The day they came

Ah say we forge from the fire

And together we aspire

Just to take this damn ting higher

In this quest we never fail

Never falter never tire

Never sacrifice yuh freedom

Fire fire in yuh wire


We free

We free

No no nobody cah hold we

We Free, 3 Canal

They came for us. To teach us a lesson. That in this land of mimic men we never deviate from the regularly scheduled programme of lies, damn lies and skin teet. They came because they assumed we didn’t know the law. That we wouldn’t know that the UNC government repealed the law banning the playing of drums in public in 2002.

They came because they understand that when people start to agitate culturally, when the drummers and the dancers and the singers and the painters start to get blasted vex, then they have a problem. They came because they are afraid that their mask is falling. Cracking under the pressure of their endless fake smiling. Cracking like their Beetham wall of shame that now has earned them international media attention. They came because they don’t realise that the more you deny people a voice is the more they will find reasons to shout.

They came because they believe the hype that Trinis are docile. Trinis don’t like confrontation. They came for Michael because in this country young black men should be on street corners holding their testicles. They can’t compute a young man passionate about the environment. Because idleness is putting up a poster to ask questions about their Summit wastage and this is a far worse disservice to the society than advertising a short pants party.
They came for Auntie Verna because she looks like she should be a government supporter. Because women her age must stay home and mind their grandchildren. Stay home and pray and cook and watch television.

And then beat their breasts and wonder why the country is the way it is. They came for Wendell and Roger because artists must sing and dance only when instructed to. Because artists are not required to have a social conscience or a connection to the people. They came for Norris because farmers must mind their business and not consider that food security is a national concern. They came for Shivonne because good Indian girls must stay home and keep quiet. Must not have opinions.

There were children there. Children playing drums. Children being children. Children that could be mine. They came for them too. To send a message to the next generation that social activism is not acceptable. That having an emotional investment in your country is not an option. That resistance is futile, although everything about this place screams defiance. Everything about this place shouts loud that somebody was willing to sacrifice and put their life on the line so that we could prosper.

They came because they thought we would be so awed by their guns and their tear gas canisters that we would retreat. They came for you too. To remind you who is boss. To show you that your voice means nothing. Your life even less. They came to warn you not to get any ideas. To kill your fighting spirit just as you need it more than ever. They came to aim at your dreams. To trample your children under their government boots. They came because they know you are dissatisfied and disgruntled and disappointed with the way they are running the country. 

I look them in the eye when they come for me. They are more afraid of us than we of them. They know they are wrong. They came for us because they follow orders. I shout at them because I don’t know what else to do. They are my neighbours and brothers and liming pardners. They are the people I stand in line for doubles with. That I support the West Indies cricket team with. That I weep for dead children with. Shivonne makes one of them cry. His eyes fill with water. His eyes shine with shame and pain from behind the plastic shield.

They dress back because they know that this battle is not a righteous one. They dress back because, regardless of automatic weapons and tear gas, they have no protection against their own intense sadness and pain at the state of this place. There is no difference between us and them. There is no line that separates their pain from ours. They come for us but cannot complete their mission. And it is the people who teach them a lesson. That in this place sometimes the people win. And power is not about weapons and they haven’t made a gun yet to kill ideas.

Love and Baigan – A Maticoor Meditation

Republic Maticoor

When Gab, my sistren from the year nought jokingly suggested that I organize and host her maticoor at the Republic a month ago it didn’t seem so odd. 

Given that I am a post modern Orisa/Rasta ecofeminist and Gab is a Rapso feminist activist, former Miss Mastana Bahar and her family is actually Muslim Indian via Afghanistan. AND she was getting married to an African man in Christian ceremony.

I engaged in the process the same way I engage in any kind of celebration, with wild abandon and excitement.

This was not to be a regular maticoor by any stretch of our imaginations.  It was less than rites but more than tradition.  But that is the Trinidad experience — creating new interpretations of old things, making culture relevant  and current and alive and vital.  

