This time next week, I’ll be in the midst of the bacchanal that is Jouvay. Jouvay is truth in a way that nothing else can be.
So as I get my heart and mind ready for this week, I’m reflecting on my Jouvay truths. My love for Trinidad and Carnival and art.

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Dancing for Dawn

There I go again, talking about the only thing I love more than starch mangoes…

The glorious morning has come, and I don’t know if to laugh or cry. Because I’ll have to wait another 364 days to feel this way again. J’Ouvert is what happens when someone opens the prison gates. J’Ouvert is the moment of truth in lives of endless fiction.

Check out the full piece in this month’s issue of Caribbean Beat Magazine.

Ogun and the Jouvay Warriors.

Doing research for a piece I’m writing about African retentions in Trinidad Carnival, I came across this.

The procession referred to as sagun (literally, “to run Ogun’s race”) derives its name from the fast tempo of the music and warlike-dance. Each individual or group parade is referred to as
Ologun(“Ogun bearer”)…. Every conceivable professional group in Ondo, except for the civil service and white-collar workers, participates in the celebration.
Most are dressed in rags and parade through the town with their bodies smeared with blue, white, and black paint.
They sing in praise of the deity and of their procession. The festival is an occasion to celebrate Ogun’s deeds and to display human workmanship.
The ceremony becomes an opportunity for a show of force by the individual medicine-Ologun and often creates a temptation for them to test their medicinal power in public and to confirm their superiority.
This aptly illustrates Ogun’s attributes as “the embodiment of challenge, the Promethean instinct in man, constantly at the service of society for its full self-realization.

Olopuna, J.K Kingship, religion and rituals in a Nigerian Community   Sweden, Almquist & Wiksell

Sound familiar?
We’ve been hinting at the links between Africa and Trinidad Carnival for a long time, but in the spirit of denial and prettification we’ve chosen to erase rather than celebrate what are some glaring and wonderful similarities between our Carnival and the masking rituals of West Africa, specifically the Yoruba.
And I get vex every time I hear the same recycled story about Carnival being a French thing that the Africans then used to imitate their masters. It never go so and it’s about time we start to explode those myths.
The truth is that the jouvay that got included in the two day Carnival celebration was initially an Emancipation celebration celebrated on August 1st. The procession started at midnight, was a mixture of solemnity, ritual, celebration and defiance.
It makes sense that the Canboulay was always a source of confrontation between the jamettes and the colonial authorities. And it makes sense that we should even as we confront the colossal stupidity and ongoing assness of this government, previous governments and I guess future governments, find new ways to use this still existing ritual to do the same confrontation with the authorities that needs to happen.
In light of all that is going on politically and socially in Trinidad right now, I am inclined to ask, for Jouvay 2013 what would Ogun do?

Walking the Talk

jouvaywillah

I come from the land of chance
Where man does do dey dragon dance
And cross the waters of destiny
Builders of a legacy
Out of nutting
They still dared and dreamed to be something
Shining bright for the world to see
Everyday we walk
Where these giants walk
Everyday we walk de walk
But still we can’t walk de talk
—Giants, 3Canal

It is midday on Carnival Monday and I am only just walking home from the best J’Ouvert ever. Hoping if I stayed out to wring all the possible enjoyment out of the morning. In the stark light of noon I imagine I look like a misplaced jumbie who has lost her way back to the other realm where no one minds if your face is a mosaic of mud and purple blue green. I am at my freakish best, but it’s Carnival and the road is for everyone now. I do not combust under the stares of the pretty mas girls who jiggle past me, their beads making shh shh noises. The mud and paint make a pasty moustache with the obscenely expensive coconut water. But I don’t mind. Because I have just had the best J’Ouvert ever and nothing else matters as I try to savour every memory of the hours before dawn.Walking into the sunrise and feeling that electric connection to everything and everyone. You forget fear and your uncrunched abdominal muscles.
There is no separation between sacred and profane. Everything is everything. A wine is still a wine and between your friends and the strangers and the tourists and the vagrants you find your humanity. You too drag in the canal. You climb walls and find your balance. You jump and spin and catch an old familiar power. You shout into the coming dawn. Look mih! You have no mirror to see your state. You imagine you look like the people around you. Absolutely stink. You fall in love with Trinidad and yourself again. It is perfect in its grossness. Like birth. Magical and horrible at the same time. Essential and unavoidable. It is midday on Carnival Monday and I am thinking already about how long I have to wait to be in this place of bliss again. And I wish I could do it all over again on Tuesday morning, but this is not to be so. More than one J’Ouvert might send the country more mad.

I walk through the Savannah. Listening to Carnival living around me. Past tired. Past happiness and misery, in a J’Ouvert state of mind. I am still thinking about Monday morning on Tuesday, on the streets, playing a protest mas. We are playing contemporary cow mas, walking on familiar roads with new swagger. My placard says there is too much at steak. We are enough to distract spectators and revellers from the endless waves of feathers, beads, silicone, high-heeled boots. We are enough to make people smile and want to take pictures with our absurd placards. We are going for the title of Best Unregistered Band because Carnival brings out our competitive spirit. We moo and stampede at will. There is no rope around us and we make our own music.  steak
We are liking ourselves in our little band. Because I guess we all end up playing ourselves at Carnival. A bigger, brighter version of ourselves. How we imagine we would be if we had the vision and the fortitude. It is the time when we actually manage to walk our talk. Walking across the Savannah on Tuesday night, past the traffic and the sound of Carnival dying all around, I am thankful for the opportunity to walk my talk. To take this idea of myself a little further. At midnight the silence comes, covering the Belmont Community Centre where Rasta bredrin and sistren begin to skank on tiptoe. No more frenzied feting sounds. No more pan sounds. No more late night speeding up the avenue hoping that no-one followed you home sounds. The Carnival is over and now the sleep that I was avoiding, does not want to come. So I lie in bed and I listen to the 3 am nothingness. Wondering how to walk my talk without having to wait another 365 days.