Last year I wrote an opinion piece called Rum Influencers and Imperialism that dealt with how many rum influencers, brand ambassadors and spirit educators actually perpetuate Imperialism and the erasure of Caribbean culture from the category.

Part of the article dealt with problematic brand names. About Plantation Rum, I said; “Their rum brand is literally named after the system of production that is seen as being responsible for underdevelopment in the third world; A system that they seem to actively practice and promote”. For what it’s worth, around this time last year Plantation announced that they would be changing their name.

Regarding a lesser known brand called Tamosi, I said that they were “commodifying complex elements of indigenous culture in order to sell rum in Europe”. Many prominent rum educators disagreed with that. Their stance was that expats have the right to capitalize on the culture from the places their ancestors came from, and that the Caribbean should be grateful when European brands promote the culture of the region. Since then, the owner of Tamosi Rum has expressed a willingness to improve the execution of the brand, but people who defended the brand never changed their outlook on the issue.

More recently, Michael B Jordan has launched a brand that uses the name of a cherished element of Carnival culture; J’ouvert or Jouvay. Typically brands named after Caribbean culture like Tamosi and Duppy Share do not generate much criticism because they do not get much attention in the region.

J’ouvert Rum on the other hand, was launched by an actor who is part of the largest film franchise ever, so it immediately began trending in Trinidad and Tobago.

So far, it is almost unanimously being seen as exploitation. The wider rum community at large should pay attention because what is being said actually applies to many issues related to rum;

Who owns Trinidadian culture? Does the Diaspora own it? Does the region own it? What happens when it is misrepresented? What happens when it is appropriated?

People dismissing this as “misinformed activism” are misreading the response of a people who are tired of not being — or not being allowed to be — custodians of their own culture. They are tired of being sidelined when it comes to music, art, culture on an international stage, watching on from the audience as non-Trinis or as the Trini diaspora, with greater access to more robust marketing and markets, runs with aspects of our culture while people in Trinidad literally try to eat a food.

This goes deeper than a trademark to me. It speaks others to enjoying the capital inherent within our culture but not allowing us to make it and to profit from it; it speaks to the failure of our Government to consider our artists; it speaks to our population never receiving the kind of marketing blitz or audience for their products on a global stage — while our culture sold back to us from overseas.

A. Choo Quan

the significance and cultural context of the word J’ouvert/Jouvay is specific to our experience of rebellion and resistance with regard to the Emancipation of enslaved ppl here in Trinidad and Tobago. Specific. And it isn’t a matter of whether or not it is “ok”. This a matter of something specific to the lived experiences of a particular community being capitalized on without being of benefit to the community from whence it came but rather to enrich those who are not indigenous to the space. Textbook appropriation.

A. Jackson (In response to if it’s ok to use J’ouvert given the fact that a cruise line has trademarked the word “Carnival”)

The reality is that the struggles through colonialism and capitalism are still very much ongoing in the Caribbean in very many different ways. Yes, we want everyone to enjoy and celebrate all that we have to offer, but we also want them to acknowledge and respect the value that we create in ways that help us to continue to do so. Cultural exploitation is the same to me as energy and mineral (oil, gas, gold, and diamond) exploitation.

With all the lived experiences and personal histories interwoven into a culture that we want globally recognised and respected, it’s not difficult to understand how global brand launches connected to the story of people’s struggle for survival can cause emotional reactions, especially when there seems to be no connection to the work actually being done, on the ground, to keep the culture alive while respecting the history.

L. Arjoon

What would cut even deeper is if this rum is from Caroni stocks

N. Qu

If it’s Caroni Rum starring again… Smh. It’s not the first time our Caroni Rum would be showing up elsewhere and we haven’t held anyone accountable for that theft.

A. Morton

Some people defended the brand by stating that that a partner has Trinidadian heritage and that the liquid comes from Trinidad Distillers Limited. The issue however was never about that, it was about a rum company profiting off intangible cultural heritage.