January 28, 2017
There is a slow but steady move to commercialize everything indigenous. While on the one hand this may seem contrary to the recent promotion of global indigenous trends in clothing, food, music and culture in general, a closer in-depth analysis will prove to the contrary. I grew up in a time when neither Nike, MacDonald’s, Tommy or any of the other large, name-brand corporate companies that provide, goods, foods, commodities and services was popular. We were satisfied with living simple, basic and, by all accounts, much healthier lives. We grew our own food, made our own clothing, caught and raised our meat, and anyone who has re-used an old condensed milk can as a drinking cup or cut up used clothing to stuff into a pillow as cushion or floor mat, will realize that we were masters at recycling long before anyone from the north or Europe brought that idea to us. The global indigenous trends that have taken over the world over the past couple of years, while there is much positive to it, there are those who see it merely as another way to extract profits from Third World countries. Indigenous has the positive aspect of preserving cultures, languages and music, but it is also one of the greatest areas where huge profits can be gained.
I was fortunate to study abroad in the US and what that experience provided was for me to see a whole different world. I financed my own way through college partially from savings I had from working in the Government service, and family support, but primarily through working while going to school, mostly during summers. Throughout all my studies I only came home once for a couple of weeks because I realized that if I stayed in the US and worked during the summers, I would be able to pay most of my school fees and also for my dorm. I keep telling you guys I am not one of the rich Briceno’s, but maybe now some are starting to believe. Whenever I could I would travel within the US. I must confess that the first two places I wanted to see were New York City and Los Angeles, for the mere fact that I heard so much about it while living in Belize.
I will say from the onset that nothing in the US impressed me, and that remains to this day. I quickly realized that most of the people from home who migrated to these large US cities were pretty much still living in poverty, but just at another higher level of poverty. I called it US poverty level. Because while they had indoor plumbing, gas range stoves as we called it, a vehicle and air conditioning, these were standard in the US. Most were still living from pay cheque to pay cheque, owned no property, had no credit and even worse, some did not even have a bank account and were living there illegally. This is where I saw the first sign of the commercialization of what was held as indigenous, because while most of the people held to the core of being indigenous, products that made indigenous life possible were commercialized. For example, their food came from the supermarket because there was simply no place to grow it. Traditional clothing could be made, but the cloth could not be made and for those products that could not be obtained fresh, canned goods substituted. While in the case of large urban areas this was a necessity, in Belize it is different. The stores and large corporations realized that there was money to be made from people of other lands who wanted to preserve their way of life from their home of origin and began mainly offering products to that market segment. For example, plantains, oxtail, pigtail, Caribbean seasoning and a myriad of other products started appearing on many supermarket shelves, where in the past these products were in a few isolated supermarkets. As I mentioned, in the US this was more a must because immigrants did not have the capacity to individually produce on their own. However, it became obvious that market forces were at play.
Belize, a place of many races and rich cultures, has taken a bold and positive step of cultural/indigenous preservation. While this is all great, we must fight the urge to have a commercialization, especially in food production, which was key in indigenous life. Over the years there has been a resurgence in Garifuna, Maya/Kekchi and East Indian cultures spurred by a government that emphasizes the need for cultural preservation and groups like the councils for Garifuna, Creoles and East Indians. Emphasis, however, needs to be placed on self-sustainability as a part of preservation. The biggest gap that we need to close as indigenous communities and people is securing food sustainability. We cannot continue to be fed by others via commercial interests. Our collective cultures and indigenous trends were geared at feeding ourselves. Chicken that we once reared is now commercially bought; coconut milk comes in a can, and I can think of a thousand other things that have changed. Land which was our strongest asset has now been given to the rich and powerful, and not to mention the foreigners, hence rendering us helpless to feed ourselves. The element of self-sustainability cannot exist without self-reliance. We cannot depend on others to preserve what is ours.
In closing I must thank Kirby G. Salisbury for his comments on my last article.
It’s all about the people!!!!
Neri O. Briceno