Love and Baigan – A Maticoor Meditation

Republic Maticoor

When Gab, my sistren from the year nought jokingly suggested that I organize and host her maticoor at the Republic a month ago it didn’t seem so odd. 

Given that I am a post modern Orisa/Rasta ecofeminist and Gab is a Rapso feminist activist, former Miss Mastana Bahar and her family is actually Muslim Indian via Afghanistan. AND she was getting married to an African man in Christian ceremony.

I engaged in the process the same way I engage in any kind of celebration, with wild abandon and excitement.

This was not to be a regular maticoor by any stretch of our imaginations.  It was less than rites but more than tradition.  But that is the Trinidad experience — creating new interpretations of old things, making culture relevant  and current and alive and vital.  

 It didn’t matter that I’m not Indian or Hindu or a family member.

In our reasonings about what we wanted the maticoor to be, Gab and I agreed that to call it a maticoor was to take the name with its local cultural and social significance specifically to women and make it our own.  

As women confronting this Trinidad landscape, claiming space, expressing views, thoughts, dreams, desires we know the restrictions on this freedom.  The maticoor then becomes that last chance for us to come together and surround our sister friend with all our light, all our hope and all our admonishing that this mouth called marriage doesn’t swallow her up, consume her so totally that she no longer is the person we knew.  A better stronger person perhaps. Because what is love if it doesn’t give you the energy to be an amplified version of yourself?

On the day of the maticoor I ended up in a shop in San Juan market with the mother.  I bought some coconut oil and wicks for the deyas I planned for Gab’s circle of light.  I stood there talking with the female shop owner, asking her about the various puja items on sale.  We chatted for a long time too about the similarities between Hindu rites and practices and Ifa/Orisa rites and practices.  About the late Orisa priest Baba Sam who often said his prayers in Sanskrit, of Ravi Ji who I call Uncle.

An Indian man,  a Jehovah’s Witness tried to engage me and the mother in a conversation about Christianity and why the Bible is the only truth.  There was a lot of snorting and steupsing from us at this point.  A few shoppers stopped their shopping to hear how the conversation was going.  Anyway to cut a long story short, the mother shouted at the man ‘Conversion is the worst crime perpetrated against people like us.  A lot of Indian people had to convert to Christianity, change their names and their way of life to keep their jobs, to send their children to school.  Orisa people used to have to run from police for playing their drums.  Pay respect to your ancestors who sacrificed so much for you to be here!’

In our circle later that night, after Burton had sung his ribald maticoor songs and then orikis to Orisa goddesses Yemoja, Osun and Oya and of course Sparrow’s Maharajin and we sat watching our mehendi’d hands dry, we all dressed as our personal sheroes – I am Phoolan Devi, in a circle of Parvati, Gaia, Winnie Mandela, Artemis, Athena, Yemoja, Osun… 

I spare a thought for the Jehovah Witness man who must still be scratching his head over the encounter with me and the mother.  I spare a thought for his version of the story which can only ever be one way.  That his worldview is limited by his belief system that says there is only one truth.  

We gather there in that circle giving Gab our love and advice.  The melongene comes out and we collapse into giggles.  Love and baigan are things that we all know. Experiences that we all share.  We give our best ideas and advice.

Trini men are special enough for us to try to figure out how to love them and demand that they love us in ways that are affirming, empowering, enlightening.

In a place and time when we presume women are disempowered, whether by marriage, religion or just the goddamn competing patriarchies that battle for women’s bodies and minds in this country, the maticoor then is a space of power for women where they can celebrate themselves, their femininity, sexuality freely.

 The maticoor is a moment of woman obeah.  To remind us of our power and how to use it.  That setting of a stage where the bride knows that the women have her back.  

Trinidad is such a subtle, nuanced place.  It’s easy to get it wrong. It’s easy to think that race divides us, which it does in bizarre ways.  That we succumb to the politics of nigger and coolie paranoia, which we do in the worst of times.  No mistake, there are a lot of people in Trinidad for whom that is a reality.  There are a lot of people in Trinidad who fully and committedly engage in the politics of resentment.  Who use difference as a dividing line.  

But it is never that simple.  So it is up to us who have had this upbringing that is all of the above: Indian and African and western and Baptist and Amitabh Bachchan on a Sunday afternoon and Viv Richards and pan to develop the capactity to deal with our cultural schizophrenia rather than try to disentangle it and try to construct some singular identity.  That’s not just impossible, it’s impossibly boring.

