The country’s so-called “national festival” hobbled through its 36th year with all of the energy of a rheumatic pirate with a splintered peg leg.
The annual Cayman Islands Pirates Week has become too long, too scattered and too poorly attended. It’s a classic example of government-driven “mission creep,” half-hearted funding and unimaginative management. Perhaps it’s time for Pirates Week to walk the plank.
Don’t get us wrong. We support the idea of Cayman having a spectacular “national festival” such as Carnival in Brazil and Trinidad, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Even Cayman’s Batabano has much more energy in evidence than the “carbon-copy” Pirates Week we have been witnessing for years.
The official Pirates Week website states that the festival runs 11 days from Nov. 7-17. Factoring in weekends special to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the festival actually sprawls across 23 days from Nov. 1-23. We are closer to a Pirates Month than we are a Pirates Week.
By comparison, Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro occupy four days; Carnival in Trinidad two days; and the main Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans take place over a long weekend.
One problem with Cayman’s festival is its lack of identity. Logically, one would assume the focus of Pirates Week to be, well, pirates. That is how the festival is marketed to visiting pirate crews, tourists and locals. Appropriately, the festival’s signature events are downtown’s Pirates Landing and Sentencing of the Pirates, which take place on consecutive Saturdays.
The rest of the month is filled with assorted activities that have little to do with pirates.
For example, the official Pirates Week schedule contains the following: three parties, six meals or happy hours, seven district heritage days, three parades, six musical events, three runs, two swimming competitions, one darts tournament, two fireworks shows, one family fun fair, three dances in downtown George Town alone, one boat race and one cardboard boat race.
No wonder we’re fatigued. And apparently we’re not the only ones. Most of our elected lawmakers and tourism officials were AWOL from the opening day festivities. (Or perhaps they didn’t bother showing up because they knew in advance that Cayman’s “pirate ship,” the Jolly Roger, which is featured prominently on the festival’s website, would be in dry dock and not available for this year’s Pirates Landing.)
Our observations are not intended to disparage the individual and cumulative investments of time and money that many people and organizations have contributed over the decades to make Pirates Week possible. In fact, we at the Caymanian Compass have been a major sponsor of the event for many years.
However, as Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter reminded us nearly a century ago, “creative destruction” is a natural ingredient of growth and the evolutionary process. The old and tired must give way to the new and the innovative. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be.
If there is truly a demand for imaginary recreations of fictional pirate exploits, increasingly irrelevant activities, and annual revisitations to Cayman’s glory days of thatch rope making and stewed plum, then who are we to object? However, the lackluster attendance and the yawning familiarity of the proceedings this year suggest that Pirates Week may have run its course.
At the very least, we would observe that major event planning, marketing and management is, like piracy, a cutthroat business. If Pirates Week is to continue as our officially sanctioned “national festival,” we need not another boatload of “offshore pirates” but an invasion of new, talented, event-planning impresarios.