 It didn’t matter that I’m not Indian or Hindu or a family member.

In our reasonings about what we wanted the maticoor to be, Gab and I agreed that to call it a maticoor was to take the name with its local cultural and social significance specifically to women and make it our own.  

As women confronting this Trinidad landscape, claiming space, expressing views, thoughts, dreams, desires we know the restrictions on this freedom.  The maticoor then becomes that last chance for us to come together and surround our sister friend with all our light, all our hope and all our admonishing that this mouth called marriage doesn’t swallow her up, consume her so totally that she no longer is the person we knew.  A better stronger person perhaps. Because what is love if it doesn’t give you the energy to be an amplified version of yourself?

On the day of the maticoor I ended up in a shop in San Juan market with the mother.  I bought some coconut oil and wicks for the deyas I planned for Gab’s circle of light.  I stood there talking with the female shop owner, asking her about the various puja items on sale.  We chatted for a long time too about the similarities between Hindu rites and practices and Ifa/Orisa rites and practices.  About the late Orisa priest Baba Sam who often said his prayers in Sanskrit, of Ravi Ji who I call Uncle.

An Indian man,  a Jehovah’s Witness tried to engage me and the mother in a conversation about Christianity and why the Bible is the only truth.  There was a lot of snorting and steupsing from us at this point.  A few shoppers stopped their shopping to hear how the conversation was going.  Anyway to cut a long story short, the mother shouted at the man ‘Conversion is the worst crime perpetrated against people like us.  A lot of Indian people had to convert to Christianity, change their names and their way of life to keep their jobs, to send their children to school.  Orisa people used to have to run from police for playing their drums.  Pay respect to your ancestors who sacrificed so much for you to be here!’

In our circle later that night, after Burton had sung his ribald maticoor songs and then orikis to Orisa goddesses Yemoja, Osun and Oya and of course Sparrow’s Maharajin and we sat watching our mehendi’d hands dry, we all dressed as our personal sheroes – I am Phoolan Devi, in a circle of Parvati, Gaia, Winnie Mandela, Artemis, Athena, Yemoja, Osun… 

I spare a thought for the Jehovah Witness man who must still be scratching his head over the encounter with me and the mother.  I spare a thought for his version of the story which can only ever be one way.  That his worldview is limited by his belief system that says there is only one truth.  

We gather there in that circle giving Gab our love and advice.  The melongene comes out and we collapse into giggles.  Love and baigan are things that we all know. Experiences that we all share.  We give our best ideas and advice.

Trini men are special enough for us to try to figure out how to love them and demand that they love us in ways that are affirming, empowering, enlightening.

In a place and time when we presume women are disempowered, whether by marriage, religion or just the goddamn competing patriarchies that battle for women’s bodies and minds in this country, the maticoor then is a space of power for women where they can celebrate themselves, their femininity, sexuality freely.

 The maticoor is a moment of woman obeah.  To remind us of our power and how to use it.  That setting of a stage where the bride knows that the women have her back.  

Trinidad is such a subtle, nuanced place.  It’s easy to get it wrong. It’s easy to think that race divides us, which it does in bizarre ways.  That we succumb to the politics of nigger and coolie paranoia, which we do in the worst of times.  No mistake, there are a lot of people in Trinidad for whom that is a reality.  There are a lot of people in Trinidad who fully and committedly engage in the politics of resentment.  Who use difference as a dividing line.  

But it is never that simple.  So it is up to us who have had this upbringing that is all of the above: Indian and African and western and Baptist and Amitabh Bachchan on a Sunday afternoon and Viv Richards and pan to develop the capactity to deal with our cultural schizophrenia rather than try to disentangle it and try to construct some singular identity.  That’s not just impossible, it’s impossibly boring.

