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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Lessons from the Waterfront.

 

Families came from as far as Longdenville last night to show support. Photo courtesy Fixin’ T&T 

In as much as I am anti-establishment and mostly uninterested in displays of nationalism, it was telling that as we sang the anthem at the adjournment of the sitting of the Lower House at which the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 was passed just after 4.00 this morning, the UNCites didn’t see it necessary to stop their exit from the building to stand at attention. They kept walking, as if we needed any more proof of utter lack of respect for the country and the people.
Anyway, we’ll be back out in front of Parliament today at 3 p.m., recess or no recess and every day until the Senate sitting next Tuesday. Everyone needs to petition the independent senators. A document is being prepared that outlines why this Bill must not be made law to be distributed to people who want more information.
And to the people who are believing the media who asked a couple of red or yellow t-shirts that the people who were at the Waterfront from 9 a.m. to 4.30 a.m. in the rain, dew and sun were uninformed, ignorant, or a bunch of feters please come down there and see for yourself. If you too fraid then say so. If you like things just so then say so. But the cameras weren’t there for 90 per cent of the time. People talked, asked questions, challenged each other. A few other things:
– The police are on the side of the people. They came and said this to us on more than one occasion.
– HOWEVER: the police have been given a mission to infiltrate and destabilise any sign of resistance. If you come down to the Waterfront please be aware that they are making an effort to antagonise people by quoting repealed laws and saying things like ‘we could lock allyuh up yuh know but we giving allyuh a bligh’ so that at the first sign of vexation they can start to beat people and lock them up. Read Article Four of the Constitution. Don’t give them the opportunity.
– A member of the renta crowd positioned at the barricade to skin teet with Aunty Kamla slipped a media worker a note on a copy book page saying she couldn’t talk because she was a CEPEP worker.
– People came from all over Trinidad last night, including a woman who travelled home to Chaguanas to bade and feed her dogs but came back and spent the rest of the night.
– There was a steady crowd throughout the night, we pooled resources to make sure that everyone was fed and and watered.
– Hyatt have nice toilet.
– There are 10 CCTV cameras that are in plain view outside the Parliament.
– Aunty Kamla feel she smart but she needs to realise that Trinis will take and take and take and then make you eat the bread the devil knead.

The devil start to weigh flour last night.

Election bell ring, Ms. Democracy

Dem a di don, to di biz we av di key
put di don to di key and turn him inna donkey
—Ting a Ling, Shabba Ranks

The election bell ring. It wake up Democracy from a deep drunken sleep. She sit up and watch the clock and steups. A long watery one. The kind of special steups you save for when you in government office for an hour trying to do something that should take five minutes.
Democracy put on the radio to see who else dead in the night. She listen to the bacchanal. She switch and listen to the fearmongers.
She smile and shake her head at the callers. Near hysterics with the latest piece of stupidness that just get revealed.
She wonder if nothing else going on in this forceripe little island except for badjohns with guns and badjohns with seats in Parliament.
They coming for her just now. They coming to dress her up pretty and loud for a few weeks and parade her about like a trophy wife.
Democracy wish she could say half the things that in her head and heart to say. That could turn things around and make a difference to the lives of those who need it the most.
The ones who depending on the government or the opposition to actually represent them and engage them in creating a brighter future.
Democracy take a sip of her coffee watching the clouds gather on the hills. This is a sweet time of the day when the light is perfect.
The hills used to be so green. But is development, nah. Is development and the need for housing that have less trees on the hills and rivers on mud running down her street.
It had a time when she used to try and make a difference. She used to talk.
They say she is a trouble aker. They say she trying to make confusion. They say she trying to stop people from eating a food.
Democracy, hush yuh firetrucking mouth so I could make a lil kickback.
They don’t know who is me or what? Like they forget the meaning of my name. Like they forget that is because of me they reach anywhere in the first place.
She give up on fighting them now. She give up because the licks starting to take a toll. The emotional abuse starting to make her forget the meaning of her own name.
Democracy is good at hiding the bruises now. She learn how to do that long time. She eat so much licks in her time that she know how to turn her face so that when the lash pass it wouldn’t leave too big a mark. Not too bad.
Democracy go on Facebook. She watch her newsfeed and roll her eyes at the political blogs. She not really sure why she following them in the first place.
A set of idlers who like to hide behind they computer and pontificate about what wrong with Trinidad.
But if she were to call them and ask them to come and help her out, they woulda start to stutter and well, ahm in her ears and tell her how it eh really have nothing she could do.
See? We’re so free here. We give you a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea and you should be grateful for that.
She going to spend the next few weeks wining for rum and roti.
Democracy watch herself long and hard in the mirror. She not looking too bad. She could still smile and convince people that she is beautiful. She could still make a show that she matters and is of value.
The money they paying her to show up, well she could make a good living on that. She could go away every now and again. She could buy nice things and go on the Avenue and lime.
Democracy figure is compensation enough for her pains.
They coming for her just now. They coming to show her off in the papers. On the hustings. She getting some good gigs for the next few weeks.
Is like Carnival time when they does play local music on the radio.
After elections she going to disappear just like soca. Until next time.
The rain falling again.
The sky weeping tears on her behalf. Endless tears. The sky have more water than Wasa, that’s for sure. She can’t cry now. She smile at her face in the mirror. She skin her teeth and practise kissing babies. She swallow hard to get rid of the lump in her throat.
Now that the election bell ring. How it go look if Democracy looking bad?

