food. Virtually all of Peru’s basic food needs are met from home grown food. Its import bill comprises only nonessential luxuries and it is justifiably called the cuisine capital of the Americas, with some of the most startling flavours for the taste buds I have ever experienced. I know, having returned a few pounds heavier, and I am not talking about my luggage.
The Kristal ball, in its now self-driven frenzy landed next, on Peru’s neighbour and ours, on Belize. Over the last couple years I have been developing and conducted heritage training for the range of stakeholders from policy and decision makers to communities and knowledge holders and practitioners in a range of fields, not jut culture, and developing what is now becoming something of a blueprint for such training in the Caribbean which we have replicated in Jamaica, Grenada, St Kitts, Guyana. So we worked with talented people in agriculture, in traditional knowledge and medicine, in arts, craft, culture, and policy makers and tourism officials and educators and archaeologists and museum specialists and researchers to pull their vision together for sustainable heritage and tourism development – from things like new textbooks and educational materials for schools to teach local Garifuna language; or identifying gaps in the macro infrastructure: like trade mechanisms etc. Belize, one of our Caribbean/Commonwealth neighbours has an astounding Mayan heritage, you know. We walked through the seven hour process of making pastelles – we think that’s from the Spanish, but it’s Mayan, or maybe earlier - I may not have time to explain those elements of my research in detail here.
Belize was part of the Mayan Empire that dominated the region from about 3000 BC. You would never look at bush the same way again, because buried under and disguised as mountains and forests are thousands of Mayan constructions – they estimate about 2,500, and there are living Mayan communities, as there are Incas too – the colonials didn’t kill them all out as our history books tell us, you know, though they took much else from them; but they exist and in thriving numbers similar stories from Guyana, Suriname our neighbours, Dominica. Hence the need to inject our history books with all this new knowledge that is surfacing and which I have been trying to gather in my research and travels and interviews across the region of local communities, some which few people can reach.
Now suddenly, my Kristal ball, is not murky anymore and the clouds have cleared and I realise what it has been trying to tell me to say about Rio Claro in the next 100 years; and that, even if we are all washed away by sea level rise or taken down by an earthquake, and may not be around, at least not in the glory of the ancient Mayans and Incas but as lesser mortals if a natural disaster strikes; if the powers forbide, an earthquake shatters all these nice plans we have for sustainability and take away our oil rigs and city skyscrapers, and highways and all those things we hold so dearly as markers of our development. If the sea rose up again it does in my little concept video of this research I have undertaken with the working title of .TT (Dot TT) - Global Island which you can see on youtube and of which this vision for Rio 2114, is now a part.
So mine is not just a 100 year but one backed by a ten year plan for Rio and its sustainability into perpetuity. The thread through all I have seen, the work with communities and officials, the experiences of peoples and cultures and lifestyles, the site visits and field trips and case studies. What is the one thing that has stood the test of time; that has made the Mayans and Incas endure; that lend tone and texture to Brasilia’s and the Keilder forest’s modern art-architecture, and Bali’s astounding creative energies.
It is only hinted at in the plans we have before us in our national blue print and then glossed over but it really should be our central focus and it would easily be activated for this region of T&T with the highest poverty levels but the lowest population and crime levels; and its abundance of resources terrestrial, oceanographic and fresh air: agriculture, rainforest, swampland, sea…
What did I see so clearly in my Kristal ball? A sea of knowledge. The missing element: the spaces that connect the dots on the map of my travel experience and localising that for the benefit of us here. Rio, which sits virtually at the centre of SouthTrinidad can easily be the pivotal point of harnessing all that this district from the Pitch Lake, Naparima Hill, mud volcanoes, archeological elements, to the industrial of not just petroleum but also agriculture and literary intellectual heritage and arts and culture and other living heritage elements – an unparalleled and incomparable positioning of our global island in its microcosmic universality of interconnected natural, cultural and industrial heritage and the clear picture that I am accumulating in my research complete with maps etc, drawn from the some 250 plus districts in the more than 50 countries I have visited, researched and piecing together as the story of us, .TT.
This Southern, latitudinal half of the island; and eastern, longitudinal half, both invisible in our national development plans today, remain the richest legacy we have of ourselves, in conversation with our cities, and of mammoth significance not just to us, but also to the entire Americas, the Caribbean and the globe in its natural and cultural heritage, and linked as we are indelibly through migrations in natural and cultural spheres into the infinite past and indefinite future. Therein is our OUV – what the UNESCO community call outstanding universal value- ; what makes us incomparable - not in the singularity but in the collective.
So why aren’t we delving into this knowledge to learn more of ourselves.
Why aren’t we bringing together our resources, our knowledge and our technologies – yes, we need the technologies and the resources of the petroleum sector to work with us on collating and recreating our heritage and we need to delve deeper and harness the knowledge that lay in and around this district and its neighbouring regions; to utilise the hundred to young graduates being offered free education to tertiary level but few meaningful jobs.
None of us can do it alone: We need to harness our knowledge resources of genetics, astronomy, archaeology; the commonsense in folkstories and legends; the vision from our art and architecture for our own personal global lifestory.
The Minister of Tertiary Education has announced a CoSTAAT centre for Rio Claro: May I suggest, why just a centre; why not a campus for knowledge of ourselves and our multifaceted heritage (like the law one planned for next door). A Shangri-La, where we can harness all this knowledge, so that when all of us are gone - come hell (bullets spraying out our brain) or high water – sea level rise - we would have left something of ourselves to perpetuity.
That’s my ten year plan, and my 100 year vision with timelines and actions and projected outcomes, and budget too which the economists among us, like Mr Ronald Ramkission, would be pleased to know. It is not just about a quick fixed to win the next elections. The President who built Brasilia was exiled for awhile following his term, you know, is the city’s premier hero a huge monument has been justifiably built in his honour and no one in Brasilia questions that award! It is not just about a quick fixed to win the next elections. It is about legacy, and what legacy we as Trinis want to leave the world.
Perhaps this moment can springboard us into that future for Rio, in the next 100 years, a sustainable future, one where the knowledge we leave will live long after the hi-rises and the highways turn to dust.
The alternative reality? In losing our past, we also lose our future….
I thank you.