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?

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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

Power of the Spirit

We are immune to criticism
We know not grudge
We face the challenge
And harness the power of love
Now I see you want us to be like the rug
That way we can be saturated with all the mud
Dem a Wonder, Sizzla

It was as if Shango self had taken over and won that race, strutting and proud and invincible and every leg length to the finish line was crossing seas and continents to raise a whole nation from its knees.
It was fluke enough the first time he did it.  Shocking the American into third place.  And Richard Thompson making a good show of taking second.  But when lightning struck twice they had to take notice.
And the yardies I suspect, are saying that Trinidad will always be second to Jamaica.  In races and music and most definitely in the sheer arrogance and conviction that they are the fastest and the best looking.   For one moment we can put aside our small island paranoias and give Jamaica a moment of unmitigated basking in the fullness of their victory.
And everybody is making jokes about yam power and cassava as a Performance Enhancing Drug.
Meanwhile my bredrin Peter Dean in Kingston, says he expects first.  But in the anguish of victory and the frustration of another city strangling under the weight of hundreds of young potential Usains and Asafas, he posts pictures of the conditions the track team train under.
There is a grassy track and an overgrown sand pit. There are cracked mirrors in the gym and the equipment that looks like it couldn’t give you anything but tetanus.
It also begs the question what goes on in the mind of an Olympiad? What energy do they channel, what gods do they call on?  What terror of failure stalks them even as they convince themselves that they are good enough to be the fastest in the whole wide world. When Usain Bolt presses his fingers into that Bird Nest track what connects him to all he has learned, all his training?
I haven’t an athletic bone in my whole body but watching the games, watching the eyes of those runners and swimmers and gymnasts, there is something in them that looks like possession.
What they have in their eyes is something that transcends the colours of your flag and the slickness of your uniform.
We’re all so proud of them.  Well most of us. We all want to claim their victory as our own.   We want to celebrate their triumphs with the same level of emotion as some of us want to get rid of similar youths that could win the Robbing and Killing Olympics.
And even as we were claiming Usain as our own, and making noises about Caribbean runners, radio announcers were raving about political unions.
Raving about Trinidad having to carry the rest of the region, because we so rich and everybody else so poor.
Raving about fixing us first before we go tend to anyone else’s problems.  And I have to wonder when oh when will we get it?
There was a time way back in the day, when the Olympic Games was just a chance for a bunch of sweaty naked Greek aristocrats to demonstrate how manly they were.
It’s come a long way from that.  But I wonder if we have.  Our politicians can’t seem to figure out how to get beyond being a sweaty bunch of men (thank Jah for those suits though, the idea of any of those dudes naked makes me want to hurl), fighting for first place.
The pictures of the Jamaican track teams facilities haunt me.
But what they prove, perhaps is that all the high tech this, that and the other can’t take the place of the sheer power of the human spirit.
Or it could also suggest that maybe instead of building smelters we should be focused on building human potential.  Not because everyone is cut out to be an Olympiad, but because everyone has a right to have their potential explored, harnessed, pushed in the right direction.
There was a time when the idea of regional unity was for us to take bauxite from Jamaica and natural gas from Trinidad and make our own alumina.  Why can’t we apply that same philosophy to taking Jamaica’s sheer determination and marrying it with Trinidad’s open-ness to create not just world class athletes, but world class businesses, world class citizens.
You have to wonder if we have what it takes to produce a Usain Bolt and a Richard Thompson, how come so many of our people are being left behind in the dust?

Yes we can too

It’s been too hard living
But I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there
Beyond the sky
It’s been a long
Long time coming
But I know
A change is gonna come
Oh yes, it will.
Change is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

Yes we can. Yes we can. Say it like a mantra, because if you chant it enough you might actually begin to believe that it’s true.

In this cynicism time, in this hopeless time when I am tired and fed up and just about ready to give up on humanity, a source of possibility comes from the least likely of places.

Here in the shadow of the US, here where our resources are being used to fuel their excesses so that we can then afford to make them ours. Here where foreign men are given absolute power to make decisions about how we are to see ourselves. And conquistadors still think the natives will be fooled by their shiny trinkets.

And it’s not like I want to count egg in fowl bottom or anything, but someone like Obama as President of the US is almost too much for my radical heart to bear.

With little black boys falling like so many tears of so many mothers.

With Mugabe frothing at the mouth in Rome and Papa Patos smelterising on fertile soil that we could be using to feed ourselves.

Obama’s newness is enough to make you think that it really might be possible for things to start to change. And no, I don’t think that one, maybe two four-year terms is enough to repair 200 years of genocide and Manifest Destiny. One, maybe two four-year terms will not make me forget Grenada or Iraq.

And no I don’t want a black messiah. No, I don’t want another black man for us to make excuses for. I don’t want another jive-talking politician. And I don’t want to be a member of anybody’s fat-arse brigade.

I just want something else. Something different. Not another old white male fossil. And it’s not that there is anything wrong with old men per se. Jah know we need our elders now more than ever to remind us of what used to be good about Trinidad. What they were able to create in spite of enslavement and indentureship and war and oppression.

Not another big business, old money, barely literate liar like Dubya. Enough already.

In the same way, we desperately need something different here in the shadow of America. Not another old African/Indian male fossil. Spouting the same rhetoric. Bankrupt of ideas. Bankrupt of vision. Bankrupt of integrity. Making us feel that is the sum total of our potential. To become somebody else’s version of ourselves.

A society’s politicians reflect that society. So it’s opportune that Obama has arrived when he has in the way he has. Maybe there are more people in America now who want something different.

But if we are to take that same principle, what do our politicians say about us? And what does it mean about us if no brave souls with integrity and vision are willing to come forward and take a chance?

Down here in the shadow of America I have to say he’s as much my presidential candidate. All of us have to take an interest in what goes on for the next few months, because it’s as much about us as it is about them.

And I never thought I would find myself saying these words, but this is one time when we should be following America. This is one wave to become caught up in. This is one wave I want to arrive at our shores and wash away the apathy and the lack of political substance.

To relieve us of our extreme boredom with what passes as leadership in the Lower House. A bunch of bepping kicksers who have nothing new to contribute.

Yes we can too. We too can change our politics. We too can get rid of the old guard. Even if the new guard is to make mistakes.

Chant it like a mantra. Chant it until you too start to believe.