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.


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?


Featured Image -- 1777

Originally posted on 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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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).

Sacred Waters

To touch the river is to understand her divinity. You must walk the path of the river to pay your respect. You must experience the shocking coolness of the water in the early dawn, the sharp jab of stones, the yielding softness of mud. The sun barely peeps through the thick forest cover in those early dawn hours when the only noises are forest ones: raucous birds and a whispering river.


Excerpt from a short piece I wrote on the Hindu River festival Ganga Dhaaraa in the current issue of Caribbean Beat. 

Breasts of Iron

Peter yuh doh know
The pressure I undergo
From these mad man and woman
Ah feel the full weight of dey hand
They make they oppress law
They never care about the poor
Peter these people had they day
Well now is time for Stalin to play.

—Bun Dem, Black Stalin


I am a little girl again standing at a bus stop in England waiting to go to school. Studying the display of Sindy dolls in the Woolworth’s window. And then dry so, without warning, like cobo falling dead out of the sky, an old woman walks up and punches me in the face. No warning. No shouted threats. Just an old mad white woman coming up to me at a bus stop and punching me in the face.  

I have no frame of reference for such violence. My tears are not from pain but from shock and confusion at what I could possibly have done for an old woman to come up and punch me in the face. My sisters are beside themselves and when I get to school with a bloody nose my classmates form a protective shield around me and share their fish fingers at lunch time. Even the hateful Claire Sommers doesn’t call me chocolate factory worker that day. 

By the time I get home my mother is pacing like a caged lioness. Somebody is going to die. My nose isn’t bleeding and there is only a little split on my lip, but she inspects me like I’ve been at war. A police officer is at the door soon. She talks for a while, trying to calm my mother who is in angry hysterics. 

She explains that this is what happens when you cut back on welfare. Old mad women are turned out of homes. Old mad women who have probably seen two black people in their lives, get nervous and disoriented and violent. This is what happens when you have iron breasts that don’t know what is nurturing. She said there is no such thing as society and society died. But people didn’t die and some of them roamed the streets like zombies lashing out at anybody who happened to be too close. 

 My nose healed up—she didn’t hit me hard enough to cause permanent damage—and after a while I wasn’t terrified to death of standing at the bus stop. But it hadn’t occurred to me how much that moment still affected me until I was walking in a stush part of London one night last summer and clutched my bag cowering as an old white woman walked swiftly up behind me. 

 She looked at me with such absolute confusion, as if she couldn’t imagine what I, an almost six foot, wild-haired black woman could possibly have to fear. Thatcher’s England still echoes now. In the policies of this new Con Dem government, in the naked neo-liberalism and war-mongering of Tony the Phony. In the bulldozed housing estates and the bedroom tax. In the bounding and unbridled and unregulated behaviour of banks and the expectation that taxpayers will bail them out. 

There’s no love lost between me and Mistress Margaret. She of iron will and unwavering principles. Breasts of iron do not belong to women who are interested in building a future for their children. She is no role model to me and I’d rather not have female leaders if that is what they do.

Still, I can’t bring myself to go to a party to celebrate her death. I am relieved that I know better and I am not from a place that makes old people invisible and because of her terrible example of what it is to be human, I appreciate the people around me who are more in touch with their humanity. 

Thatcherisms ripple across the globe. Thatcherisms multiply like mosquitoes in a foetid pond of global capitalism. And the London Stock Exchange and the business district are what my activist friend from India calls a Paradise for Parasites built on a solid foundation of slavery money. I think of her dying in the comfort of the Ritz hotel. I wonder what happened to that lonely, frightened old woman who punched me in the face. If she died alone and cold. 

I can’t vex with the cobo for falling out of the sky on the day that Margaret Thatcher died. As if the cobo themselves could not bear the possibility of picking the flesh from those iron bones. I don’t believe in Hell but if I did Mistress Margaret would be in it, spending a million lifetimes to account for all her sins. And maybe then she might weep real tears and rust a hole through her iron breasts and maybe then her heart might hurt for all the pain she caused.

First published in the Trinidad Guardian April 13, 2013

Chipping down the road of understanding.

Last summer in London I taught a few wining classes, and one of the moves I started off with was the chip.
Wining, as I told my students, is much more than a movement of the waist. Like most other rituals associated with Carnival, dancing in Carnival is not given any critical thought, and especially because of the continued dismissal of its African origins, we overlook its subtleties and ultimately it’s real purpose. Part of my real disgust with soca is the ‘instructional’ nature of many of the songs, which create a template for movement, but also to a certain extent, disempower women from really freeing up and expressing themselves and their bodies outside of the approval of the male gaze.
Anyway, now that I’m back in Trinidad and getting ready for Carnival, I’m reading and researching and arming myself with information.
I found this excellent quote in Under the Mas – Resistance and Rebellion in the Trinidad Masquerade written by dancer, Choreographer and scholar Prof Jeff Henry.

The basic calypso dance, ‘the chip’ is executed with a relaxed forward shuffle of the feet, knees slightly bent, with the balls of the feet and the heels continuously flat on the ground, as the weight is shifted from one leg to the other.
The body sways loosely from side to side in response to the change of weight in relationship to the shift of the body. This fundamental rhythmic forward propelling movement comes out of the Shouter Baptist rhythms as part of the physical expression and from the circular movement of the Orisha.
The movement is most noteworthy during the opening ceremony of a Shango meeting which usually begins with a salutation to Eshu. In the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist ceremonies, the movement back and forth accompanied by vocal sounds referred to as ‘doption’ also recalls the ‘chip’. The shuffle of feet flat on the ground has always been the signature of the Calypso dance and is still unconsciously done by masqueraders when they are moving from one place to another or are slowing down to contain their energy.

London is the Place


I still smile every time I come out of the Brixton Tube station and turn left, and it’s like being in Africa and Asia and the Caribbean all at once. The incense man outside the supermarket is really from Barbados, though he pronounces “incense” like a Jamaican. A car passes, blasting the latest funky house summer scorcher, the unholiest of combinations of high life’s easy groove, dancehall’s driving bass, and soca’s call to wine.


Piece I wrote for Caribbean Beat Magazineon my ongoing love affair with Babylondon.