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Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Good Friday

This week I was in Bali (to be accurate a hotel in Bali) where Holi, the Hindu festival was celebrated. Known as Phagwah in Trinidad, Holi,  is a celebration of the beginning of spring. It is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colors and saying farewell to winter.

Today in Bangkok, it is another busy, traffic and food-filled day in public spaces. Except that it is also Good Friday. Now I did not grow up in a religious household though my mother is a good and observing Catholic. Not quite poto legliz (pillar of the church) as they would say in Dominica. But observant. This is one of her big regrets, not insisting on a religious upbringing for her children in the face of my father’s other points of communist-influenced view.

I do not feel that I missed out. But then, how would I know? In all the years of episodic church attendance through school outings, weddings, funerals and sundry services for this, that or another day, the religious experiences signified for me moments of community connection. Anthropologically important as solidarity, but not transcendental.

Good friday

So why am I thinking about this today? Because I am missing the culture of Good Friday. In the Caribbean on this day, a silence descends. Reverence is in the air. The usual things cannot be done. We must stay at home, reflect on the sacrifice, the pain, the betrayal, forgiveness as a value and look forward to  redemption. Is there any more plaintive phrase in the Bible than “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?’

My mother who was generally a relaxed parent, insisted on inertia. No, not a day for the beach or anything else. Sad things happened on Good Friday if you went looking for fun.  Drowning was almost inevitable. Jesus Christ was crucified on this day, for crying out loud. After all!

Did she really believe this? I have no idea. But her recourse to the unknowable yet menacing other world was always a trump card in her parenting deck. Anticipated, unbearable mother grief etched on her face– “I just have a bad feeling”.  I suppose it was her way of asserting her own sense of the solemnity of the day. Not a day to be blithe, but a day for restraint.

But then again, you have to love the Trinidadians, injecting the sacred with the absurd in their tradition of the Good Friday bobolee. And even writing it, I want to burst out in laughter. The bobolee is an effigy of Judas Iscariot, like a scarecrow. It is placed in a community space on Good Friday for anyone to beat with sticks and the like. The Good Friday bobolee has come to symbolize anything that is unpopular, usually the politicians. Talk about frustration release.

But that Trinidadian theatre aside, today, I feel disconnected from the Good Friday quiet. And truly, quiet must be the scarcest commodity in Bangkok.

Religion is a shared cultural experience, whether or not you believe in higher, omniscient powers.

I might have to go looking for a church this weekend. Well….

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ImagePassing through the Antigua airport, which has the best little Caribbean music (was just going to write record) shop. But times are hard what with downloads and the owner, holding his head in lament, has been reduced in his words, to selling groceries. The shop is full of Mars bars, deoderant, crix. Yet still you can find music in one dwindling section of the booth. And recently, I came across Klassic Kitchener Volume Three.

I am wondering what’s on 1 and 2 since this one has all the best- Pan in A Minor, Bees Melody, Rain-O-Rama, Jerico etc.

And listening to it now… is there a calypso any better than Pan in A Minor? For that matter is there any piece of Caribbean music that can match it for sheer musicality and exuberance. Probably.  Lots of Zouk/cadence from Tabou Combo or Kassav, or Marley’s Waiting in Vain for one.

But still , Pan in a Minor is right at the top of that super music heap.

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Mammy look a mas

These are the costumes from K2K, a new band, first timers, but what design. So far away from the beads and feathers. Looking at them, you just want to join the ball. The designers have brought haute couture to mas. Long live!

 

 

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In praise of the steups

The New York Times has an article on Bequia in which the reporter recounts the “sucking noise, a sound I recognized as the universal Caribbean utterance for lost patience”. Well, that’s just one interpretation.

The steups (a noun) is all contextual and is expressive of many emotions, yes perhaps most on the problematic or negative end of the emotional register. We do not steups in happiness or delight. But yes, with scorn, in skepticism, frustration, in pity, anger, in resignation, in contempt. And that is the most satisfying steups of all, the one that signals complete disdain, like the steups that comes out involuntarily and powerfully when you look at that man talking about oranges and apples and taxes.

And what about the steups accompanied by the cut eye. Ooh! The province and complete competence of women in the market. “Doh think I ain’t seeing you pass me straight” Steuuuuuups.”

Come to think of it, there are also the steupses that express serious awe, as with “Steups. Boy, that man can make a boss pelau.” Douglas gets that a lot. And I would have liked to have done it today. Steups. (Resignation).