And the Fete goes on

Don’t they know
A blind man could see
That this is blatant hypocrisy
The real traitors an dem are high in society
Yet the Government protecting all ah dem
And penalising you and me
Good Citizen, Mighty Sparrow

Look what representation come to, eh. Look what change you can believe in looks like. The pigs are walking upright and throwing filth at us. Look what we voted for and rejoiced at. Look at what we breathed loud sighs of relief for, when we were rid of the megalomaniac Papa Patos.

We really reach where we have to go. Again. Because we’ve been here before. At this same point. So don’t act too surprised. This is the cycle we know best. But the spaces in between the points of fedupcy of the people. Those spaces are growing larger. Those moments are fewer and further between. And not because our governments are getting better. But because we are become less and less convinced of our power.

Watch them, nah. Sending police to maco unarmed protesters eating portugals and chatting quietly among themselves. The officers look like they’re not too sure why they’re there. Protecting, like the rest of us, the little work that they have. Unsure of the consequences if they were to say no to their superiors.

Look what piety come to. Saying hurry up and dead one day and piously praying the next. Does their god only hear prayers? Is his hearing aid off the rest of the time? The problem is that we’re so busy watching what the other person is doing we dare not do for ourselves. The problem is that it’s far easier to be on the sidelines making snarky comments than to actually do the work to be the change that is so necessary.

We’re always looking for a messiah. We’re always looking for somebody to tell us that it’s okay to be vocal. A person who gives us something to believe in that is outside of ourselves, so if it fails we’re not too personally invested. We can’t help that Father-of-the-Nation syndrome. The complicated relationships between the leader and the led.

The problem is not Jack Warner. The problem is not how many of us gather outside the Prime Minister’s office. The problem is not the People’s Partnership. They are doing the best they can. It’s a pity that this is all they can muster and that it is mediocre at best and at worst a total heartbreaking disaster.

The problem is that we are sitting back and allowing these people to insult our intelligence and embarrass our country internationally. We want someone else to die for us. We are neither willing to die nor to kill for what we believe in. It’s not about one person.

It’s not about one Government. They do their job really well. Their job, as inherited from colonial authorities, is to seek the economic interests of others and position themselves in a way that they can get a little scraping of the left-over cream.

So while we’re looking for someone else to die for us, some other martyr for us to remember with our tears, we are not thinking about shutting the country down. While we are trying to get the Government to understand that they can’t make a business out of art without first consulting the artists, walls are bare of words that really let them know how we feel. And the fete goes on.

The fete goes on despite the questions. If we have more highway, will we have less traffic? If we have more police, will we have less crime? If we have more industry, will we have more wealth? If we have more buildings, will we have more employment? If we have a TTCIC, will we have better art?

It shouldn’t be up to one person to sacrifice his life for all of us. It shouldn’t be up to a bunch of self-serving pencil-pushers to decide what version of development we should have. It shouldn’t be up to a state-appointed board to say how our arts industry gets to its full potential.