Maybe it is up to the women to lead the way to this easier understanding of this country’s complexities.  To an acceptance of how we mix and mingle and our sharp edges become softened by a constant rubbing against the Other. Until the other is yourself and you are the other.  And maybe a dougla maticoor is not the answer to all our problems.

 But surely love and baigan are key ingredients in any effort to bring us all a little closer.

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Sexual politics in the US

Darling stop confusing me
With your wishful thinking
Hopeful embraces
Don’t you understand?
I have to go through this
I belong to here where
No-one cares and no-one loves
No light no air to live in
A place called hate
The city of fear

I play dead
It stops the hurting
I play dead
And hurting stops

It’s sometimes just like sleeping
Curling up inside my private tortures
I nestle into pain
Hug suffering
Caress every ache
Play Dead, Björk

Truthfully, I’m not terribly fond of the woman, her politics or the fact that everyone is so excited at the fact that in her spare time she’s a moose murderer.
And no, I don’t think because she owns a pair of ovaries that somehow magically cancels out the fact that she’s a right wing, polar bear hating, climate change denying nightmare – her winning smile and girl next door looks serving to convince me that she could possibly be the scariest woman to be seen in western politics since Margaret Thatcher.
But what I don’t appreciate is the fact that the American media did what can only be interpreted as an honour killing of Bristol Palin just because her mother won’t let her decide what she can and can’t do with her uterus.
I mean, Sarah Palin, the fact that you’re rich enough to afford to overpopulate the planet and put more of a strain on the world’s resources doesn’t mean that other women should be stripped of their own right to make life and death decisions.
Poor Bristol Palin has to be one brave young woman to stand up to the scrutiny for what must be a trying and private time.  Hardly being an adult herself, just getting into a sense of her body, grappling with teen angst and the newly discovered bargaining power of breasts.
It’s not Bristol Palin’s fault that her society gives her such double standards.  That even politicians use sex to sell themselves. And even her dear sweet hockey mom mother has graced the cover of Vogue in some hot low cut lingerie to demonstrate that it’s not just Democrats and PETA models that can be hot.
The thing I like about those Islamic misogynists who kill their girl children if they dare do the unspeakable and have sex with some dude not sanctioned by their family is that they just get to the point.  But in America, under the guise of civilization, there are all these sinister mind games that characterize post-modern sexual politics.
So child brides are a no-no but Britney Spears prancing around provocatively in a sexified school uniform is alright.  And girls are free to get a university education but once you get there doh dig no horrors to star in your own Girls Gone Wild special.
What’s wrong with a society in which women are expected to be heroine in public, whore in private and always with a happy lipsticked smile that is Maybelline approved to stay painted on for the many many hours of your life that you will be expected to live your life and look good doing it.
As all of this has been happening I’ve been reading Infidel by Somali Ayaan Hirsi Ali who documents her experiences as a Muslim woman and her subsequent rejection of its oppression and repression of sexuality, personality and possibility.  She currently lives in hiding after the Dutch filmmaker with whom she produced a documentary on domestic violence against Muslim women was murdered.
In the book she speaks about the importance of women bearing the weight of their lives in total submission.  Without complaint to husband or children.  Silence is the dignified response to any problem for the devout and respectful Muslim woman.  But watching Bristol Palin grinning sheepishly at the Republican National Convention I can’t help but get the feeling that someone is forcing her to be silent too. Forcing her to think she was ready to be sexually active in an irresponsible way, forcing her to then do the mature, responsible thing when perhaps all she wants to do is be a teenager and sit in her room and cry at the tremendous injustices of the world.
The confrontation of female sexuality against patriarchy is clearer in cultures where women walk the streets hidden like black shadows, shrouded against the raging libidos of men who cannot and will not control their basest instincts even as they try to control everything else.
But Bristol Palin is perhaps even more disadvantaged because she doesn’t have the luxury of living in a culture that is clear about what sexuality is and what function it serves to a young woman.
So you can shake your bamsee as much as you want.  You can be what you want to be, to a point and don’t dare overstep those boundaries lest you be labeled slut, bitch or the worst insult of them all, feminist.
And don’t forget to smile for the camera and look like everything is a-okay. Because this is a free country where a young woman has a right to show all the hurt and anger and terror of not being control of her body to the whole wide world.