“Development is only viable if culturally and environmentally sustainable” were the words stated by the Minister of Culture of Paraguay, Mabel Causarano at the United Nations. As soon as I heard these words, I knew that it was Divine Order that this would be the day of my return to this international arena. I sat amongst other world leaders to be a part of a special thematic debate of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Culture and Sustainable Development in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.” This debate relates to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are eight international development goals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, following the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration. The goals are:
To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
To achieve universal primary education
To promote gender equality and empowering women
To reduce child mortality rates
To improve maternal health
To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
To ensure environmental sustainability
To develop a global partnership for development
The Gullah/Geechee Nation has been focused on all of these goals out of necessity since we were established during the same year that these goals were put forth globally.
The work of cultural and environmental sustainability has become the central element to it all as the Gullah/Geechee Nation is faced with climate change issues amongst people that would rather ignore the environmental damage done by the destructionment that they build as economic engines and places of recreation. As I sat and listened to the thematic debate, it was refreshing to know that there are many others throughout the world that have come to see the viability of culture beyond what many that cause the destruction and genocide of culture groups see it as. They tend to see culture as a tourism hook to keep money coming into their economies. Repeatedly, ministers of culture made it clear that culture needs to be viewed for its value to the world beyond what money can be made from it. It was as if they were taking the words not from my mouth, but from my heart and invoking a Gullah/Geechee spirit throughout this circular space called the United Nations. I could hear the drums beating and was ready to shout!
The Minister of Tourism, Cultural Affairs, Youth, and Sports of Albania, Mirela Kumbaro pointed out that culture is inherited and it is “the basic value that never betrays us. It deserves its place in the sun.” Therefore, environment, development, and economics, cannot remain without the fourth pillar which is culture. She brought out the fact that “culture is spoken of when money can be saved, but money is not always spent on culture.” “Reform of the system of management of cultural heritage” was her call of action. The leaders of the Gullah/Geechee Nation have long since seen this as necessary and it is becoming increasingly urgent as bodies like UNESCO seek to find out about Gullah/Geechee culture through governmental bodies and educational institutions that have a long history of being exclusive of Gullah/Geechee culture for a myriad of reasons and they circumvent the actual Gullah/Geechee communities and dialogues with the people that live the traditions. Instead, they take tours and go into archives and seek to do oral history interviews with those that are unaware that they are being used as a lab for someone to then create a version of the culture that they can define and present in national museums and take on tour through exhibitions and slide shows. Meanwhile, the true traditional culture is hidden in their dark halls that they control and is not out in the sun where Gullah/Geechee culture like many other indigenous traditional cultures need to be in order to thrive, live, and grow.
We have found that there are many that want to “stage” the culture and have supported the festivals that will only hire those that they say are “acceptable” to “perform,” but living is not performing! The issue here is also what the minister of Albania stated, “Freedom is not easy to manage.” De Gullah/Geechee wha dun git e freedum unstan disya fa tru!
In spite of it all, I totally agree with her when she states, “Educating the population through culture is critical.” Those who are to be the educators must be those of us that live the traditions of the culture, know the lay of the land, and kno how fa crak e teet bout who webe! To that end, the Minister of Arts and Cultural Tourism of Trinidad stated that “We must protect the indigenous!” He also stated that “Culture is capital like oil and natural gas which are finite. Culture is an infinite resource!” If this were truly understood, then people would realize why the Gullah/Geechee Nation and so many other other nations of the world realize that culture is an engine for sustainable development. In this case, “development” is defined in the manner that Minister Kumbaro put forth as “participatory development.” This type of development identifies the memory, beliefs, language, and aspects that make up the culture and protects and guarantees the cultural rights of the people that live the traditional culture. It is not about the imposition of new cultures on that of those that are the “natives” of an area and it definitely goes against a process of assimilation and cultural genocide which each of these nations has seen and are now working against. As she stated, “a unified version of society did not allow for difference.” I immediately thought of the pot in which my people and all of our cultural mores were almost melted until the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition began a global campaign to make the world aware of what was taking place that would destroy the existence of Gullah/Geechee culture. We have be using the “participatory development” model without having these words to encapsulate our efforts since our beginning.
Our family from the Bahamas had a powerful plan that was presented that is being implemented in their chain of islands via “Culture in the Class.” They have implemented this because they now realize that “culture must be included at all levels of education.” Minister of Youth, Sports, and Culture, Dr. Daniel Johnson made a powerful statement when he walked up to the podium and said, “In a time when the world needs healing, culture can be a cure.” Through the work of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, the Gullah/Geechee Angel Network, and the leadership of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, I have witnessed first hand and been a part of the healing that has taken place on the Sea Islands due to culture and cultural education, awareness, and understanding. We dun git ta de root an gwine forth wid tekin cyare um fa heal de tree wha got de fruit pun um ob who webe.
Manuel Viega who is the Minister of Culture of Cape Verde stated that “New kings and new queens have awaited this era when culture is presented without domination.” I could have cried out “Hear! Hear!” when he stated this for sure! This was only highlight by the statement by the Secretary of Cultural Policies & Ministry of Brazil: “Freedom of thought is fundamental to cultural diversity.” I say, it is also fundamental to cultural continuation!
As the same secretary stated, “Culture is not an appendix to sustainability! The current model is anti-social and is not sustainable. It must be dismantled!” Dismantling anything requires tools. The National Director of Policies in the Ministry of Argentina offered such a tool. She stated “Culture is a tool of transformation!” As one of the “new queens” spoken of, I have been holding this tool in my hands and my heart for quite sometime. I have seen the transformation and the healing as a result of its use. I see new Gullah/Geechee fruit growing and ready to be harvested and there will be future harvests that can be sustained if the Gullah/Geechee traditionalists are respected and continue to be in the forefront of collaborations and discussions about the sustainability of our culture because you cannot have Gullah/Geechee culture without sustaining the environment of the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s Sea Islands and Lowcountry. If underdevelopment is to “under value what is one’s own,” we as the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s leaders have “overdeveloped” because we do value what is our own and thereby seek to further invest in it to increase the return on this investment in the continuation of our culture, our community, and families as a part of the global community. We binya an we ain da gwine no whey!