And by the way, there are different ways to spelling this clenched teeth, inhalation, sucking noise. ‘Steups’ seems pretty direct phonetics. But others write Stchuuuup, stupse, chups or stiups. And most recently I found this over the top spelling: chmishsyeursishchris.

For some steuppsing is infra dig. A sign of coarseness and vulgarity. Once in court, when I was lawyering, ‘the other side’ said something that, from the bar table,  moved me unthinkingly to a steups. The judge, bless her begowned being, could not believe her ears. “What did just you do????” Seeing her bosom heaving in disgust, her contempt of court powers on standby, I had to feign confusion,“My Lady????’ For sure, she was on the verge of a steuups herself. “You think you fooling me with that. Steeups!”

Yes, I could have said, “that is not consistent with the authorities”. But all those words when one steupps, its meaning understandable to all, conveys that. Shorthand.

I wonder about the censorship of steuupsing. Why would one deny such a big part of the lexicon, curtail this aspect of  Caribbean articulation. Why?

And maybe it is from the cultural history we can understand our ambivalent relationship with the steuups. It is a transgressive act and something associated with Africanness and therefore also, the working class, the masses. Most of us, pre-independence, in other words.  And so I am thinking that ‘proper’ society rejection of steupsing is connected consciously and sub-consciously with that distancing from Africa. And the sanctioning of the steuups, seen as threatening, must also be connected to social control.

If so, we need to liberate ourselves and steups whenever steupsing is called for. Useful in our shared and widely intelligible toolkit of expression.

You have to give it to academics. Deconstructing the clear and understandable into its incomprehensible and arcane complexity. Here is a definition of ‘kiss teeth’ I came across today in a rather exhaustive and really otherwise gripping paper on the subject:

“Kiss-teeth is a conventionalized set of sounds which vary considerably in form. It is produced by a velaric ingressive airstream involving closure at two points in the mouth: against the velum (using the back of the tongue), and farther forward. The forward closure is the source of most variation. It may be palatal, post-alveolar or labio-dental; it may be a single click, i.e. a stop, or more frequently an affricate; it may be a series of discrete bursts, or a continuous stream, with variations in pitch (usually dropping), lasting as long as several seconds.”

Steuuuuuups.

 

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In downtown Montreal where there are  no tropical fruit trees in sight, this brilliantly simple idea: Mango on a stick.

And here in the Caribbean, mangos go to waste on the ground, we eat fried chicken like it is a vitamin  and we import tamarinds from Thailand.

And it is a siimple matter of a ripe firm mango, peeled, and a stick through the stem area.

If you look closely at Aschille’s, his is sprinkled with paprika!

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One of my Facebook ‘friends’ provocatively stated the following: “enslaved minds in African head-dress; playing dress up is no remedy for enslaved thoughts…” She was referring to the annual Emancipation Day celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago which has developed into an event with a number of dimensions. Organised by the Emancipation Support Committee, the commemoration of Caribbean freedom from legalized racial violence has a number of dimensions, including talks and community outreach. But culminates on 1 August in a celebratory march which ends up at the Emancipation Village.

 The people gather many of them in such beautiful African designs and fabrics. Quite a spectacle of the African aesthetic.

One imagines, that many of the people who attend Emancipation celebrations, also dress in African wear or shirt jacs for much of the year. For others, it is an occasion to wear beautiful clothes, to consciously adopt a style that connects one with ancestors as well as with contemporary African culture. We all want to belong and to know from whence we came and to feel proud about that. And there is the thing, some afro-Caribbean people do not feel proud of their connection to the African continent and are annoyed by the reminder. Others think that this ‘dressing up’ is simple-minded, empty symbolism. And so every year, the idea of Afro-trinis ‘dressing up’ is an occasion for discussion, even though derisory in some quarters. 

Yet still, the larger  point is that in Trinidad, there is a time of the year when people  pause, some people for sure, not all, and remember, really remember  Caribbean history and pay tribute to the ideals of freedom, human dignity, rights and justice for all.

Here in Barbados, someone said to me Happy Crop Over. And I replied, Happy Emancipation. He looked momentarily baffled, caught out, clueless until he recalled….ah yes….

Something feels  amiss with this conflation of Emancipation with wining back, jonesing and wukking up.

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