In the past two years, many lines have been drawn in the sand. And this Government has been teetering on the brink of collapse for so long we’re not sure when it was ever stable and looked like it had a clue. In the past two years, this Government has done nothing if not surpass our wildest expectations of just how much of a pappyshow the democratic process can be. And how easy it is to disguise yourself in a well-executed campaign.

In the past two years this Government has done nothing if not totally convince us that this idea of governance that we have is not just flawed but totally unsuited to forward movement. I wonder if we’ll let them get to the end of their five years before we start the cycle all over again.

Best you cover your head

All ah we got we own set ah little drama
Some drink ah rum, some seek a saviour
Some run down fun, some never quench thirst for power
And some seek love in the most desperate hour
Stand firm and don’t let self-doubt devour
Yuh got to be the dread at your controls in this iwah
Cah sit and hope for a break in the rain or is we tuh ketch again

—Rain, Kin Sound System

The rain falls. Doing her thing. Getting on with the business  of being in season. The sky is almost as deep grey these mornings as it is deep blue in a cloudless dawn. You smile into your pillow because the sweetness of sleep with a rain lullaby is like no other. Rain on the galvanize that you miss when you are in far-away places that do not know the joys of this kind of percussion. It is a soundtrack that slows your racing thoughts, silences the voices of unhad conversations, unachieved goals, unresolved disagreements. The rain gives dreams a gentle soundtrack. Somewhere else someone is not so happy that it is raining. So you give thanks for rain on the outside of the galvanize and not inside, dripping slow and steady onto your bed, onto your sleeping child, onto your damp clothes.

Rain is not joyous for everyone on these islands. Rain is headache. Rain is flood. Rain could mean successful crops or failed crops. Rain is hours of waiting for public transport that takes its sweet time to come. But in this dawn moment you smile into the cool side of your pillow and arch your feet into the warm corners of your blanket.  Enjoy the benevolent sound before you have to wake up and face the reality of this music and all the good and bad things the rain brings. Rain to wash your dishevelled soul. Rain to mingle with your tears. Rain to bring zaboca. And rain to bring cool evenings. The rain brings flies. Of all descriptions. Fat flies that dance their diseased dance on your mangoes. And mosquitoes that sing off-key for spite in your ears. And rain flies to dance to their deaths in your fever grass tea.

Rain brings mixed emotions and the delightful confusion of love you feel for a place that is a most sometime-ish lover. The rain washes away Sasha’s sins. And you who have not sinned are righteously indignant. Not understanding that in this time of any number could play, of mysteries and signs and amazing wonders, Sasha’s sins can be washed as easily as Uncle Jack’s. The rain doesn’t judge the crimes of those she falls on. The rain doh business with who is washed away or who is left standing.
The rain brings a reshuffled Cabinet. And tears of happiness and sadness for Aunty Verna. Wishing that this is an opportunity for children to get the protection they need. Fearing it is an opportunity for politicians to destroy the dreams of another community worker trying to do good for the people.

But Shango sends lightning bolts of warning and Osun washes Aunty Verna in her tears. SEA results come with the rain. And the rain mingles with tears. For children who are taught from young that the only way to succeed is to work hard and work long so that you can go and work for someone else and realise their dreams. For children who are good at passing exams but not necessarily at thinking for themselves. For children who get relegated to the schools where they are taught to believe they are stupid. For parents who are not sure if they can find the money to put their children through school because they fear for what will become of their children at the hands of schools that breed the brightest idlers whose skills that may not come in a book become the skills that lead them to the dark side of the force.

The rain falls and we run for shelter in MovieTowne. While up the road Woodbrook floods. Because who cares about the mangrove when there’s such a desperate need to be entertained out of the mind-numbing boringness of our island lives. And when you’re finished watching the movie you can have your own high-speed chase and your own near-death moment of stardom. We’re all ready for lights, camera, action on the most popular reality show every night that is called the news, although it really should be called the Haven’t we seen and heard this all before? And if you want to live in a crime-free place, I mean you could just move to Switzerland. But the rain doesn’t fall on galvanized roofs in Switzerland.

