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.

Araba of Osogbo Ifayemi Elebuibon to speak at Trinidad and Tobago Isese Festival

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Orisa devotees from around Trinidad and Tobago will gather on September 24, Republic Day to observe the first annual Isese Festival – a celebration of this country’s African spiritual traditions.

The gathering takes place at Centre of Excellence in Macoya and starts at 10.30 a.m.

Isese is a Yoruba word meaning Tradition. In recent years there has been a global push to reconnect with non-Western ideas of spirituality, and Trinidad and Tobago has been a leading part of that conversation through scholarly works and cultural exchange between Nigeria, Ghana, Cuba, the United States of America, Brazil and parts of Europe – all of which have seen increased interest and participation in African Spiritual traditions, specifically Ifa/Orisa.

Currently the local Orisa community is in a state of evolution. As the popularity of Ifa spreads, there are concerns about how this will affect our own traditions that have existed for over a century and have informed many social and cultural forms in Trinidad and Tobago.

This is a unique opportunity to interact with practitioners from around country, with a view to strengthening cultural and spiritual ties.

The morning session will include workshops in dance and drumming and a special panel to address questions that people have about Ifa/Orisa beliefs.

The afternoon session includes performances from Wasafoli, The Trinidad and Tobago Orisa Performing Arts Company and pannist Noel La Pierre.

The feature address will be delivered by Ifayemi Elebuibon, Araba of Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria.

Special tribute will also be paid to Elders of the Orisa community both living and passed on.

The event is hosted by the Council of Orisha Elders in collaboration with the Afrikan Heritage Village Committee and Afrika House.

Entry is free of charge.

Obeah and other Political Tools

A couple of weeks ago I saw a tasteless attack on Hinduism expressing some vaguely articulated fundamentalist Christian desire to return Trinidad and Tobago to ‘God fearing ways’.

Forgetting of course that it was the church that Patrick Manning was building with his ‘Prophetess’ that was part of what hastened his being voted out.

This week they, whoever ‘they’ are took a turn behind African spirituality, aping the same divisive colonialist madness that was used to keep Indians and Africans afraid of each other since the first ship landed here in 1845.

The only reason anybody would put the Gods out of their thoughts, waste time and resources to make an ‘Obeah’ ad is because they/we remain mired by this Christian colonisation of our spiritual choices. We remain complicit in the contempt the society has for African spirituality and any other belief system that doesn’t subscribe to a Judaeo-Christian idea of who or what God is.

‘Obeah’ was used as a general term that lumped together all African spiritual practice and anything else that could be vaguely construed as a threat against colonial authorities.

The fact that many of the spiritual practices of Orisa and Hindu and Indigenous devotees have clear and evident similarities will never be highlighted in any political advertisement.

Go back and ask Iyalorisa Melvina Rodney why she had a big picture of Lord Shiva in her inner sanctum. Go back and ask Babalorisa Sam Phils how he knew so much Sanskrit. Go Enterprise and ask my Uncle Raviji why he invites Babalawos to his Mandir.

Hinduism and Orisa and Indigenous beliefs have and will continue to coexist here. Regardless of the racist and misinformed backwardness that gets peddled as political rhetoric.

Most PNM people also don’t know that the balisier has a wider meaning in the world of Orisa practice of the Caribbean.
Last year when I went to Cuba I found out that they call the balisier ‘Sword of Shango’. I saw the balisier flower all over the shrines of Santeria practitioners.

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Shango was and continues to be a popular Orisa in Trinidad for a very specific reason.
Many of the Yoruba people who were brought here after Emancipation were from Oyo, where Shango was a 13th century King of that large and ancient Empire. It was because of that longstanding connection to Oyo that they used to call all Orisa devotees ‘Shango people’. Go up to the hundred year old Orisa shrine on Upper St. Francois Valley Road and you will hear songs about Ibadan to this day.
Y’all think Eric Williams didn’t know these things?

Read more about Shango from eminent Trinidad born scholar Maureen Warner-Lewis’ Trinidad Yoruba : From Mother Tongue to Memory.
If you need more information on Caribbean anti-obeah laws read this paper from Jerome Handler:

Anti-Obeah Laws of the Anglophone Caribbean, 1760s to 2010

CLR James said in Black Jacobins ‘voodoo was the medium of conspiracy’. It was the Vodun ceremony held at Bwa Kayiman on August 14, 1791 that was the catalyst of the Haitian Revolution.
If it wasn’t for obeah, Vodun, secret societies, ancestral rituals, masking traditions, Ogun manifesting in the steel pan we would not have survived the Middle Passage or enslavement or colonialism or the continued attempts to deny us the fullness of who we are.

