These images, along with the others, highlight the essence of the Belizean experience and ask us to live our culture, not just reenact it.
November 27, 2012
Walking towards the Mexican Institute of Culture on the night of November 15, I could hear the faint but rich beating of Garifuna drums wafting through the door. The Mexican Embassy had invited the public to the launch of Pen Cayetano’s most recent exhibit ArtCulture.
Just before the opening speeches started, I pulled Pen away to ask a few questions about his latest art installment. He obliged by explaining the concept behind the exhibit.
“This ArtCulture exhibition is a special exhibition to me because, we are losing our culture and only art could revive it. So, we are only reenacting our culture every time a big celebration comes around. Just like how it is in done other countries. They used to live their culture, but now they are looking towards the galleries to see some of the aspects of their culture because we are not living it (culture) as how it used to be. So ArtCulture is; first there was culture but now it is art.”
I asked Cayetano to give his view, both as a musician and an artist, about young Garifuna artists, if he thought that they were living the culture or a parody of it.
“I think totally the black culture in Belize is deteriorating, in truth. Most of the things we used to do or value in our culture we are not doing again. We are adopting most of the North American culture and other cultures. Take for instance our celebrations last year, we were depicting our dance. Our cultural dances have gone to a step where not only it is not depicting culture, it’s a seductive kind of dance and it’s vulgar. We have to go back to school to study and re-learn our culture, although we think that we know our culture, we don’t know. We might know, but we are not acting it. And by not acting it we are losing it. You know? So I think the young people today should take another step and study our culture. Because this culture, our culture, was a strong one, the black culture. We are taking some other direction of cultures that is influencing our culture and even dominating it. That shouldn’t be. Let’s take the old Garifuna and the old Creole roots, the mahogany days, when the men would cut their mahogany or prepare their mahogany and the women would prepare the food for their men. Nice dinner! Nice Creole dinner. It was not the garbage we are eating now. Even so, we are losing our culture, (with) what we eat.
That is what we should do, live our culture, although the world is changing. So young people, and we the elders, have to make a strict rule: that we have to learn our culture and the strength of our culture.”
The Cultural Attaché Arq. Domingo Rodriguez Semerena in his opening remarks at the launch of ArtCulture, expressed his happiness with the success of the cultural exchange the Mexican Embassy does here in Belize through their Cultural Institute. Indeed, Mexican and Belizean artists have exhibited in the Mexican Embassy’s cultural spaces. Not only in the ambit of visual art but also in terms of music, where the Embassy has invited Mexican musicians to play here and has sent Belizean musicians, Pen Cayetano included, to Mexico.
The paintings were oil snap-shots of Belizean moments and culture. Lindbergh’s Landing on the Barracks, with what Pen described as his own interpretation of the sky, another painting shows women braiding hair on the steps of a wooden house; there is also a beautiful Garifuna Nativity. These images, along with the others, highlight the essence of the Belizean experience and ask us to live our culture, not just reenact it. ArtCulture was on display for the month of November at the Mexican Institute of Culture, which is located corner Newtown Barracks and Wilson Street.
Only days after his launch, on November 18, 2012, Pen Cayetano unveiled Hayawadina Wayunagu (the images of our ancestors) in the Dangriga Town Hall. The presentation was done in grand Dangriga style with drumming and dancing. The event was attended by His Worship Mayor Gilbert Swaso, the President of the National Garifuna Council Mrs. Phylis Cayetano, Leader of the Opposition Hon. Francis Fonseca, Cultural Attaché of the Mexican Embassy Arq. Domingo Rodriguez Semerena, Mexican Ambassador His Excellency Mario Velázquez Suarez and the general public.
Pen explains the mural as follows “The mural talks about the landing of the Garinagu, it talks about our ancestors, and of great Belizeans, some have died some of them are still alive. And to me, it is a great thing that Belize has a mural now that is depicting a strong culture. And that is only the beginning; I think in the future there will be murals depicting not just the Garinagu culture, but all the other cultures. This, I believe is just the beginning of cultural murals which will be operating in Belize. Because as I said earlier, the culture is deteriorating, we have to look in galleries and museums to find it, or maybe in books or other things, video and so forth.”
Surely placing this mural in the Town Hall a symbol of the governance of Dangriga is a significant one. As without culture what have we to govern, but a people without an identity. Cayetano hopes that the students will asked to visit this mural, so that they can see and reconnect with their roots and culture.
Pen’s message to the youth for Garifuna Settlement day was that he hopes that the youth be more culturally conscious. He reminded us that the youth are to engage in other dance forms besides the Punta Rock, and to careful of how they express themselves. “Don’t be vulgar!”
I can hardly say I disagree with Pen's advice, being the father of Punta Rock, he more than any, can tell us a thing or two about the ‘shake it, shake it’ as he calls it. So here’s to hoping that we ‘live and not just reenact our cultures!’