A community betrayed is a community undone. It is a neverending story of the human condition played out in Trinidad and Tobago’s own often brutal history, at endless moments when communities have made attempts to stand against injustice. In the absence of armed struggle, right to recall, effective or enforced environmental laws, and other forms of justice for communities, we laugh through our anger and frustration — and beat a bobolee instead.
Like so many other cultural forms in Trinidad and Tobago, the Good Friday bobolee — usually made of simple household materials — is a piece of performance art that goes much deeper than its ragged clothes. A bobolee is a public shaming of those who think that title, position, or social status are any protection from the wrath of the people.
Read the original article in the Current Issue of Caribbean Beat here:
This time next week, I’ll be in the midst of the bacchanal that is Jouvay. Jouvay is truth in a way that nothing else can be.
So as I get my heart and mind ready for this week, I’m reflecting on my Jouvay truths. My love for Trinidad and Carnival and art.
You eh see nothing until you see a man pull feathers from a dead cobo. That trip to Icacos on Sunday was a lot more than I had bargained for.
About two years now I’ve been singing a song about how I want to play a Black Indian mas big big on Tuesday, because sometimes youse have to go back to the root to move forward. Anyway it so happen in the way that only Esu could manage that powers align and next thing you know it having a band called Black I and we wanted to link up with ‘real’ Black Indian to get a sense of the tradition to build on that and help inform the mas we, the Vulgar Fraction, going to play.
It was a rough journey. Andy who responsible for the band Warriors of Huaracan talk for the whole road. And I listen with a mixture of horror and fascination as he would be talking and then scream from a place that has no name and then break into a chant and then go back into a story about the clash of Indigenous beliefs, Congo magic and Orisa practice that then came to live in this Black Indian masquerade.
I had to walk away as he pull out the cobo feathers. And it took me a few days to realize that mas, like life is about ability to take even death and make it beautiful.
Mas is beauty and horror. Mas as a whole can’t and shouldn’t be a version of reality that edits out the blood and pain.
I real excited to be becoming this mas this year. I real excited that this evening at 6 in Belmont I get to listen to the great Nari Approo talk about mas and all that it could possibly be. Come nah, if you able.
It is especially repugnant that the ruling ignores the 2005 judgement made by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Dominican Republic adapt its immigration laws and practices in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. The ruling also violates the Dominican Republic’s international human rights obligations. Furthermore, the ruling has created an environment where, with the abrogation of rights that flow from citizenship, arbitrariness can flourish as illustrated by recent media reports of the forced deportation to Haiti of persons claiming to be Dominican and with no linguistic or familial ties to that country.
– Caricom Statement on Dominican Republic’s citizenship ruling.
Last night I attended an impromptu audience with Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves who was in Trinidad for the Heads of Government Meeting at which they finally made their statement condemning the shocking and racist court ruling in the Dominican Republic against Haitian descended Dominicans.
The meeting was hosted by Jouvay Ayiti – a Trinidad based collective dedicated to addressing the question of Haiti through what Rawle Gibbons described last night as the ‘mechanism of mas’.
Jouvay – the opening of Carnival celebrated in several islands across the Caribbean- has always been a point of protest and social commentary in Trinidad.
So the choice to use mas as a means of confronting our past, present and future engagement with Haiti is not only valid it is vital.
Jouvay Ayiti first responded to the DR question on November 6, with a mas action in Port of Spain. This was followed up with a petition sent to Caricom.
Meanwhile it’s taken over two months for a statement to come from Caricom and it is largely, I am inclined to believe after last night’s audience with the SVG PM, due to his agitations. He even joked about the similarity in the language of the Caricom’s statement and the letters he sent to the DR’s on October 11 and another on November 11 (neither of which has received a response to date).
As Angelique V Nixon points out in her article on Groundation Grenada, Haitians are also regularly discriminated against and deported from the Bahamas.
The Bahamas — somewhat like the DR’s new ruling — also denies rights to the children of migrants, the difference being that children of migrants do have access to birth citizenship rights, which they have to apply for at 18. However, this process can take years, especially if one does not have access to legal assistance. Unlike the DR, Haitian Bahamians do have the right to stay in the country until they turn 18. However, many Haitian Bahamians remain stateless after 18 because of the difficulty in securing their status. On top of the legal challenges that Haitians and Haitian Bahamians deal with, they are socially stigmatized — from slurs and stereotypes to poor treatment at public clinics and hospitals, Haitian people bear much blame for a variety of social ills in Bahamian society. When times are rough, tourism is down, crime is on the rise, or people get laid off, Haitians are the scapegoats for everyone’s troubles and strapped resources. This resonates eerily with what has happened in the Dominican Republic, and I offer this comparison to remind us of the vulnerable position in which many Haitian migrants find themselves — not only in the DR but also elsewhere in the region.
