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The Steelpan - National Instrument of Trinidad & Tobago - Official Statement from Pan Trinbago

Official Statement from Pan Trinbago

Pan Trinbago has taken note of the renewed call by some in our society for another National Musical Instrument. We have seen the various opinions expressed and as the Governing Body for STEELPAN, we here state our position on the matter.

In order for an instrument to be considered to be a National Musical Instrument, it should be (a) indigenous to the country and (b) musical i.e. able to play the songs of the country.

We know of no other musical instrument in Trinidad and Tobago that satisfies these two (2) criteria other than THE STEELPAN.

We, therefore, state categorically that THE STEELPAN is the ONLY NATIONAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT.

That persons should consider and present another instrument to be accepted as a national musical instrument, even as it does not satisfy the criteria betrays a non-acceptance of THE STEELPAN. That the instrument(s) being presented is of perceived and questionable Indian origin, betrays a belief that STEELPAN is African. It also betrays a notion of affirmative action, meaning that if STEELPAN is African, then there must be something Indian. The puerility of this idea does not deserve even our censure.

STEELPAN is the musical instrument that was inspired, born, bred, developed, refined and matured in this country and propagated throughout the world in over fifty (50) countries. It has given Trinidad and Tobago an identity that no other
country can claim, as evidenced by the distinctive STEELPAN Logo on the emblems of our National Organizations and World Events hosted by us. It was proclaimed the NATIONAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO on 30th August, 1992.

We believe that it is not enough to simply proclaim THE STEELPAN as the NATIONAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT, but also a protocol a­­nd a policy must stand beside that proclamation, and we have invited the Minister of the Arts and Multiculturalism to work with us to develop these tenets.

This statement must not be construed as a defence of THE STEELPAN as we do not consider the calls (for another National Musical Instrument) to be an attack.

Rather, it is a statement of education and affirmation as we consider the calls to be mis-informed, un-informed and anti-national. How could a Trinidadian and/or Tobagonian consider and present instrument (s) of Middle Eastern origins to be a NATIONAL INSTRUMENT of this country? In the fiftieth (50th) year of Independence we at Pan Trinbago as representative of ALL PAN PEOPLE, pledge our organization and all that we do to the glory of our nation, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO.


Click for some of the fervent views expressed on the blog “Deafening silence - ‘Honour tassa just like pan’ which preceded the above statement...

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I certainly do not see any attempt to divide here. While I agree with Pan Trinbago's statement on the matter, I do not agree that Trinis should attempt to describe the other instrument as "insignificant" and/or "non traditional". The tassa should not be called 'a' or 'another' "national instrument",it is not, even though it is played and enjoyed throughout the year at various functions, that include all races of the people of T&T.

Well said! I hope this puts to rest any confusion as to what qualifies for a  " National Instrument." and this ridiculous proposal!

GREAT Pantrinbago

Mister president. I understand your anger, and welcom your response. however ,after reading  the gentleman comments I don't think any thing he said was truly deserving of a response,as nothing he said really made sense.   was he given an award ,if he was then someone has to nominate me or maybe Tash next time around.

Well said, Pan Trinbago! You have my vote!

Now, in keeping with your belief as stated above - "We believe that it is not enough to simply proclaim THE STEELPAN AS THE NATIONAL INSTRUMENT, but also a protocol and a polcy must stand beside that proclamotion, and we have invited the Minister of the Arts and Multiculturalism to work with us to develop these tenets" - I wish to strongly urge that the commercial monument - ABSOLUT PAN - which is located on the green verge outside the Jean Pierre Complex be immediately removed. It is an insult to our NATIONAL INSTRUMENT since it depicts a "PAN" with ABSOLUT Vodka bottles embedded on its surface being representative of the markings separating the notes on the instrument. 

Frankly speaking, I am certain that no country in the world would allow its NATIONAL INSTRUMENT (or flag, or coat of arms, etc) to be desecrated in like manner. 

Note too that this insult to our NATIONAL INSTRUMENT is positioned in close proximity to a facility that has accommodated international PAN ORCHESTRAS in concerts and in competitions where many PAN patrons and PAN lovers - local and foreign -  have been in attendance.

Let the first tenet of your policy be that THE NATIONAL INSTRUMENT SHALL NOT BE DESECRATED!


"Other societies often use their creativity to make weapons of destruction. It is a happy circumstance that we have used  ours to make music. And while it is true in this country we play many kinds of music, the steelpan as a musical  instrument is the one which we ourselves invented. In declaring that the steelpan is our national music instrument we direct the nationís attention to a path of development which we neglect at our own peril. For unless we are prepared to look to creativity and invention in our search for national problem solving devices we shall bequeath a legacy of diminishment for which generations to come will never forget us" (Patrick Manning, 1992).

See http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3493&co...  ... there is a whole PhD thesis on the subject fully describing the national sentiments (both sides) at PM Manning's proclamation in his 1992 Independence Day address. 

The Thesis particulars are:

Title: Finding an “Equal” Place: How the Designation of the Steelpan as the National Instrument Heightened Identity Relations in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Author: Daina Lorraine Nathaniel (Florida State University)

If in a rush, see Chapter 5.

Read in toto and digested. I applaud the author's masterful presentation and thank you both: she for her indepth information; you for sharing her thesis with all on WST.

Thank you, Mr. Copeland. I have downloaded the recommended thesis and look forward to reading same.

I am tempted to ask, however, if the designation of the steelpan as the national instrument really did heighten relations in Trinidad and Tobago. The fact is that a large section of our society was silent on this issue at the time of pan's being designated "our" national instrument. That silence has now been translated into the sound of tassa drumming! This same silence is represented via the lone voice that is anti the ABSOLUT insult to pan! 

The sound of pan was and is representative of the sound of separation to those with multicultural ears as opposed to those who appreciate indigenous art forms.


Pan was declared as the national instrument after it was discovered that there was a Canadian patent filed for a variation of the instrument. As it turned out it was filed by two Trinidadians (Salvador and Peters Canadian patent No.1209831 (expired) ). However, it served as a wakeup call to the GORTT. 

I am not sure I agree fully with you. SInce the proclamation, there were three world conferences in T&T (including the recent Steelfestt) , the formation of a lab at UWI, the technical discourses of Aching and many others,  and the introduction of the G-Pans through the Steelpan Initiatives Project. The proclamation was also accepted and adopted by the education system, and not just by the pan in schools programme. UWI itself introduced courses in pan performance and technology, MIC (now under UTT)  introduced very successful tuning programmes and CVQ standards were developed for pan building. 

So John, a lot has been done. I think the problem is in letting everyone know what exactly has been done and in coming together to agree on what should be done. 

I am not for a moment suggesting that a lot was not done. However, I am not sure what the procedure is for declaring anything as being national in nature. Indigenous I can understand; national requires what can be considered total acceptance that would encompass developmental and legal inputs.

Assuming that national acceptance is understood, it is still remarkable how not a single voice - but one - is raised against the ABSOLUT insult to "our" NATIONAL INSTRUMENT. Equally, some may easily overlook the use of an avatar which represents a derivative of PAN being used as symbolic of same.  





Mr Copeland, did Mr Manning put a motion foward to the House as an act of parliment to support this proclaimation?

Hello Hameed

I really do not know. The best place to find that is in Hansard and the brief search I conducted online revealed nothing in terms of a mention of this in Parliament . 


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