WESPEKTE LaWOZ ek LaMAGWIT, SOUPLE!
A scene from the La Woz festival: Only the scent of a rose can revive this child who has fainted.
Don’t expect the hype and media over-exposure we get for St Lucia Jazz and Carnival for our colourful flower festival, LaWoz and LaMagwit. They are just not “sexy” enough.
As significant national celebrations, the flower festivals lose their appeal each year and seem to make less and less sense to St Lucians. If I am to judge last year’s celebration of LaWoz, I predict LaWoz and LaMagwit will be given the perfunctory attention instead of the royal treatment they deserve. I am wishing it would not be so now that Mr Kennedy “Boots” Samuels has taken over the reins of the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF) and whose most recent post was the Director of the Folk Research Centre.
CDF, is the main government agency charged with the upkeep of our cultural heritage, although the biggest slice of its budget goes towards St Lucia Carnival.
LaWoz and LaMagwit are crying out for an injection of ideas and creativity to make them more acceptable to our Americanised sensibilities. CDF has to step up its support, not just money but also the promotion of LaWoz/LaMagwit. So, how about a quarter million dollars to revive each Flower Festivals celebrations—just 25 percent of what was pumped into St Lucia Carnival. Shhhh. Here is the catch: it doesn’t involve tourists. It is just “for us,” so it really doesn’t matter!
Speak to Manmay LaWoz or LaMagwit to learn of the neglect that they say they have to suffer and endure over the years. Yes, there have been improvements over the years, but both sides believe that Flowers Festivals give St Lucia its unique cultural flavour but are royally taken for granted. They also are resentful and disappointed at how taxpayers’ money is slickly handed out for Jazz and Carnival but that LaWoz/LaMagwit deserve only a kaka-dan (crumbs).
LaWoz more than LaMagwit want to see greater involvement of our schools at all levels, not only infant and primary schools. Both want to see corporate St Lucia embrace our flower festivals. At least, schools participate more widely in LaMagwit in October while schools are in session, but not LaWoz as their celebrations are during the school vacation.
The majority of us as St Lucians have not taken any time to understand and appreciate the potency of our Flower Festivals. We still believe they are for country ‘bookees’, who lack the sophistication for the photo-ops that sponsors crave and requires as part of their support and monetary injection. As I watched last year’s celebration, I was thankful that LaWoz and LaMagrit remain untouched, by ‘culturepreneurs’—those who believe that culture should be exploited, first, for the enjoyment of tourists and then for our enjoyment after.
Young LaWoz Princesses.
Last year, I saw children no older than three years, their innocent faces bursting with joy on stage with enthralled teenagers as well as men and women, well past their 70s, their wrinkled skin reflecting a mixture of wisdom, hard knocks and contentment. Yet, with that same indescribable joy as the children. They all seemed quite at ease participating. Teenagers didn’t at all look bored as if they had been coerced. The older folks didn’t look like they were neither tired, or ashamed. They all seemed proud to be part of LaWoz.
But just a few feet from the stage, that joy quickly dissipated and was replaced by grumbling and vexation. Their disgust centred on the fact that seating was provided for less than 50 persons under the square’s kiosk when seats were required for 250. So Manm LaWoz were left to scramble for seating either on the concrete edge of the kiosk’s floor or at the edge of the waterfall, or on benches outside and away from the action on stage. What should have happened was that each group should have been given reserved seats either in separate tents or accommodated around the stage area. At one time, I heard a crashing sound of murmurs, coming from the sole small tent where refreshments—bottled water—were served. Before that, Manmay LaWoz had complained of disrespect because as they paraded from the church service RC Minor Basilica, along Micoud Street, into Bourbon and up Brazil Streets and had to be competing with the vehicular traffic. “San Wespe”, they grumbled. And, of course, the comparisons of having preference for carnival and St. Lucia Jazz were loudly voiced.
To add insult to injury there was not one government official in sight: not from the Castries City Council, not the Central Castries Representative, not the Minister of Culture. Here we have an explosion of our Royalty from all over St Lucia and we treat them instead like commoners instead of the dignified grace deserving of their status and in the presence of LaWoz of Cayenne.
Wenn Joseph of Laborie couldn’t contain her rage. As if the humiliation was too much to bear, she threatened that she was done with LaWoz because, she said, for her 77 years she didn’t have the strength to jostle like “cattle” for a bottle of water nor would she beg for a seat. Here is a queen whose heart and soul is entwined in LaWoz, and to hear her speak with such vexation seemed to me like CDF had driven a stake into her LaWoz heart…as if it were Wa’dlo that had cursed her. “Sey pou yo tweyte LaWoz pli meye (all LaWoz deserved better treatment) after all the time and effort LaWoz groups had spent in their séances and preparations for their big day! I found her a seat and she sat grumpily as she accepted, cutting her eyes in dismay. Her look said a lot.
Yet, for all her rage, when it was her group’s turn to be on stage, her face was transformed from wrinkled vexation to a beaming light of radiance and sheer pleasure. She elegantly waved on high, in one hand, her glass orb with a large red rose in water. In her other hand she gathered her flowing skirt of her regal baby pink gown accessoried with glittering precious stones and lace, hiked it up one side to her waist to reveal lavish, lacey petticoats. In a one-two step, she glided effortlessly across the stage from left to right, smiling, as if to say, “This is how you do it . . . ” The crown on her head sparkled in the sunlight. It was obvious that Wenn LaWoz Joseph of Laborie knew her purpose in life: to bwiye LaWoz and to do so happily.
I know a lot of people make a mockery of LaWoz and LaMagwit and show a disdain for the folks who have a passion for keeping our traditions alive. When we do so of course, we show disdain for something that is at the core of who we are as St. Lucians. We need to go back to our roots can find the real joy for living and not allow it to be taken from us and then remanufactured into a so called tourism product for visitors and then for us to enjoy only vicariously. LaWoz/LaMagrit, remain the last of our riches that have not been refined and distilled in the name of tourism.
Our media, which have a great role to play in cultivating a greater appreciation for our Flower Festivals, have all but lazily accepted that only good comes from the north. Why bother when all the 24 hour-programming you need each day is a click away on the internet? That’s much easier than getting mud in between our toes in our countryside to record even one group. But in effect, by not wanting to understand, participate and cultivate the expansion of LaWoz/LaMagwit, we are all creating a cultural wasteland where we reduce all the riches of our cultural heritage to irreverent cultural clichés. Really, how unique and different is our Jazz and Carnival, for example, from those in other islands? Vive LaWoz! Vive LaMagwit.
Written By: Jerry George on Aug 7th, 2009