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De ‘Dragon’ won’t walk de trail no more

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He just barely made it past Father’s Day but was involved in his life’s work – Carnival to the end. Even as I join with the rest of the nation in mourning the loss of KING CARNIVAL himself, Roy “Dragon” Ralph, there is the collective sobering thought that the loss is not just to family and relatives but a collective one to our nation. Our condolences go out to the Ralph family, and in this, the extended Ralph and Peters families, since a close relative of his, Sharon Peters, of Paul’s Avenue, also passed away a few weeks ago.{{more}}

Reflecting on “Dragon’s” passing, and the tributes that are sure to flow, one cannot help but reflect on our nation and our failure to make optimum use of the precious human resources we possess. “Dragon” was one of the priceless gems which shine so brilliantly during our national festival, but which we never seem to appreciate fully during the rest of the year. Had we been able to do so, we would have found a place for Winston “Samo” Samuel, Raymond”Fuzzy” Knights, Jenson Jack and the rest of the talent we put in the “Outflow” tray. We would have treasured and utilized more effectively the talents of Dragon, Owen Ralph, “Sheggy” John, “Moby” Dick, Raymond “Sevens” Knights, “Becks” Gonsalves and the other proud standard bearers of our Carnival spirit.

We can extend the list to calypsonians and pannists, but the scenario is the same. Where do our National Festival and its creators stand in relation to our national development? What is their role? How can these tremendous skills they possess and display at Carnival time be best deployed on an ongoing basis in the service of the nation? Do we just allow them to blossom and then wilt and tire under the frustrations of survival, and a development strategy which has only occasional, and unrewarded, space for them?

Those who migrated did so to seek greener pastures, forced by the necessities of survival and caring for their families. I have mentioned mainly our Carnival men, in recognition of Father’s Day, but female Carnival heroines like the late Louise Millington and Hermina Cambridge, like “Dragon”, stuck to our shores, – and suffered for it. If ever we are serious about Dragon’s monumental contribution to Carnival, then we must put the required mechanisms in place to ensure that the talents of the current generation are nurtured and that they be suitably rewarded and recognized for their efforts.

Recently, one of our current longstanding Carnival icons, Elroy “Blondie Bird” Boyde, made some poignant comments on the difficulty of maintaining the art form. He recalled that the giants of the past virtually sacrificed their lives and possible careers to prepare for Carnival each year. Roy, the Dragon, was one such. Ask any of his workmates who, like him, were employed as plumbers in Public Works, about Roy’s horrors as he had to choose yearly between his job and Carnival output. We, of course, glorified in his productions for King of the Bands and Band of the Year. Not many of us are aware of what it cost him.

That is why bandleader “Bird” was talking of the difficulties in producing mas bands. Young men are no longer going into the tents and sacrifice sleepless nights for free. Dem days done. They know that there is a cost to their work to produce Carnival. Even though they often only count the money cost and hardly the opportunity costs, in terms of opportunities they forego to ensure that Vincy mas retain its splendour and uniqueness. When we lose “Dragon” and others of his priceless quality, we are losing part of our identity, because we have not learnt how to hitch these precious resources onto our national development thrust.

Perhaps Dragon’s passing, right in the midst of Carnival, will help to bring home dramatically the urgency of the situation. To her credit, the current Culture Minister often airs such concerns. But the nation as a whole is largely deaf. Like the legendary “soucouyants”, we draw out the blood of our Carnival makers to be able to boast of the splendour of our festival, but we have little time for them afterwards. Like the costumes they produce, they too can be discarded, dumped along the side of life’s highways, while we change gear, get back into our everyday rat race and then hope that some survive, and others spring up, to produce another year’s Carnival.

Yet the skills that they display at Carnival can be deployed in many other areas of endeavour all-year round. These are artisans but except for Carnival we have no other place for them. We have not even been able to link Carnival, our National Cultural Festival, with our National Day or Independence celebrations. We have not been able to utilize those same talents to make our Independence more than a military parade and picnicking. Is it too much to hope that the “Dragon”, in death, may be able to breathe life in this in this direction?

Rest in peace, Brother Draggy. You have done your life’s work well!

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