Beautiful, brutal people’s justice

One more, officer, one more
Before we go down the road and fight with we brother
One more 
Run the music man or we will come out and burn this town
Stop the music
You got to be mad
Listen, Inspector, we doh want to have to shake you down
This ain’t the Gaza Strip
This is Trinidad.

One More, Officer, 
David Rudder

The big joke last Saturday on the social media was that San Fernando stores were experiencing a toilet-paper shortage. I imagine that Sugar Aloes and De Fosto were not themselves finding this situation as funny as the rest of us watching on. But a calypsonian is like a stickfighter. He or she knows the risks involved in going into the ring. Such are the perils of the job description and if you can’t deal with the jamming, then don’t be trying to eat a food and then attempt to display moral rectitude.

You can’t legislate that kind of beautiful anarchy. You can’t predetermine that kind of ugly and brutal people’s justice. Even in the midst of an over-regulated celebration, branded and cosseted by people who don’t seem to really have a grasp of what this festival is. Even in the midst of a Carnival that is overshadowed by so much of what is wrong with here, the wastage, the unnecessary spending, the elevation of frills and frivolity into the main show.

Moments like that are the truth. The off-key, jacked-up, belligerent truth of Carnival. The side where the people get their revenge on those who they perceive as traitors. The placards are no less crude and cringe-worthy than anything that has ever come out of the Minister of National Security’s mouth. But these placards have a kind of exactness. The surgeon’s slicing motion. The bitterness of aloes on your tongue.

I am not sure if there is catharsis. But the evidence is clear that people are vex. It is not the kind of vexation that is at risk of ever going away. This is a centuries-old anger. This is the forever confrontation between the jammettes and the planter class. We still sing for someone else’s amusement. We are still the laughing, angry men and women who will fete and fete and then mash up everything, santimanitay. We love this ritual of beauty and destruction that we are constantly engaged in. 

In the finals of the NCC stick fight competition on Wednesday night, the blood flowed freely. In a cramped space with hundreds on the outside trying to get in. Because I mean, it’s only our indigenous martial tradition. It’s not special or significant enough to warrant a space that is properly equipped.

For the participants and the supporters, it is more than buss head. It is the beauty and the terror and the way the drums match your heartbeat and the skin on the back of your neck stands at attention when the tip of a bois connects at lightning speed with the forehead of an opponent. The chantwells are shouting: “If yuh lose a finger, if yuh lose yuh eye,”  and the chorus responds, “Doh cry.”

Fight on. In spite of what you have lost. Fight on because you stand to lose a lot more than your pride. In this never ending tragicomedy called Trinidad there are certain characters who will always exist.  Carnival is the time when some of us try to redress the imbalances. Some of us try to use the opportunity to show our great beauty while asking how come we don’t notice it for the rest of the year.

The Carnival-haters. The racists. The Christians who think Carnival is some kind of deepest heart-of-Africa devil worship. The Ariapita Avenuers who take loans to look affluent in all-inclusives. The ones who cah get over the tabanca they get from some sweet woman who give them a taste and then disappear like a Carnival stranger into the beckoning darkness.


Carnival always will be a fight. Between those who have and those who don’t. Between the arrogant young contender and the elder attempting his last stand. Between the people for a voice to adequately reflect their pain and the bard who wants to eat a food.


Carnival is when we play a bigger version of the same mas we are playing all year round. Except at Carnival we tend to over-exaggerate. Shout louder and more dotish than everybody. An endless confronting of difference. Even if it is to celebrate it. An endless confronting of what we love and what we hate and what we don’t mind losing and what we are prepared to preserve.

Play on, Trinidad. You looking sweet too bad.

Published in the Trinidad Guardian February 9, 2013

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