Steel Pan: A National Identity?

Posted: March 21, 2012 by shaunpoon in Uncategorized

In this weeks reading I found them to be very engaging as it dealt with an object in which I am doing my final project on. What these readings essentially try to prove is the difference that an object creates amongst people, the unity that can be created, and the potential disconnect that can be created as well.

In the piece by Dudley we see the changing theme of the pan as we see the author identify many themes throughout the various chapters. The steel pan is undoubtedly a diasporic object in the sense that it has progressed and modernized throughout time to continue to be relevant in many musical scenes throughout the world. In Chapter one, the author gives a historical background and setting for the Pan, its creation and who it ideally serviced, that being the Afro-Caribbean diaspora and, to a grater extent, the “lower classes”. He makes reference to the ever increasing popularity of the Panorama steel pan competition in Trinidad, birthplace of the steel pan and home to the sweet sound of calypso music. The creation of this object served a greater purpose of being a voice for the voiceless in a sense and was a way for the people to express their belonging on a local forefront. As an object/instrument for the lower class, the steel pan was seen as a revolutionary object for those in Trinidad as it eventually made its way to a claim a national identity, and something that the population could call its own, being that it was the only instrument created in the 20th century.

In Chapter 6 there is a change in the tone of the book when the author starts to introduce various political aspects and the concept of a true national identity/culture for an object that seemed to be catering to a particular group, the Afro Caribbean diaspora. In a country where the dominant political party at the time was primarily of Afro Caribbean descent and the population consisted of a majority African and Indian, Chinese decent, there were many issues of forging a political identity for an object that wasn’t considered to be of the class that typically were involved in politics. The political intervention in forging a national identity coupled with the involvement of corporate sponsorships began to take the steel bands to another level, and can, to a certain extent, be held responsible for the creation of the instrument as diasporic. 

  In chapter 12 the author continues to focus on modernist reform and the involvement of the middle/upper classes in the steel pan movement. Furthermore, where discrepancies were created formed over the racial implications of the instrument and the formation of a national identity that related specifically to Afro Caribbeans and the issue that Indian Caribbeans felt less of a national symbolism to the object. What must be remembered is that although the majority population of Trinidad is NOT white, there is significant conflicts within the majority populations of Indians, Africans, and Chinese, so in order to forge a national identity, this object must be identified to the nation as a whole. Ultimately the steel pan did somewhat fulfill this requirement and go on to be a national identity.

Where this weeks readings make the greatest comparison to a diasporic object and a national identity is in the reading by Ray Allen about J’Ouvert in Brooklyn Carnival. Carnival is something that is immensely popular in Trinidad and the creation of the steel pan stems from it. Trinidad carnival is second in size only to Brazil and is a true testament to a national/cultural identity. The formation of the steel pan can be seen as a diaspoic object because it has moved along with the diasporic Caribbean people into Northern America. This object posses a national identity away from the home of origin and creates a form of nostalgia for those who were part of the diaspora and a sense of belonging for those who may not be from Trinidad, but partake in the festivities revolving around the steel pan, carnival and the cultural integration.

The steel pan is a national identity for the people of Trinidad and Tobago, it has created a diasporic following for the people of the Caribbean and has truly become a culture for them as well. With that said, the steel pan is indeed a national identity and is also a diasporic object so my question is

What stages does an object have to go through in order to obtain such a designation (as a national identity)?


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