Maybe it is up to the women to lead the way to this easier understanding of this country’s complexities.  To an acceptance of how we mix and mingle and our sharp edges become softened by a constant rubbing against the Other. Until the other is yourself and you are the other.  And maybe a dougla maticoor is not the answer to all our problems.

 But surely love and baigan are key ingredients in any effort to bring us all a little closer.

Quick! Your Best Smile

Yeah, my layers are thick

And I’ve got bad attitude.

Yeah that knife in my back

Has fingerprints that belong to you.

Got a grudge, got a grudge

Got a grudge that I’m holding

For as long as I like

Cuz you lied, you lied

You lied to my face

And that’s something that I can’t forgive

—Fuel My Fire, The Prodigy

Quick! Let’s see how much of ourselves we can polish up in the next two weeks. This is an urgent assignment. This is like the whole country putting on its Sunday best to go and parade for all the neighbours to see how well its doing.

I mean, who doesn’t want to look nice for their guests? So hurry up and get with the clean-up programme. Come on man, it’s just three days. We can do it! Yes we can! We can make the whole city look like a million dollars. Oh no, make that 600 million. This is no time for sticking, T&T. These last 12 days are a grace period in which we can have a total makeover! It’s like a facelift and a tummy tuck for a bored housewife. We’ll worry on April 20 about the cause of the boredom or why the housewife let herself get fat and frumpy in the first place.

Quick! Look busy. Obama is coming. And we don’t want him to think he’s coming to a meeting on some mosquito-infested banana republic. Move a little faster! This is no time to question our own leadership. This is no time to be thinking about local government elections or possibly corrupt ministers or spending millions to build a stadium on sapatay. No, no. We need to forget all of that bacchanal and get focused on the two weeks left before an even better plundering of the national coffers than Miss Universe 1998. 
This is the biggest, best mas we will ever possibly have to play. So we better play it and play it well.

Imagine all the things we’ll get for our $600 million. We’re bound to see a return on our investment, because of course Fox and CNN will be walking in the streets singing wild praises at how much like Miami our waterfront looks.
And what else do we want but the nice white people from for-eign to think that we are advanced? I mean it says it all when our buildings are taller than coconut trees.

Imagine the jealousy all our small-island neighbours are going to feel when they see our Papa Patos standing there welcoming Obama to Trinidad. It takes a real man of vision to pull off such a brilliant move. How it go look if his vision is hard to see in the La Basse smog. Quick! Say a lot of prayers that these next two weeks don’t turn rainy. We wouldn’t want to be having the Summit under water. We wouldn’t want Obama to get marooned on his way to the meeting if it rains for ten minutes.

And pray too that the guntas take a killing holiday. Pray that they’ll just go away. Or better yet, maybe we should build a platform and put a couple containers and put them on some North Coast beach to make sure they’re not in the city that weekend. Quick, let’s try and get the place looking good before the Summit, so that after it’s finished at least people will have good memories and not notice if we have to devalue the dollar or that many more thousands are going to be on the breadline.

We’re going to have to pull out all stops to make it through this one. So we’ll need all hands on deck. No pesky protesters trying to make us look bad. No stinking vagrants, no cavernous pot- holes. Quick! Can you imagine what is going to happen when all those international media come here? And God alone knows they’re going to be looking for some dirt. Quick, quick. Put some ads with cricketers and soca stars in the papers so that people don’t make out that, actually, we have had no luck securing our citizens, we don’t have a clue how to promote human prosperity and our idea of energy security and environmental sustainability is to rapidly monetise natural gas and put up a smelter and a steel mill and some ports in mangroves.

Get those streets cleaned, chop chop. Clean up nearly five decades worth of dirt congealed on city streets. Hide the human filth in the closets. Put away the street children. Hide away anything that would suggest that we have screwed up priorities and should be spending $600 million doing the things we are paying lip service to in the Summit of the Americas declaration.
Let’s put on our best smile and hope the world doesn’t notice the holes in our teeth.