The Crop Over festival takes place over a series of weeks, and comprises a variety of cultural activities produced by the public sector and private entities. The festival includes events such as Pan Fusion, heritage walks, Pic-of-the-Crop, visual arts exhibition and Bridgetown Market, each of which adds a different dimension, and can appeal to different ages and cultural tastes.
Historically, Crop Over is a time for celebration and revelry at the end of the sugar cane harvest, and this moment is replayed in a symbolic way every year.
So, if the question is whether the Roman Catholic Church views the Crop Over festival in a negative light, the answer is “no”. The Catholic Church has no issue with a national festival. For Caribbean people, music, rhythm and expression are all part of our culture and they even play an important role in many of our churches.
However, we do have a concern about some of the behaviours and excesses displayed in some Crop Over events; the lack of self-control by some; the dress or undress; and the lack of self-respect and respect for others. There is no doubt that people can enjoy themselves in a national festival without disrespecting themselves and others. The festival showcases the culture, creativity, camaraderie, hospitality, gratitude and spirit of our people. Crop Over is our celebration of our culture, and our culture is an expression of the way of life of our people. All of these are noble values that we as a church uphold and promote.
As head of the Roman Catholic Church in Barbados, I believe that participation in Crop Over is a matter of individual choice and discernment for Catholics – which events they will or will not go to, but more fundamentally, how they will promote good Christian values through their behaviour during the festival. Catholics know that they should have self-respect and respect others. We are all made in the image and likeness of God.
In Trinidad, I supported a Catholic Carnival band. It was part of the church’s evangelizing outreach to provide a space of clean fun and great creativity. It said “the Catholic Church supports the festival and desires to witness in it”.
Catholics do not see themselves as being separate from our society, but more as an evangelizing part of our society. In fact, in the 2014 Synod of the Catholic Church in Barbados over which I presided, the following Vision Statement was agreed for the Diocese: “In 2019 the Roman Catholic Church in Barbados will be a recognized leader in integral development, forming mature disciples who build strong Christian families and vibrant communities in the service of Christian unity, the common good and the Kingdom of God.”
Any Christian church should seek to evangelize and influence the way of life of our people by encouraging them to actively participate in it and transform it from within.
Through participation in Crop Over, the Catholic should strive to bring a positive influence to the celebrations and challenge anything that disrespects and denigrates the human person. So Catholics need to know themselves and be mindful of the Catholic teachings. If they know that they do not have the necessary self-control, or they believe they will experience grave temptation to do something that compromises good morals, then they should refrain from participation. Catholics – indeed, all Christians – should let their relationship with the Lord Jesus influence every sphere of their lives at every moment of their lives, not just when they are in church. They should strive to be on their best behaviour every waking moment, and even though they stumble sometimes they are to continue to strive to become the best version of themselves.
Christians must bring the Good News, the Joy of the Gospel to bear on the celebrations, not condemn the festivities because there will always be those who choose to “behave rude”. Disciplined behaviour, self-restraint, sobriety and decency should be the Church’s contribution.
The behaviour exhibited during the Crop Over festival, and Kadooment Day in particular, reveals the lived morality in our society during the rest of the year. If there are challenges, they are not with the festival, but instead with the behaviour. The behaviour in the festival is a revelation of the challenges in society in general; the behaviours which have become embedded in our people and are replacing our traditional Barbadian value system. This gives us an insight into the behaviour in our society, the value system that we now adhere to. These behaviours reflect the soul of this society.
There have been public calls with respect to growing immorality in Crop Over and repeated concerns about corruption in business and politics. Behaviour in Crop Over and Kadooment reveals the soul of the people, the lived moral values expressed all year round. If we expect Christians to withdraw from Crop Over and Grand Kadooment, then we must expect them to withdraw from every sphere where there is a public outcry of immorality becoming endemic. Catholics are taught how they can play a role to be a light in the darkness rather than vacate those places where negative practices and behaviours may emerge. When Jesus commanded the Christian to go into the whole world to proclaim the Good News, he did not give us exceptions; he did not identify spaces where we should not go.
The Crop Over festival seems to have become a whipping boy, absolving us from facing the truth. We have exchanged the moral code of our ancestors, our sound Christian values, for a hodgepodge of values based on economic progress, self-indulgence, maximum pleasure, power and notoriety.
The media is not absolved here. Why is it that the camera on Kadooment Day will highlight the vulgar rather than the many people having good, clean fun? If the media made different editorial decisions, the festival would be seen differently and those who crave notoriety through vulgar actions would not be rewarded. The media must play a more responsible role in showcasing the positive, uplifting side of the Crop Over festival, rather than highlighting disturbing negative images that are not in keeping with the values of a Christian society.
So, let us celebrate our Crop Over festival and demonstrate how Barbados is a Christian society where we enjoy ourselves and each other in a respectful way, applying our Christian values throughout the festival all the way to Spring Garden Highway.