Beauty of the Battle

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The learning is not just in the training, the hours spent memorising the lavways and the steps and the pain that comes when you lose concentration and you get hit with a stick on your little finger. The journeys to the gayelles are full of songs and anecdotes of past battles. Acid sings into the night, to dark roads that disappear suddenly off crumbling precipices: “Ah living alone, ah living alone in the jungle.”

Bois season is a time of fasting, from alcohol and meat and conjugal relations. From anything that distracts from the battle. The battle is waged in the mind long before the stickfighter enters the ring.

From a piece I wrote for the January 2015 issue of Caribbean Beat Magazine.
Read the original article here: http://caribbean-beat.com/issue-131/word-of-mouth#ixzz3OKgtUeuD

The NCC Regional Carnival Committee’s 2015 Stickfight Competition dates are as follows:

23rd Jan – Biche
30th Jan – Cedros
11th Feb – Skinner Park
To book workshops and demos for schools and clubs with the Bois Academy of Trinidad and Tobago call Rondel Benjamin at 498-2609
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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.

Sacred Waters

To touch the river is to understand her divinity. You must walk the path of the river to pay your respect. You must experience the shocking coolness of the water in the early dawn, the sharp jab of stones, the yielding softness of mud. The sun barely peeps through the thick forest cover in those early dawn hours when the only noises are forest ones: raucous birds and a whispering river.

 

Excerpt from a short piece I wrote on the Hindu River festival Ganga Dhaaraa in the current issue of Caribbean Beat. 

Kambule or Canboulay?

The received wisdom was that the term Canboulay derived from the French ‘cannes brulees’ or the burning of the cane. The unseasonal burning of fields of immature sugarcane by the enslaved was done as an act of sabotage and groups of enslaved Africans were then forced to go and put out the fires. Along the way they sang songs of defiance and also danced kalenda as their ranks were made up of stickfighters.
However revered Trinidad and Tobago linguist Maureen Warner-Lewis in her seminal work Guinea’s Other Suns – one of the first comprehensive studies on the African presence in Trinidad and Tobago – lists the term kambule as a Kikongo word meaning procession. Africans held kambules throughout the year – as a form of celebration but they were also times when they could re-engage with spiritual and other cultural practices.
Professor Warner-Lewis believes the two terms to have been conflated to create one meaning – the march of defiance by the working class that happened in the pre-dawn hours of Carnival Monday morning.

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.

A Heart-Centred Apocalypse

The sun is going down
And I try to follow
Blood is spilled in the sky
As we watch the day die
Making room for tomorrow

Me and my friends
Riding to the world’s end
I don’t know if or when
I’m ever going to see you again
World’s End,
Kin Sound System

Not that I ever thought that I was going to wake up to the Rapture. But I’m kind of glad that the doomsdayers got a giant apocalyptic meggie. We all breathe sighs of relief that the Mayans were wrong. And not that the ones who got it wrong were the anthropologists who tried to piece together meaning in the aftermath of the destruction of a civilisation by the barbarism of colonisation disguised as the saving of pagan souls.

In the aftermath of the non-coming of the apocalypse is another opportunity for us to pour scorn on the ideas of indigenous peoples. Of first nations whose world views we have decimated as much as we have the people. And plundered one or two tidbits relevant to our lives and left aside the rest. We are suspicious of all that old-world obeah. We are terrified of anything that doesn’t have its own themed half hour on CNN.

These days we only trust the obeah that is mainstream and sanctioned by the legitimate western authorities. The obeah that is television. And the Internet. These sorts of western obeahs are okay. We are suspicious of our own. The way that it messes with your mind and makes you alien to your own intuition. And let other people use it for their own advantage.

Like legal and illegal quarries plundering mountains in the Northern Range, because we forget those hills were once sacred to people who were here long before we ever dreamed of a place to call Trinidad. The obeah of development and modernity is a serious thing. And our gods look nothing like us and we worship them anyway.

Whether or not the world ends, I guess, is a moot point. The point is, we don’t need a misinterpreted Mayan prophecy to tell us that we urgently need cataclysmic change on this planet. We need to rethink our evolution in the most urgent of ways. We need to bring to an end a lot of the things that make the quality of life for the majority of the world’s inhabitants unacceptable because of the greed of a few.

We need to reconsider our complicity in the destruction of the planet in the quest for advancement that leads to nowhere. Hollywood has programmed us for a spectacular ending of explosions and Bruce Willis and his band of intrepid soldiers who will save the Earth, or rather America, from certain destruction.

We’re not looking for the explosions in our brains. We’re unaware of the changes in the animals and plants. It’s not our business to end time. We’ve put a limited perspective on what it means and have no understanding of its extent. It’s our business, however, to engage fully in all the suns and moons we spend in this present consciousness ensuring that we experience ourselves and our communities.

