The Vengeance of Moko

Dear Mr. Eustace
In 2015 I had the opportunity to work with Trini/British artist Zak Ové to install two eight foot moko jumbie sculptures in the Great Court of the British Museum.
It was the culmination of years of negotiations with the museum, which had nothing in their vast collection to reflect Caribbean civilisation.
It was thought that the masquerade traditions of Trinidad and Tobago would be the ultimate symbol of the survival of African culture in the Caribbean.
In writing about moko jumbies and traditional mas for the museum I had to do extensive research. It’s what anyone who values their work should do. Read, read, read and write and talk to people who know better.
You clearly have done none of these. Your comments showed such a shocking lack of knowledge and were delivered with such hubris I wondered who had died and made you an authority on anything else but how to drag an ugly lump of shiny empty nothingness across the Savannah stage.
I read things about masquerade that the likes of you would probably never see because apparently you don’t know that the moko jumbie is in fact one of the most ubiquitous forms of African masquerade on the continent.
Every single time we encountered someone from either the continent or the African diaspora they gave another explanation of what the mas meant to them. Masquerade is of course a central part of the lives of people all over the continent, as it is to us, in case you didn’t know.
I stood and watched hundreds, thousands of people from all over the world express wonder at this mas.
Additionally we had a day of performances which included Stephanie Kanhai, the 2015 Queen of Carnival doing her moko jumbie portrayal.
Full disclosure, Mr. Uncle Minsh’s presentation was not my favourite in his long and amazing career of mas making. I have also since wondered why we always need to see non-Western artforms through a Western prism to fully appreciate their beauty and value.
But the fact that it has made the impact that it has is an indication that you and your cohorts have done absolutely nothing to advance the artform in the past ten years since there was last a Minshall King in the competition. Nobody cares about the mas you make, it is trite, dated, and about as interesting as the Soca Drome. That’s why the stands are empty Mr. Eustace. That’s your fault.
Big and shiny does not a mas make, Mr. Eustace. Your lack of understanding of that is shocking and the ignorance you have for the tradition you inherited is more ugly than that contraption that I had the misfortune to have seen being dragged across the stage on Tuesday. Luckily it was not memorable enough for me to have to consider it beyond the next couple days.
I hope next year every single band plays moko jumbie to trample not just your blinding ignorance but also your pyrotechnic kings under their stilts. That was one of the mythological functions of the moko jumbie – to seek out those in the community who harbour not just evil deeds but evil thoughts. Don’t call down the vengeance of moko on yourself Mr. Eustace. Trust me, you have neither the intelligence nor the humility to deal with that.

Beat It like a Good Friday Bobolee

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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:

Beauty of the Battle

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The learning is not just in the training, the hours spent memorising the lavways and the steps and the pain that comes when you lose concentration and you get hit with a stick on your little finger. The journeys to the gayelles are full of songs and anecdotes of past battles. Acid sings into the night, to dark roads that disappear suddenly off crumbling precipices: “Ah living alone, ah living alone in the jungle.”

Bois season is a time of fasting, from alcohol and meat and conjugal relations. From anything that distracts from the battle. The battle is waged in the mind long before the stickfighter enters the ring.

From a piece I wrote for the January 2015 issue of Caribbean Beat Magazine.
Read the original article here: http://caribbean-beat.com/issue-131/word-of-mouth#ixzz3OKgtUeuD

The NCC Regional Carnival Committee’s 2015 Stickfight Competition dates are as follows:

23rd Jan – Biche
30th Jan – Cedros
11th Feb – Skinner Park
To book workshops and demos for schools and clubs with the Bois Academy of Trinidad and Tobago call Rondel Benjamin at 498-2609
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All tied up

All tied up

I’ve worn head ties all my life, experimenting with shapes and colours and not just on bad hair days, haha!
In my teen years I was often laughed at for my head ties (the laughers were always as black as me) another manifestation of my outsiderness. The sting of derisive laughter has worn off but I remember it and I know the fear that those who laughed were harbouring.
In Nigeria I submit myself to the superior head wrapping skills of women who are artists of the cloth. Actually there’s a kind of effortless sense of style and awareness of the body that I admired in women both in Naija and Ghana.
But the body confidence exists alongside a paradoxical loathing of dark skin and natural hair. It weirds me out that this self-schism exists and I’ve been thinking of the ways that this affects me as a black woman living in the west.
It’s complicated and part of the uncomfortable conversation we need to keep having. When you see your reflection, are you seeing you or an amalgamation of your racial, historical and social complications?
Style is both personal and political and the negotiations black women constantly have to make are not always what you want to confront when you wake up to get dressed in the morning.

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.

On Becoming a Warrior of Huaracan

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. 

Got My Hair Un-did

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It took three weeks, a pack of broken combs, some tears, a fair amount of cursing.
But I did it. I combed out all 169 locks on my head and am now the proud owner of a little awesome Afro.
It’s been a few years in the making, the desire to start again. But I couldn’t just cut off 17 years of living and loving and travel and jouvay, you know?
I’m actually really happy I chose to unlock it. It gave me a chance to say goodbye to my locks. To let go of all that I had been through and experienced for all those years.
Hair is emotional.
I talked about it for a couple weeks with my sisters (who gave me the look specially reserved for my frequent mad ideas). On Christmas Eve I started at the centre of my head. My arms hurt. I cried. A few days in I lost all zeal to continue. Somehow I kept going (I started to run out of headties).
As my hair started to emerge in all its mad curly glory I became overwhelmed by a sense of how completely we have been made to hate ourselves.
A thing as fundamental to your sense of being as your hair gets undermined from the time you are born. This was not the case in my house and thank the goddess I had two older sisters to comb my hair for me.
I realized last year that I missed those times with my sisters when they would comb my hair. I think the loss of those rituals between women of different generations is part of the further destruction of community and a sense of (haha) rootedness.
The more of my hair I saw, the more I became excited that I would have those moments again. When someone would show care in my appearance and give me a bad ass hair style that didn’t come out of a bottle or a heating appliance.
When I was in India last year I got questioned about my hair a lot, given that the only people there who wear their hair in locks are Saddhus and the warrior ascetics known as Nagas.
I tried to explain that locks were a totally acceptable way of women wearing their hair, to which the response was ‘and men find this attractive?!’
In truth, locks for me have been a kind of anti-beauty. A deliberate subversion of an idea of what hair should look like for a black woman. Some men find the idea of that attractive. That you are determined not to fit into what society says is beautiful.
But my time with my locks taught me that what is most important is to be comfortable enough in your skin, in your sense of who you are, in your sense of where you are going and where you have come from. I was never a ‘Revlon Rasta’. I wasn’t one of those compulsive groomers. My hair was wild (and still is) and occasionally depending on my mood I tried to tame it into what may have been loosely construed as a hairstyle.
But I feel like I’m into another phase now. One that gives me the room to play with my image. I’m really enjoying my afro, like getting to know a new friend. My hair is so fricking awesome!! I’ve been spending a lot of time just playing with it. Loving it. Anointing my scalp with coconut oil. The variety of textures, the need for care.
Your hair can teach you a lot about your own complexities. I’m loving getting to know myself in a totally different way.