Panyard bandits

TT – Panyards are falling prey to thieves.This month, it emerged bandits broke into Hatters Steel Orchestra, one of the oldest bands in San Fernando, and stole more than $200,000 worth of equipment and musical instruments, including pans.

Two days ago, Exodus Steel Orchestra manager Ainsworth Mohammed had cause to condemn a break-in at the band’s Tunapuna panyard in which several items were stolen, likening the act to “a theft from God.”

These incidents are part of a larger trend. According to Hatters’ spokesman Whitfield Weekes, items began disappearing from the band’s premises at Lady Hailes Avenue since September. And the Exodus theft was not their first.

“This is the second time we had a break-in at this panyard,” said Mr Mohammed. “The last time was sometime last year. And it’s strange, because you wouldn’t really expect panyards to be targeted by bandits.” History has now come full circle, given pan’s history.

Today the pan is cherished by many as a cultural staple and is recognised as our national instrument, but it is not long ago that pan was associated with crime and criminality; that it was not seen as respectable to be a panman or to associate with one. There may well be important lessons emanating from this strange new melody.

These instances of theft mark a shift in the chords of crime. They are signs that the State’s focus on “serious crime” is coming under increasing strain, owing to more brazen instances of larceny, larceny content to feed off shared, communal spaces.

The thefts, which are subject to investigation by the authorities, also suggest an increasing degree of desperation on the part of the population. Before 2020, a panyard was a place where you might have your heart stolen by the music, not a feeding ground for people looking for a quick buck.

Pan sides as a whole have been badly affected by the pandemic. While in theory workers in the creative sector were entitled to one-off grants, it cannot be denied the lack of Carnival two years in a row has sucked vital oxygen from the sector.

There have been a few instances of generosity. The Defence Force and Pan Trinbago teamed up to distribute 100 food hampers to members of the pan fraternity. And some pan has been taken online, with competitions and social media campaigns run by bands, private individuals and a range of corporate sponsors. These will help keep the sector alive, but not flourishing.

The State needs to take a cue from these recent developments when it comes to considering its approach to the creative sector, as well as the support it has granted to the population as a whole. Is it doing enough? These thefts ring an alarm. There was no Panorama this year, but that should not stop Government from trying to strike the right notes.