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.