The rain falls like our tears for Norris Deonarine. Whose departure is still too much to consider. Whose departure remains unmarked by a so-called caring government. The rain falls and the prices of fruits and vegetables begin the high and low dance. And talk of food crisis and climate crisis and land crisis from other parts of the world are lost in the din of rain. The rain falls. Doing her thing. Oblivious to her impact on us. Or our impact on her. Thunder is rolling in the distance. Thunders is rolling like a literary device and you try to decide whether you will wake up and face the rain and whatever good and bad it brings.  Or stay here a little longer enjoying the sound of it. The way those dreams may never become real and the possibilities of all the beauty and the horror that is just outside waiting to consume you with equal intensity.

Advantage Never Done

We so amazed

We get back de stage

So give we a wave

We taking advantage

On the stage

Dem gyal on de stage

For two days

We head for the stage

To turn a new page

We cannot behave

Stage or the grave

We taking advantage

Advantage

Start to jump on the stage and leh we make front page

Advantage, Machel Montano HD

It’s their privilege, not ours, to take advantage.  They don’t need to apologize.  They don’t even need to tell the truth.  They could get vex and self righteous.  That is their privilege.

On the Trinidad and Tobago stage they could behave how the hell they want.  They could put on what kind of mas they like, while we jump and ray on the sidelines.  Spectators in this masquerade that is governance.

Advantage.  They really taking advantage.  Of a young girl called Reshmi.  I mean really in a country where macoing is a national pastime, isn’t everyone qualified to head a spy agency?

And all the people who have the qualifications on paper but sit in their offices collecting their nice fat three times what a local person would get salary, is anybody going to take advantage of them?

Meanwhile Ministers falling all over themselves to tell their version, as if there was some kind of lying competition they had entered and there was a big prize for the best explanation for why they are qualified to hire and fire and then play bess liar.

Well you couldn’t say that they were being untrue to our culture.  I never hear so much Pierrot-esque explanation in my life.

Advantage when they get on the stage in truth yes, Machel boy.  Like the sweetest seer man of soca, the Boy sings the thing that hurts us the most right now.

And makes us love it because we love this kind of pain.

Advantage all round.  From the banks to the bandits.  Everybody taking advantage on us poor Trinbagonians.  And we must be like it so.

In fact, I think we love it.  We love it more than we love ourselves.

Advantage on the stage.  Advantage in the Parliament.  Advantage from King Louis and his band of council imps.

For 363 days out of the year we allow the government to take advantage of us. The government has a good time bending us over and putting it on us with some emphatic vim and vigour they could give the Boy a run for his chooking money.

Stamp on it, Andy Johnson. Stamp on the free press. Trample it until we’re all a bunch of yes men, doing no more than covering the endless, tiresome, mind numbingly boring effluent coming from these so-called leaders.

Oh oh oh oh advantage, yeah.  Sing it like this is Carnival Tuesday and you’re already on the Savannah stage.

Advantage is the road march that price gouging business owners and useless opposition and surly public servants have been singing for years.

I wonder how we would be if we didn’t have those two days? I wonder if we would be taking advantage too.

Trampling on the rights of our workers. Stamping on our children.  Ramfling our environment.

Is we privilege to take advantage. It’s a historical position really. A self-fulfillment of prophecy.  Those who are the most oppressed then become the worst oppressors.

Hear what, if I had the power, I would make Machel Montano more than just the Road March winner.  I would use my considerable influence to make him some kind of Minister of the Pulse of the Nation.

The Boy is more than a soca artist.  He is a seer man, a healer.  He is qualified to be a leader of public thought.

He wouldn’t need a certificate for that.  His credentials are undeniable.

Machel boy, the advantage will never end. It will continue until all of us will become advantage takers in our own right.

The stage is in front of us.  Time to get advantageous.

For two days I wonder if we will take the opportunity to take advantage?

In all the song and dance about multiculturalism I wonder if these advantage takers and the rest of us understand that Carnival is the time when we used to wage our wars?

Who needs civil war when you have mas and pan?  Who needs Ministers’ platitudes when you have soca’s bare essential truths?

I wonder if we will really take the opportunity to advantage our leaders the way they advantage us.  If we will create new motifs and songs and actions to send the message to these advantageous winers that we won’t always be willing to take their instructions.

We won’t always jump and wave and be entertained at their pappyshow leadership.