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

“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

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.

Add…

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Beat It like a Good Friday Bobolee

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:

Support Community Healing in Haiti

I’m planning my first trip to Haiti next month as part of Ayiti Resurrect a collective of artists, farmers, holistic healers and cultural workers who have come together to contribute their skills to healing the trauma of post-earthquake Haiti.

We’re just $500 away from our goal of USD10,000, which goes towards supporting community based programmes in farming, the arts, women’s empowerment, computer literacy, sustainable energy.
I’m excited about this project because it represents a critical shift in the approach to ‘charity work’. It’s not about giving handouts and being the saviour, it’s about being there and asking the community what their needs are and doing the work that leads to sustainable livelihoods.
So if you have please give and if you don’t please share the info with someone who might. Also if you’re in Trinidad we are hosting an event on April 9th at Big Black Box at which you can contribute cash and/or essential needs like First Aid items, women’s sanitary wear, small toys (no guns please).

Beauty of the Battle

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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Letter to Senators from the Citizens Assembly

Dear Senators,

We write to inform you that an Assembly of Citizens drawn from a number of civil society organisations has joined the call for a halt to the parliamentary debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2014.
The Assembly, which was held under the auspices of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies on Sunday 24 August, 2014, wishes to alert you to the fact that the proposed amendment to the Constitution has been brought before you without input from the public. This is in direct contradiction to the Prime Minister’s pledge of engaging “a system of participatory democracy” as the basis of the Commission’s work. Specifically, we point you to her statement on the occasion of the launch of the Commission on March 02, 2013:

“We believe that the Constitution should reflect the collective will of the citizens of this country.We have learnt from the failings of some previous attempts at reform, which did not truly take into account the concerns of the most important stakeholders in this country, the people.We recognize that change must come from the people.We therefore are not adopting a “top-down” approach. Instead, through the consultation process, the views and expression of the people will be considered and will then become the basis upon which a draft document is prepared. “
We draw your attention to the fact that the proposal of a run-off vote as contained in the Bill before you, was not the subject of any public discussion before being tabled in the Parliament. We therefore urge you to exercise your judgment and authority to ensure that this omission is properly repaired before the Bill is taken to the vote.
We feel certain that you have a clear understanding of the difference between what is legal and what is right in the context of a representative Democracy. As custodians of the public interest, we urge you to utilize your Constitutional power and responsibility to ensure that this amendment to the Constitution, which is being brought to you unprotected by the requirement for a special majority vote, does not move past the Senate without the benefit of broad public consultation in line with the mandate given to the Constitution Reform Commission.

In trust

Winston Riley
Chairman

The Senate debates the Constitution Amendment Bill tomorrow and from tonight we’re going to be outside the Parliament keeping watch over what is left of our democracy.
It’s not about activists. It’s not about protestors. It’s not about who talking the loudest. It’s not about red jersey or yellow jersey. It’s not about rum or roti or pelau or the same colonialist Afro vs Indo bullshit that they keep trying to divide us with.
It’s about the teachers who will share what they learn in the classroom. It’s about lawyers who could help bail out anybody that get lock up. It’s about yogis who help people stretch out a night’s worth of standing on a cold wet pavement. It’s about the snow cone man who turns up in the heat of the day. It’s about the lady who sends the pack of water and the sweetbread. It’s about fluid leadership, anybody on the side could pick up the lavwey. It’s about the drummer who turns up at midnight to lift dampened spirits. It is about all of us. Standing up together. It’s about defying the defeatist agenda. It’s about doing what you can with whatever you have. It is about finally claiming what is yours.

Lessons from the Waterfront.

 

Families came from as far as Longdenville last night to show support. Photo courtesy Fixin’ T&T 

In as much as I am anti-establishment and mostly uninterested in displays of nationalism, it was telling that as we sang the anthem at the adjournment of the sitting of the Lower House at which the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 was passed just after 4.00 this morning, the UNCites didn’t see it necessary to stop their exit from the building to stand at attention. They kept walking, as if we needed any more proof of utter lack of respect for the country and the people.
Anyway, we’ll be back out in front of Parliament today at 3 p.m., recess or no recess and every day until the Senate sitting next Tuesday. Everyone needs to petition the independent senators. A document is being prepared that outlines why this Bill must not be made law to be distributed to people who want more information.
And to the people who are believing the media who asked a couple of red or yellow t-shirts that the people who were at the Waterfront from 9 a.m. to 4.30 a.m. in the rain, dew and sun were uninformed, ignorant, or a bunch of feters please come down there and see for yourself. If you too fraid then say so. If you like things just so then say so. But the cameras weren’t there for 90 per cent of the time. People talked, asked questions, challenged each other. A few other things:
– The police are on the side of the people. They came and said this to us on more than one occasion.
– HOWEVER: the police have been given a mission to infiltrate and destabilise any sign of resistance. If you come down to the Waterfront please be aware that they are making an effort to antagonise people by quoting repealed laws and saying things like ‘we could lock allyuh up yuh know but we giving allyuh a bligh’ so that at the first sign of vexation they can start to beat people and lock them up. Read Article Four of the Constitution. Don’t give them the opportunity.
– A member of the renta crowd positioned at the barricade to skin teet with Aunty Kamla slipped a media worker a note on a copy book page saying she couldn’t talk because she was a CEPEP worker.
– People came from all over Trinidad last night, including a woman who travelled home to Chaguanas to bade and feed her dogs but came back and spent the rest of the night.
– There was a steady crowd throughout the night, we pooled resources to make sure that everyone was fed and and watered.
– Hyatt have nice toilet.
– There are 10 CCTV cameras that are in plain view outside the Parliament.
– Aunty Kamla feel she smart but she needs to realise that Trinis will take and take and take and then make you eat the bread the devil knead.

The devil start to weigh flour last night.