The Trinbagonian Mentality: We Like It So

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In 1981, the Mighty Sparrow launched a song called “We like it so (Steal Beam)”. He sang about all the abominations we Trinbagonians have contended with from dawn to dusk, and his lyrics included a few things, which you’ll agree, we’ve become accustomed to, but still find annoying. He sang:
“Yuh pipe eh have no water… yuh pay too much for butter
Agriculture is in a state… planning is inadequate
Hospitals have no linen… is brown paper they using
Bribery and corruption… controlling every decision
We grieving with frustration… through mal-administration
Take yuh steal beam and go.”
The punchline chiming in at the end of each verse was:
“We      know…     we      like      it      so…     we      free.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZFOlInYmqs
Hmmm… not very promising. In fact, this doesn’t sound much different from the complaints we’ve been hearing over the past few years or even today for that matter. Why are we still grappling with the same issues? Here’s a thought – OUR MENTALITY! Yep, I said it, and guess what? It’s time to hold ourselves accountable.
Somehow, for the past 50 years, we’ve managed to propagate, from one generation to the next, the kind of mentality that has enabled the never-ending saga of the problems our country faces. Yes, I agree we’ve progressed commercially, but not as a people – not in the way a nation stands together when it wants to affect change. Why is that?
In the days of Dr. Eric Williams’ leadership, it was reported that the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, during a visit to Trinidad, said that T&T could not progress because of our “Carnival mentality”, a term now coined often enough to describe Trinbagonians and our ways. This statement was hard to ignore, and you could well imagine my indignation after reading it. Moments later, though, I found myself contemplating the truth of his words.
In fact, Kuan Yew wasn’t the only one to dub Trinbagonians as having a Carnival culture. The University of the West Indies did a study, “Recognition of Cultural Behaviours in Trinidad and Tobago”, in 2004, which listed ‘Carnival mentality’, as one of the characteristics of cultural behaviours in T&T.
It stated that the “Carnival mentality was seen as having two dimensions: during Carnival season and outside the carnival period”. Outside of the Carnival season, this mentality manifested into a “non-stop, party mentality” that was practised throughout the year, where every event or occasion was treated as an excuse “to lime or party”. It was also seen as having filtered into the workplace (surprise, surprise) “where individuals have a very slack, laid back or ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude towards work”.
So, have we been enablers of our problems in T&T because of a “Carnival mentality”? Let’s look at how things work.
Here, everyting is ah small ting – rules included. The general mentality dictates that everything miserable in Trinidad and Tobago has become an accepted way of existence – everything from days without water in certain parts of the country to the dilapidated state of our roads, the corruption in our system, wanton littering and disregard for the environment, poor customer service, and, let’s not forget, our high crime rate. What was Sparrow’s take on it again? “We know, but we like it so. We free.”
As a Trini, I cannot deny the truth in this ‘Carnival mentality’ debate; but having said that, I also have to acknowledge the fact that there are many intelligent Trinbagonians who are hard working and more than dedicated to their jobs. Still, dis eh no Disneyland, and my name is not Mickey Mouse. So, I decided to get some more insight.
Where does this aspect of our mentality or behaviour come from? A friend told me that the problem was not our mentality; the problem was our culture. According to him, “Today, it’s a very selfish, inconsiderate and take what you can get culture, compounded by the fact that we just don’t like to follow rules”. This, by the way, is behaviour our leaders have gotten away with… for how many decades now?
As much as I may agree with this outlook, I wondered about other possible explanations, so I dug deeper, all the way into our colonial days. It was here I discovered a new term used to describe our Trinbagonian ways – ‘colonial mentality’, which refers to the deep-rooted results of forced submission, and the effect it has had on the psyche of its victims.
I suppose anything would be better than forced submission, and breaking social and legal rules, thus opposing our colonial masters, brought us closer to freedom. Those acts of defiance at the time were not only seen as okay, but necessary for survival.
Unfortunately though, we’ve ignored the greater lesson, which is that breaking rules during our colonial days served its purpose then, for survival, and ultimately freedom. Decades later, this mentality is outdated; yet, we’ve continued to successfully pass it on from one generation to the next. Instead of breaking the rules, we should have broken the submission that would have enabled us to push for change and adherence to rules, thus bringing about progress in T&T.
And so here we stand today at the pit of the cesspit of all places, having to contend with the mess that we’ve created because of our continued submission, ‘is ah small ting’ attitude, total defiance of rules and our Carnival/colonial mentality, paralleled with decades of leadership that could only be dreamt up in some cartoon chronicle.
Our existence today is similar to that of our colonial days. We’re still focused on survival. Surviving in our homes with our burglar proofing. Surviving the dilapidated roads and the insane drivers on it. Surviving for days without water in some parts of the country.  Surviving the rude mentality in many of our businesses and Government agencies, and surviving in a country with one of the highest kidnapping and murder rates in the world!
What we have is a country that is more than capable of greatness, but the only thing holding us back is our approach to change and challenges. Yuh know, that thing that people say separates the “First World” from the “Third World”? For some, the change in the Government last year brought about a sense of hope, but folks change eh go happen if the people are not on board. And for the people to be on board, there needs to be a shift in our mentality – one that seeks to enhance our country and not drag us further down into an abyss of hopelessness.
Trinbagonians may want to reconsider their ideas on attitude because this current Carnival/colonial Trinbagonian mentality comes at a great price and as a people, we should be far more powerful now. I’ve seen some Trinbagonians demonstrate the kind of mentality that it takes to bring about change. Unfortunately, as with everything in life, when the numbers are low… so is the impact.
It’s time we ask ourselves some questions and provide solutions to the answers. We’ve been our own masters for the past 50 years, with the ability to set new standards and follow the rules we’ve established, but somehow we’ve remained slaves to acceptance. Bob Marley was only 35 when he echoed the words, “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery”, which are still so pertinent today.
We keep saying that change starts with ‘the people’, but when and how can we significantly improve our mentality as a nation, and translate it into real, tangible action? Or is that, when it comes to progress, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, ‘cause we like it so’?

limeIn 1981, the Mighty Sparrow launched a song called “We like it so (Steal Beam)”. He sang about all the abominations we Trinbagonians have contended with from dawn to dusk, and his lyrics included a few things, which you’ll agree, we’ve become accustomed to, but still find annoying. He sang:

“Yuh pipe eh have no water… yuh pay too much for butter 

Agriculture is in a state… planning is inadequate

Hospitals have no linen… is brown paper they using 

Bribery and corruption… controlling every decision

We grieving with frustration… through mal-administration

Take yuh steal beam and go.”

The punchline chiming in at the end of each verse was: “We know… we like it so… we free.”


Hmmm… not very promising. In fact, this doesn’t sound much different from the complaints we’ve been hearing over the past few years or even today for that matter. Why are we still grappling with the same issues? Here’s a thought – OUR MENTALITY! Yep, I said it, and guess what? It’s time to hold ourselves accountable.

Somehow, for the past 50 years, we’ve managed to propagate, from one generation to the next, the kind of mentality that has enabled the never-ending saga of the problems our country faces. Yes, I agree we’ve progressed commercially, but not as a people – not in the way a nation stands together when it wants to affect change. Why is that?

In the days of Dr. Eric Williams’ leadership, it was reported that the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, during a visit to Trinidad, said that T&T could not progress because of our “Carnival mentality”, a term now coined often enough to describe Trinbagonians and our ways. This statement was hard to ignore, and you could well imagine my indignation after reading it. Moments later, though, I found myself contemplating the truth of his words. 

In fact, Kuan Yew wasn’t the only one to dub Trinbagonians as having a Carnival culture. The University of the West Indies did a study, “Recognition of Cultural Behaviours in Trinidad and Tobago”, in 2004, which listed ‘Carnival mentality’, as one of the characteristics of cultural behaviours in T&T. 

It stated that the “Carnival mentality was seen as having two dimensions: during Carnival season and outside the carnival period”. Outside of the Carnival season, this mentality manifested into a “non-stop, party mentality” that was practised throughout the year, where every event or occasion was treated as an excuse “to lime or party”. It was also seen as having filtered into the workplace (surprise, surprise) “where individuals have a very slack, laid back or ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude towards work”.

So, have we been enablers of our problems in T&T because of a “Carnival mentality”? Let’s look at how things work. 

Here, everyting is ah small ting – rules included. The general mentality dictates that everything miserable in Trinidad and Tobago has become an accepted way of existence – everything from days without water in certain parts of the country to the dilapidated state of our roads, the corruption in our system, wanton littering and disregard for the environment, poor customer service, and, let’s not forget, our high crime rate. What was Sparrow’s take on it again? “We know, but we like it so. We free.”

As a Trini, I cannot deny the truth in this ‘Carnival mentality’ debate; but having said that, I also have to acknowledge the fact that there are many intelligent Trinbagonians who are hard working and more than dedicated to their jobs. Still, dis eh no Disneyland, and my name is not Mickey Mouse. So, I decided to get some more insight.

Where does this aspect of our mentality or behaviour come from? A friend told me that the problem was not our mentality; the problem was our culture. According to him, “Today, it’s a very selfish, inconsiderate and take what you can get culture, compounded by the fact that we just don’t like to follow rules”. This, by the way, is behaviour our leaders have gotten away with… for how many decades now?

As much as I may agree with this outlook, I wondered about other possible explanations, so I dug deeper, all the way into our colonial days. It was here I discovered a new term used to describe our Trinbagonian ways – ‘colonial mentality’, which refers to the deep-rooted results of forced submission, and the effect it has had on the psyche of its victims. 

I suppose anything would be better than forced submission, and breaking social and legal rules, thus opposing our colonial masters, brought us closer to freedom. Those acts of defiance at the time were not only seen as okay, but necessary for survival.

Unfortunately, though, we’ve ignored the greater lesson, which is that breaking rules during our colonial days served its purpose then, for survival, and ultimately freedom. Decades later, this mentality is outdated; yet, we’ve continued to successfully pass it on from one generation to the next. Instead of breaking the rules, we should have broken the submission that would have enabled us to push for change and adherence to rules, thus bringing about progress in T&T. 

And so here we stand today at the pit of the cesspit of all places, having to contend with the mess that we’ve created because of our continued submission, ‘is ah small ting’ attitude, total defiance of rules and our Carnival/colonial mentality, paralleled with decades of leadership that could only be dreamt up in some cartoon chronicle. 

Our existence today is similar to that of our colonial days. We’re still focused on survival. Surviving in our homes with our burglar proofing. Surviving the dilapidated roads and the insane drivers on it. Surviving for days without water in some parts of the country. Surviving the rude mentality in many of our businesses and Government agencies, and surviving in a country with one of the highest kidnapping and murder rates in the world!

What we have is a country that is more than capable of greatness, but the only thing holding us back is our approach to change and challenges. Yuh know, that thing that people say separates the “First World” from the “Third World”? For some, the change in the Government last year brought about a sense of hope, but folks change eh go happen if the people are not on board. And for the people to be on board, there needs to be a shift in our mentality – one that seeks to enhance our country and not drag us further down into an abyss of hopelessness.

Trinbagonians may want to reconsider their ideas on attitude because this current Carnival/colonial Trinbagonian mentality comes at a great price and as a people, we should be far more powerful now. I’ve seen some Trinbagonians demonstrate the kind of mentality that it takes to bring about change. Unfortunately, as with everything in life, when the numbers are low… so is the impact. 

It’s time we ask ourselves some questions and provide solutions to the answers. We’ve been our own masters for the past 50 years, with the ability to set new standards and follow the rules we’ve established, but somehow we’ve remained slaves to acceptance. Bob Marley was only 35 when he echoed the words, “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery”, which are still so pertinent today. 

We keep saying that change starts with ‘the people’, but when and how can we significantly improve our mentality as a nation, and translate it into real, tangible action? Or is that, when it comes to progress, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, ‘cause we like it so’?

 

Check out the rest of this week’s issue (21/3/11; Issue 49):

 

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Bahia Amarsingh

Bahia Amarsingh is a budding short story writer, who is about to publish her first book entitled, "It's Okay To Be Me". After attending the University of Central Oklahoma (US), she worked in healthcare in the US, for six years, and then settled with her husband in Dallas to raise their kids. This Trini now serves on the School Board in her community, and continues to juggle her time between work, family and her passion for reading and writing.

7 Comments

  1. Yolande

    April 8, 2011 at 4:16 am

    WELL WRITTEN!!! Our attitudes thoughts words & actions affect not only our Present but also our Future…at some point in life one has to get off the bandwagon and embark on self-discovery

  2. R Singh

    November 18, 2013 at 9:35 am

    The phrase was “steel beam”, the political symbol of Karl Hudson-Phillips’ ONR party.

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  4. nastylittletruths

    February 19, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Well written piece – understanding what the problem is and looking for its root cause/s. I do, however, disagree with the pause at our colonial past (no further digging) and the assumption that rebellion lends itself to our current attitude. Historically, man has always been rebellious but there comes a time – in the words of one author – you realise that there’s only so far those legs can carry you…After the rebellion/revolution comes the cold hard fact you are now responsible for your own future and that notion was taken away by our home grown politicians – the neo-colonials. We are too dependent on others to take care of our ‘ills’ and only want to party/fete. At the end of the day our carnival mentality can also be defined as immaturity and while some grow up, a lot don’t….

  5. Pingback: Trinidad & Tobago Has ‘Carnival Mentality’. Is That Necessarily a Bad Thing? · Global Voices

  6. Barry

    November 1, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Lee Kuan Yew never visited Trinidad and he wasn’t talking about Carnival, he was talking about musicality. This is the quote for Jamaica and maybe the Caribbean

    At Kingston, Jamaica, in April 1975, Prime Minister Michael Manley, a light-skinned West Indian, presided with panache and spoke with great eloquence. But I found his views quixotic. He advocated a ‘redistribution of the world’s wealth’. His country was a well-endowed island of 2,000 square miles, with several mountains in the centre, where coffee and other sub-tropical crops were grown. Theirs was a relaxed culture. The people were full of song and dance, spoke eloquently, danced vigorously, and drank copiously. Hard work they had left behind with slavery

    Let’s go Beyonce, song and dance makes money

  7. Ravi Singh

    April 10, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    Such a poorly researched and sloppily written article.
    1. The colonial mentality has nothing to do with oppression. It has to do with the colonized people’s feeling of inadequacy towards their colonizers.
    2. Lee Kuan Yew never visited Trinidad

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