We owe it to no one but ourselves to be the best humans we could possibly be. The apocalypse has to be one of destruction of the walls that we have built between us. The end has to come in the form of lasting solutions to poverty and domestic violence and… I see you rolling your eyes at my hippy gibberish. I see you shrugging your shoulders with the resignation of those who think they are powerless.

But this is end times for being frightened to speak our truths for fear of ridicule. Maybe apocalypse myths are just ancient ways of getting us to live every moment we have on Earth to the fullest. To be true to our higher selves, to seek beauty. We look back at the Mayans as illiterate savages. But we are the ones who read without understanding. Who have access to information and fail to act.

We are the ones who weep real tears for children who die in a mass killing in America. And post pictures of a president who cries for his own and sends drones to kill the children of others. We are the real savages who have accepted a civilisation that celebrates its barbarity. That destroys the earth and then blames god for natural disasters.

There needs to be an end to these times. Desperately. There needs to be an end to the blindness to inner light. No one is going to land from another planet and save us. A heart-centred apocalypse that kills fear with love. We need to save our own selves from ourselves and create new calendars for a time that uplifts the whole of humanity.

Published in Trinidad Guardian December 22, 2012

Who will review Our Legacy?

Well, we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out
Road To Nowhere, Talking Heads

The sting of the pepper in the aloo pie numbs my nose to the stench of gas and the wall of heat coming from the road. I wonder how many pollutants I’ve eaten with my snack. School is just finished and the crowds at the roadside stalls in Debe are filling up.

There are two endless lines of traffic on the main road. It is hot and bothersome and the threat of rain makes the heat more intense. There are no trees on the main road. It is noisy and lively and bustling. Off the main road the community is quiet. In Gandhi Village—one of the communities that is supposed to get moved to make way for the government highway—few people are home yet.

I can’t imagine that if I lived somewhere like this I would ever want to leave. But the truth is that traffic makes me uneasy. I dislike it a lot and go to great lengths to avoid it; including spending most of my working life avoiding doing a job that would require me to get to work at a time when everybody else is rushing to get to work too. Not everyone has that luxury or that tolerance for brokesness. So I understand why most people just suck it up and deal with it.

At the top of the hill in Gandhi Village, the air is cool and fresh, the breeze is perfect. The community recreation ground is unoccupied, overlooking one of the highway construction sites. There isn’t much work going on there, from what I can see.

Workers are liming under tents. Some are digging trenches. But there isn’t a typical construction buzz. I’m relieved because I don’t want Dr Kublalsingh’s efforts to be in vain. I don’t want the attempts of the JCC to be wined on by callous contractors and an even more callous Government. Who skin their teeth in your faces and then do what they want to do regardless of what they have promised.

But down on the main road in Debe, where there are no trees and no fresh breeze, the people are saying they want a highway. The people say they need a highway. The people say Wayne Kublalsingh don’t know what he talking about. The people say, if the price was right and they were getting a nice house in Westmoorings, they would give up their land too.

The people say that they believe what the Government say that this is the price we have to pay for development. Because our idea of development remains concretisation and destruction. Trees are counter-development. Wetlands are counter-development. Community is counter-development. And all the multi-million-dollar improvements made in the past ten years have had lasting impact on the traffic situation, right?

And wider roads are a guarantee of less traffic, right? And less traffic will change the laissez-faire attitude to timeliness that is so much a part of our culture, right? And all the cars we have make our lives easier, right? One wise woman comments: everything has a positive and a negative. One wise woman ponders what will be the lasting impact. One wise woman wonders what the social impact would be if she had to pack her jahaaji bundle and move somewhere else.

Tanty Kamla is concerned about what generations to come will inherit. I wonder if Tanty Kamla considers that in the future, when the oil runs out and we can’t afford to spend hours in traffic on wide roads that we can’t afford to maintain, if our great-great-great-grandchildren will not say, hey, what about a functioning public transport system?

I wonder if our great-great-grandchildren will not judge us harshly for not using some of the oil money to investigate sustainable energy sources that are so readily available here to run a mass transit system on the existing roads?

Meanwhile, on the other end of the highway, on the La Basse end, the people are saying that they want development too. The people are asking why they continue to be ignored. The people are asking why they are treated like a problem to be managed rather than a question that starts a conversation that leads to a lasting solution. They are not going on hunger strikes. They are not prepared to die. Maybe they are prepared to kill.

Education that doesn’t teach us to be good citizens. Tall buildings that are empty of motivated people. Highways leading to nowhere. What a legacy we are leaving to the future. Who is going to do an independent review of that?

Published in the Trinidad Guardian December 8, 2012