09.30 Performing the Past: Reproduction and Transmission of Local Heritage through Theatre in the Community of Princes Town, Trinidad
This paper will explore ethnography as a research paradigm and a methodology, applying performance ethnography in particular to examine whether reconstruction of narratives collected from elders of a community, and staged by younger members of the community for members of the community, can be considered valid knowledge production and heritage transmission. The study will analyze the process of collecting data through interviews and secondary sources, collating themes from the data, crafting the themes into a script and then staging the play. The research will explore how this process is related to the emerging worth of performance as ethnographic data representation, the valuing of oral narratives, the construction of memory in relation to spaces, the notion of embodiment of narratives, and the applicability of community theatre as a sound medium for reflecting/reproducing cultural heritage.
On another level, the study will address the questions of how the young community participants themselves experience and interpret local cultural heritage in the process of staging the play about familiar spaces and ancestral community narratives. The ethnographic experience occurs at various levels. The researcher as a resident of the community and thus a receptacle of narratives and as playwright and director, offers a unique ontological positionality. The interaction of the young participants with the elders, and with the community space in the form of a bus/walk, along with the new-found narratives of ancestral inhabitants evidenced in embodiments and place names, adds important ethnographic dimensions to the research. The reconstruction of narratives using contemporary media, foregrounds marginalized stories, bringing them alive in the here and now, by inheritors of these narratives.
The project is based on a small town in Trinidad, the southernmost island in the Caribbean. Princes Town demonstrates scant overt knowledge of its heritage, and negligible public documentation of same. Its rich heritage reveals that it was peopled thousands of years ago by first people, then changed hands to two colonial powers; the Spanish and the British at one time acknowledged as the pride of sugar refining in the British Empire. The heritage in the geography, ethnic groups, economics, religion, and education, although significantly erased by manipulation and by attrition, are quietly extant in the people, institutions, and place names of the community. This research according to Trouillot, glances “at the past in the present.” What does this heritage change? This community-based research is not only applicable to Princes Town, but is of global importance. Madison (2006) explains that “ethnographic performance can do the labour of making local work a global issue.” As performance ethnography, it expands the one-liner or absent historical references of people narratives into real, living, nuanced stories that reach large numbers in a community in ways no written research can. “It hopes to reimagine Otherness. It hopes to disturb and evoke. It hopes to always and already make Others known, real and memorable, not only in what they say, but in what they do.”