Gonsalves openly stated last night that he disagreed with Caricom’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ approach. He read the two strongly worded letters he sent to Medina and also the letter he sent to Venezuela’s Maduro, calling on him to consider suspending them from the Petrocaribe agreement.
So aside from threats of suspension from Cariforum and CELAC, the Petrocaribe issue is probably going to be a defining factor in the outcome of this regional embarrassment.
Money talks, after all.
And in as much as I am glad that Caricom has finally found voice and interest enough to make a statement (Norman Girvan in introducing Gonsalves last night said it was the first time he could feel proud of the Community) I’m still concerned about issues of free movement in the Caribbean.
Since the issuing of this statement, the planned talks between Haitiian President Michel Martelly and a high profile team of officials from the Dominican Republic have fallen through.
So what comes next? Aside from the threat of sanctions and diplomatic snubbing how are we really going to start to address institutional and other types of racism in the Caribbean between nations?
It brings me again back to my concerns with regards to the reparations issue – what is Caricom’s policy position on the complexities of our ethnic and racial interactions?
How are we engaging with these complexities at the level of education, at the level of policy, at the level of government initiatives?
Because let’s face it, the reason for our lack of action on Haiti is the fact that in 1804 a bunch of enslaved Africans had the audacity to fight against the French, win and then declare themselves a Republic.
And the question of blackness and/or African ancestry is still a point of shame for far too many Caribbean people of African descent, despite the fact that we have given the world some of the leading luminaries of Pan Africanism (Henry Sylvestre Williams, Marcus Garvey, CLR James, George Padmore, to name a few). And of course one of the major issues plaguing our relationship with Haiti is the continued fear and loathing of African spiritual traditions
One of Gonsalves’ closing observations was the virtual non-existence of any critical thought or action coming from the University of the West Indies. This is something that has bothered me for years. I’m watching and waiting but I’m not terribly hopeful.
Gonsalves started his speech talking about his days as a student at the University of the West Indies Mona campus when he organised the protest against the banning of the late great Walter Rodney who dared go into the ghettoes of Kingston to ground with his brothers.
45 years later the issues we are afraid to confront are similar if not exactly the same.
There I go again, talking about the only thing I love more than starch mangoes…
The glorious morning has come, and I don’t know if to laugh or cry. Because I’ll have to wait another 364 days to feel this way again. J’Ouvert is what happens when someone opens the prison gates. J’Ouvert is the moment of truth in lives of endless fiction.
Check out the full piece in this month’s issue of Caribbean Beat Magazine.
Can anybody tell mih
What going to happen
What going to happen
What going to happen
When the music stop?
Wham Bam, David Rudder
The kind of bad mind required to walk past and slash paintings is not an uncommon state for Trinbagonians. It is the casual stroll to your car to retrieve a cutlass to planass an old man buying doubles. It is the vitriol of trolls who can think of no better way to spend their days than posting insults on the internet. It is the bad drivers who cut you off for no reason on the streets and curse your mother if you put the Gods out of your thoughts to complain.
That everyday Trinbagonian brutality that we don’t think is part of our national personality, us being such a laid-back fun-loving bunch. It’s the glib acceptance of barbarism that breeds that kind of contempt for self. But it’s no different to the Government bypassing the calls of artists for the past 40 years to put certain things in place and instead aiming to create a super company designed to maximise profits instead of maximising artistic expression.
I can’t say that I ever understood the replication of artwork in plastic and sticking it on walls. I mean, why not pay the artists to create new works in public places? Why not invest in reconfiguring how we see our art? Why not put artists in classrooms so that there is a consciousness of art built into our children?
I guess it is much more visible and immediately rewarding to the ego to put up these public displays. And it would be easy for those of us who are lovers of art to stand back and shake our heads and say that we are a nation of Philistines. Poor us.
It’s far deeper than that. It has to do with that never-ending conversation about what is legitimate art and who are the legitimate artists. Like everything else in this country, it comes down to who has access. Who takes ownership of these terms and what has a right to go up on which walls. And if all art is what goes on walls. And if you are a wire bender do you still count as an artist.
It’s as deep as the fact that we have no national steelpan theatre. Although steelpan yards across this country are important incubators of musical talent. Although we like to boast about steelpan, there really is no national focus or plan for its development and inclusion in the lives of our children so that they actually take ownership of it.
It’s as deep as those who say that we are more than Carnival and wining and pan. It’s as deep as realising we are so much more than those things but we still haven’t found a way to acknowledge their significance to us, outside of corporate entities forcing us to prostitute our arts for title sponsorship. For a few girls in the dance in shiny shorts and imported feathers giving out alcoholic shots.
This is our culture. Denial of who we are. Non-validation of indigenous knowledge and creativity. This is why we must slash anything that doesn’t fit that template. This is why it is a Carnival of brands and logos rather than a Carnival of expression and freedom.
