In recent years, the Oistins Fish Festival, along with other local festivals has been labelled a dying tradition and as such, its rejuvenation and transformation has been no simple undertaking.
The annual event was planned and executed with deliberate attempts by organizers to bring young, innovative and energetic ideas to the fore and fuse the traditional with the contemporary.
For chairwoman Toni Thorne, the task of leading a team comprising members as young as 18 years old has been a learning experience, which could only occur under the guidance of those who have gone before.
“I don’t have any regrets and that is predominantly because I have a really good team,” Thorne told Barbados TODAY on the penultimate day of the festival.
“We have a large team of the older stalwarts and an extra 15 newer persons who came on board with me and everybody is working very hard.
“We are working free of cost, but everybody has the best of intentions for the festival and we share one common vision and a common goal. I think that as a result of that, things are going quite well. Obviously, you cannot please everyone. There will be kinks here and there, we will make mistakes and we have made mistakes, but I believe for a first year we are pretty pleased with how things are going,” she said, adding that local festivals in general were in desperate need of revival.
“People have been complaining about local festivals. People want to come out and see local innovation and it has not been easy because when people are accustomed to doing something a certain way for the last 40 years, it is hard to convince them. This festival is youth-led and when you have young people trying to change things, people will always say that you are upstarts and don’t know what you are doing. But it has been a very interesting experience and it will continue to be that way,” she said.
The controversial name change which removed the word ‘fish’ from the Oistins Fish Festival generated chatter among Barbadians despite receiving the blessing of the festival’s founder, Lady Stella St. John. In reality, this eventually emerged as one of the smaller changes to the four-day event. Added to the traditional Greasy Pole, Dolphin Skinning and Flying fish boning competitions, a number of new competitions, events and offerings have emerged.
“I think that once we get over the fact that we took a word out of the festival’s name and we look at the fact that we have a new vision and great intentions and we want to grow the festival, I think that Bajans, once they come and see what we want to do and that it is a festival for all, not just people of certain religious or certain political affiliations, then the festival can only grow from here.”
In addition, Thorne told Barbados TODAY that a major part of rejuvenating local festivals is the provision of trade spaces for newer and more innovative business people.
“We have the cane juice man, we have cobs corn and the Muslim community has also played a very big part. We also had our mobile cinema which is a new element and the Muslim community has come out for that and we have had a number of interesting stalls.
“We want examples of Bajan excellence, so we want to be able to still have the plastic toys and so on, but our aim will be to push local innovation,” she said, adding that her determined team would be coming with even better ideas in the years ahead.