Letters to the Editor: What is Cayman culture?

Traipsing to different parts of the world never fails to energise and educate. To be able to absorb real life experiences in real time registers indelible impressions. It gives one the appreciation of the synergy between diversity and similarity that exist within our human family.

Living in the Cayman Islands has offered me yet another opportunity to get energised and educated.

As is my custom, I am seeking out whatever is indigenous, whatever has occurred in the natural evolution of this particular society. I am looking for that unique identity of social behaviour acquired by a group in this clearly defined geographical area. In short, I am looking for Cayman culture.

Alas, what I have discovered is yet to be defined.

The meaning of the word culture has evolved through the centuries. In the 1800-1900s it was more about individual human refinement. Philosophers of that period used the term to make a distinction between the ‘civilised and the uncivilised.’

Proficiency in music, art, literature and sophistication or the lack of it, was the criteria. Fast forward to the 20th Century and we find anthropologists defining culture as a human concept that records and communicates experiences socially.

This topic occupied the probing minds of Cicero (Marcus) a famous Roman philosopher, lawyer and orator and also German thinker Immanuel Kant.

I approached this subject with caution and some uncertainty. Firstly I had to clearly determine what I was seeking and then satisfy my curiosity within defined parameters.

Over the past month there has been some focus on aspects of the Cayman culture. Specifically a televised forum that explored the Cayman identity. Here young adults participated, offering their opinions as to what it is to be a true Caymanian.

More recently on a morning radio talk show, the host and guests were in agreement that much of the past (culture) was deliberately being ignored as a topic for discussion. In effect being relegated to the trash heap of irrelevance. One caller wisely reminded that if you don’t know where you are coming from, then you will not know where you are going.

The relevance of cultural identity cannot be overstated. Invariably, who you are is a question that will continuously confront you.

So the question begs an answer. What is Cayman culture.

Where is that bold spirit with its unique identity?

What is French is uniquely French. It is not just the cuisine. It’s the fashion, it is the way of life. It is the attitude.

The US, though divided into 48 contiguous states with its ethnic diversity trumpets loudly its ‘American’ brand.

Closer to home, 120 nautical miles to the East is an Island with a cultural brand so clearly distinguishable that it is easily identified. The name Jamaica conjures up different images, but all uniquely Jamaican and recognised worldwide.

My research to date revealed the following: Up to the early 1960s the adult population lived and practiced what was indigenous to Cayman and Caymanians. Their penchant for hard work, their civility, their honesty and respect for their neighbours coalesced into what was truly Caymanian.

The seamen, the shipbuilders, the makers of rope and thatch all vowed that their children would not have to do the jobs they did.

In 1966 Legislation was introduced to encourage the banking industry. Enter the multinationals. The banks and investment entities found a home. The upwardly mobile and qualified young Caymanians now occupied jobs as clerks and bank tellers. Those that could afford it studied abroad.

The dilution had begun. An irreversible metamorphosis.

The roost was now ruled by expatriates who imposed their will on a docile population. The almighty dollar effectively changed the lifestyle and expectations of the local populace. The corruption of what were natural expressions of indigenous activities took on a life of its own. Strong outside influence fought for a place with what was an existing way of life.

What I have discovered is that characteristics and practices which identified the peoples of this region has either disappeared or lie dormant only to be resurrected at an annual event.

In 2008 MLA Alden McLaughlin in a speech made on National Heroes Days asked, “can there really be any sense of national identity in a society perpetually in transition.” My answer to that is a resounding yes!

The young people of this country need to be exposed to the cultural pillars on which this country was built. The adults need to engage in dialogue as how best to preserve what made them morally strong and civil.

Surely there has to be more substance to Cayman culture than cassava cake or the very expensive turtle meat.

Surely there has to be more to that fighting spirit than Cayfest or Pirates Week.

Lee Kwan Yew, dubbed the father of the new Singapore said “more than economics, more than politics, a nations culture will determine its fate.”

Chester Johnson