In the face of dying arts and artists.
In the face of an under-articulated arts-based curriculum and the elevation of the fluffiest manifestations of our true selves and full representations of who we are. In the face of all this, we slash paintings and it’s no big thing when you think that some of us are slashing each other. Some of us are casually cutting our brothers and sisters and women down. Like paintings on the Oval wall. Pixelated replicas of our more true beautiful selves.
It is the same slashing motion that cuts us to the core of who we are. Looking shiny and nice on the Oval wall. Until someone passes by and reveals the concrete underneath. The lack of depth and the lack of feeling. We have no insides to fall out. We are hollow and forgetful. And we get not-so-subtle clues everyday that everything isn’t okay. We get not-so-subtle clues everyday, not just from high up. That there is a callous lack of interest in humanity taking over. Or maybe it never left.
Maybe we were always this barbaric. Maybe we were always this petty and uncomfortable with anything too beautiful. We have permission to mash up the place. To slash the parts of ourselves that don’t seem relevant. We will play another mas of great beauty. Until it is time to go back to being our regular selves again. Bare walls and empty souls. The owners of beauty and those who brand us with their marks of money keeping us wanting until the next time.
Published in Trinidad Guardian – December 29, 2012
The sun is going down
And I try to follow
Blood is spilled in the sky
As we watch the day die
Making room for tomorrow
Me and my friends
Riding to the world’s end
I don’t know if or when
I’m ever going to see you again
Kin Sound System
Not that I ever thought that I was going to wake up to the Rapture. But I’m kind of glad that the doomsdayers got a giant apocalyptic meggie. We all breathe sighs of relief that the Mayans were wrong. And not that the ones who got it wrong were the anthropologists who tried to piece together meaning in the aftermath of the destruction of a civilisation by the barbarism of colonisation disguised as the saving of pagan souls.
In the aftermath of the non-coming of the apocalypse is another opportunity for us to pour scorn on the ideas of indigenous peoples. Of first nations whose world views we have decimated as much as we have the people. And plundered one or two tidbits relevant to our lives and left aside the rest. We are suspicious of all that old-world obeah. We are terrified of anything that doesn’t have its own themed half hour on CNN.
These days we only trust the obeah that is mainstream and sanctioned by the legitimate western authorities. The obeah that is television. And the Internet. These sorts of western obeahs are okay. We are suspicious of our own. The way that it messes with your mind and makes you alien to your own intuition. And let other people use it for their own advantage.
Like legal and illegal quarries plundering mountains in the Northern Range, because we forget those hills were once sacred to people who were here long before we ever dreamed of a place to call Trinidad. The obeah of development and modernity is a serious thing. And our gods look nothing like us and we worship them anyway.
Whether or not the world ends, I guess, is a moot point. The point is, we don’t need a misinterpreted Mayan prophecy to tell us that we urgently need cataclysmic change on this planet. We need to rethink our evolution in the most urgent of ways. We need to bring to an end a lot of the things that make the quality of life for the majority of the world’s inhabitants unacceptable because of the greed of a few.
We need to reconsider our complicity in the destruction of the planet in the quest for advancement that leads to nowhere. Hollywood has programmed us for a spectacular ending of explosions and Bruce Willis and his band of intrepid soldiers who will save the Earth, or rather America, from certain destruction.
We’re not looking for the explosions in our brains. We’re unaware of the changes in the animals and plants. It’s not our business to end time. We’ve put a limited perspective on what it means and have no understanding of its extent. It’s our business, however, to engage fully in all the suns and moons we spend in this present consciousness ensuring that we experience ourselves and our communities.
We owe it to no one but ourselves to be the best humans we could possibly be. The apocalypse has to be one of destruction of the walls that we have built between us. The end has to come in the form of lasting solutions to poverty and domestic violence and… I see you rolling your eyes at my hippy gibberish. I see you shrugging your shoulders with the resignation of those who think they are powerless.
But this is end times for being frightened to speak our truths for fear of ridicule. Maybe apocalypse myths are just ancient ways of getting us to live every moment we have on Earth to the fullest. To be true to our higher selves, to seek beauty. We look back at the Mayans as illiterate savages. But we are the ones who read without understanding. Who have access to information and fail to act.
We are the ones who weep real tears for children who die in a mass killing in America. And post pictures of a president who cries for his own and sends drones to kill the children of others. We are the real savages who have accepted a civilisation that celebrates its barbarity. That destroys the earth and then blames god for natural disasters.
There needs to be an end to these times. Desperately. There needs to be an end to the blindness to inner light. No one is going to land from another planet and save us. A heart-centred apocalypse that kills fear with love. We need to save our own selves from ourselves and create new calendars for a time that uplifts the whole of humanity.
Published in Trinidad Guardian December 22, 2012