All of the born again Africans and Afro-Saxons waving their Swords of Shango, I ask you what the PNM is doing to protect you at the core of your spiritual beliefs?

Moko Jumbie performance this Saturday at British Museum

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This Saturday August 15 at 12 noon, please join us for a special performance in the Great Court at the British Museum, Great Russell Street London WC1B 3DG. As part of the Museum’s Celebrate Africa season and lead up to Notting Hill Carnival two Moko Jumbie sculptures by Trinidadian artist Zak Ové have been installed in the Great Court. This Saturday we celebrate this first commissioned work by a Caribbean artist with performances from Touch D Sky, featuring Stephanie Kanhai, reigning Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Queen. At 1pm and 2 pm join us in Room 25 for Tales of the Orisha; Myth, Legend and Lore with Storyteller Jan Blake and Master Drummer Crispin Robinson.

The Moko Jumbie is a key figure in the carnival and festival celebrations of the Caribbean. The moko jumbie is a dancer, healer and symbol of ancestral protection.

Spread the word and see you on Saturday!

Numbi: Film & Arts International Festival

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“We come together to mend the crack in the sky” – Somali proverb
This Summer Numbi goes Global following on from our frolic with ‘Youth’ in 2014, this year we are exploring ‘Faith’. With Numbi Seed Events connecting metropolitan communities in London, Atlanta and Hargeisa.
As always and in true Numbi Spirit we have a line up of local, national and international artists and educators; the conversation is Global and the platforms made Local.
With events taking place throughout June, July and August 2015 we invite you to immerse yourself in film screenings, live music, exhibitions, workshops, readings and guided tours. #Findyourselfgetfree

NUMBI FESTIVAL LAUNCH
The event will kick-off with films selected specially for this evening in collaboration with Legacy Film UK, followed by a showcase of a formidable line up of NUMBI resident and guests including Elmi Ali, Dorothea Smartt Poetic Pilgrimage, Judy Solomon, Ubah Cristina Ali Farah , Rosamond S King, Hassoum Ceesay, DJ Tillah Willah, Jonathan Andre, Anna Lau, Yenenesh Nigusse, Kinsi Abdulleh and Charity Njoki Mwaniki and many more.

Friday 26th June
20:00 – 01:00
£10, £5 concs from Rich Mix box office

Other events to come…
NUMBI GATHERING!
Join us at New Unity in Newington Green for a day of connection, mapping, realignment and relaxation. A whole day event with live-food from 3MW Health; the Art of Centering and Grounding with Naila Natural Yoga; Soul expression & Integration circle, sound healing session with Judy Yodit Solomon & Hatha yoga with Dunya Ntinizi.
Saturday 27th June, 10:00 – 22:00
£10, £5 concs. per workshop
New Unity, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR
1:1 SOUND HEALING SESSION “THE SOUL EXPLORATION SESSION”
The Soul Expression & Integration Circle: helps people to discover and intuitively express the untapped potential that lies in our voice. It is recommended for anyone who wishes to enjoy deeper peace, greater freedom, and mastery of life.
Come and explore your voice and its healing power.
Advance booking essential
£10
NUMBI KOHL CLASS
The Numbi Kohl Class is a gaze deconstruction workshop where we like to take more than one look. Author and SCARF guest editor Ubax Christina Ali Farah leads an exploration of the connections between the body, self-representation, beauty and faith. Using texts and images as discussion triggers she encourages participants to share and reflect back on experiences and anecdotes connected with the theme. Participants use notebooks to collect and share their voices with sketches, notes, stories and ideas: the notebook becomes an accumulator of ideas and emotions that releases its charge over time.
Sunday 28th June, 11:00
Free
i’klectik Art-lab, ‘Old Paradise Yard’, 20 Carlisle Lane SE1 7LG

Festival pass £30 and full program available at the Numbi Festival Launch @ Rich Mix. Book now!
http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/numbi-film-and-arts-international-festival-2015-london-atlanta-and-hargaysa/

A Guest Post: DANCE AND DISRUPT

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caribbean lady gathers moss

by Atillah Springer, the LAB and ZIFF

LAB ZIFF Catalogue 3The notion of development is often a tricky concept to navigate. We have bartered with market women from Kingston to Accra and walked the hills of Haiti, denuded of mahogany forests to repay France, and know that entrepreneurship lives, but that wealth remains elusive for many in the Global South, and that a country may have untold natural wealth, quickly decimated and gone to enable another’s growth. By contrast, we have lived and worked in the major cities of the Global North, where there remains insufficient awareness that its comfort and development is built on a result of centuries of heavily asymmetrical systems. We observe vestiges of this past where inequalities persist among nations and discrimination and exclusion also manifests. Moreover, tens of years after decolonisation, the view of development still remains largely defined based on the likeness to the Global North.

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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: