Friday, May 15, 2009

a begining

Guinea John[1] went to the East Coast of Trinidad and climbed up a cliff in Manzanilla. He put 2 corn cobs under his arms and flew back to Africa; leaving behind his children and grandchildren to fend for themselves. It wasn’t that   Guinea John did not care about his descendents, but he knew that they had eaten too much salt on the island; and that they were too heavy to fly back to Africa. So rather than burden them with the wisdom of flight and levitation that they could never use, he took it back with him to Africa, leaving them now bound to Trinidad. Two hundred years ago Gang Gang Sarah tried to fly home too. She was a witch who was blown from her home in Africa to Trinidad. She had a long life in Trinidad where she became known for her kindness to the villagers. When her husband died, she climbed to the top of the tallest silk cotton tree[2] in Tobago to try to fly back to Africa.  Gang Gang Sarah fell to her death when she jumped from the branches – too heavy with salt to fly home. So now Totoben and Maisie[3] have become Trinidadian and their fractured history, a part of their reconstructed reality.

[1] From the novel Salt by Earl Lovelace, pg 3.

[2] The silk cotton tree is known locally as a tree in which spirits reside. It is supposedly difficult to find someone who will cut one down. This particular tree, relevant in this myth still stands today.

[3] Totoben and Maisie; main personas in the publication Caribana: African Roots and Continuities, by Nourbese Philips

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I’m struggling to begin writing my individual stories. I know that the way in which I articulate these stories will be crucial in representing where each persona stands in the world. For example, for the Colonial narrative, it seems natural to me that it is simply a historical account; perhaps written as so many accounts are from that time, as letters between governors and officers; speaking from a cool, Christian, separated experience of the New World. The African story however is much more problematic. The spirit of Carnival in Trinidad itself needs to come through. Also, given the power of oral tradition within Yoruban society, it seems most reasonable to me that that story is articulated through personas and experiences. It’s very important though that that story is very thorough and remains focused on forming a picture of Trinidad now. The Pagan story will probably be the most difficult. I’ve narrowed down the scope of that experience to look at the evolution of Dionysus into Bacchus and into Pan. Through looking at the celebrations that occur in honour of this character, I hope to create an understanding of the ancient beginnings of celebration that through the rise of Christianity becomes crystallised into Carnival. 

In the end the entire point of this chapter is to give the reader a significant insight into the simultaneous stories that co-exist and form Trinidad's Carnival. But it’s extremely difficult to keep each voice steady in my head. I confuse myself before I even begin to write! I really need to start writing though – so my next post will be part of my 1st story.

Someone please hold me to that! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


the doctrine that all natural objects and the universe itself have souls; "animism is common among primitive peoples" 

Belief that a spirit or force resides in every animate and inanimate object, every dream and idea, giving individuality to each. The related Polynesian concept of mana holds that the spirit in all things is responsible for good and evil.

The belief, often found in pre-Christian religions, that a spiritual force is in all living creatures, and even in inanimate objects such as rocks ...

the idea that all things in the universe are invested with a life force, soul or mind inherently. It is an important constituent of primitive religions. It appears commonly in occult and spiritism circles (Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions, and the Occult, p. 22).

Animism is the backbone of Yoruba worship. It's the central guiding concept that underscores this world view. Coincidentally, it is similar in notion to the Roman Pagan religious practices. This coincidence Is particularaly relevant. looking at the parallel stories that have birthed Carnival in different times and places. 

The power of the mask in African society, relating to this idea of Animism, is not merely a practice of representation, or acting as  is practised in European theatre. The mask in African religious rituals is part of invocation. There actually is not an equivalent word to mask in different African religions. The Bakwebe say buoobkuk which means 'face of the forest spirit'. The Igbo say isi mmuo, which means 'head spirit'. Lega say lukuwak ongo which means 'death gathers in'. The idea of mask wearing in Yoruba therefore comes from a tradition of masquerade that is based on the invocation of spirits, through ritualistic masquerade. There is also the belief in creating spirits, as a kind of hybrid entity that is born from the mask wearer and the spirit that comes into the mask. The person wearing the mask then is no longer himself. It is through possession that a different entity is created. 

Standing on the streets of Port-of-Spain therefore on Carnival Monday morning, you are faced with a different experience of time and space. The transience of the ritual is itself critical. Carnival, in terms of myth therefore emodies the conjunction of 4 different stories of time and perspective. 

-the african
-the indian
-the colonial
-the pagan

Tracing these stories will be my first attempt at a chapter. I'm starting with Africa. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Painting

This is the new painting in my life. It's actually a couple of weeks old now. I haven't titled it as yet. 

2' x 2' in size
acrylic on canvas

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Collective Joy

I'm reading a book by Barbara Ehrenreich called 'Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy'

Isn't that a lovely title? Doesn't it make you feel great reading it? Tumbling it over in your mind - don't the words and ideas just make you smile? 

It makes me smile. But what's more, she delves into the nature of communal festivals, especially what she calls ecstatic rituals. These are rituals that involve the kinds of things I've been talking about in my own study of Carnival. It speaks about trance and dancing, especially in the frenzy of large groups. Her study looks at different types of these rituals all over the world. I am only a quarter way through the book so far, but it's made me really hopeful, seeing someone speak about these things in a realistic way, without satire or judgement. 

I've wondered for a long time where the intellectual bias began against things like sex, dancing and boisterous outbreaks of expression. I mean what's really wrong with these things? Why do people constantly feel the need to crystallise and re-crystallise some illusion of who or what they are through archaic intellectual roles and anachronistic impressions of what people fundamentally are? Is it a method of control? Is it power? Or elitism? Is it the backlash of conservative Christianity? Or have we become too afraid as people to express our animalistic selves through anything more than war? 

In any event, it's a great book. I'm really enjoying it and it's helping me to form my ideas in a more lucid way.