What Mango Thief and Wine Thief Have in Common: Our Culture, Carnival and Consent

First, I would like to make it clear that I am not equating the theft of mangoes with the violation of women’s bodies. For reasoning sake, I am offering an example relevant to “our culture” (a term which has been circulating more frequently these days). “Our culture” is fluid, not fixed. Sadly, when this word is operationalised, many deploy the term to protect the status quo rather than expand human freedoms and the “freeing up” of our people.

In conversation with some bredrin of mine, who failed to appreciate the significance of a legal framework to address sexual harassment and violence – not anti-wining laws – I gave this example:

Just because you walk into people’s backyards in your community and thief mango casually, or jump a wall and grab 5 Starch and 6 Julie mango, that never belonged to you, you don’t have the right to thief someone else’s mango in another community. More, if someone complains “you thiefin my mango”, calling the person “too sensitive” or misunderstanding your intentions, really do not matter.

If something is given to you, it is not stolen. Likewise, there should be no thiefin’ of any wines in a fete. A wine is not yours to take, it must be given. This is hard to understand when both male and female soca artistes for decades have sung about “thiefin’ a wine”.

From what I have understood about “thiefin’ a wine” is that is more about breaking a taboo, than an entitlement or unlimited access to bodies for thieves. For example, a person in a committed relationship could thief a 10 second wine on someone outside of the relationship. It’s a sly, Anansi-like, Benjai-wine-to-de-side wine that is meant to be harmless and playful.

On a serious note, the assertion of wine thiefin’ by men does more to deny women’s agency and take away men’s empathy and understanding. Empathy and understanding are critical for solidarity. This is very important in today’s world of heightened awareness of sexual harassment and violence, given the popularity of the #LifeInLeggings and #MeToo campaigns.

Some women, of course, will proclaim that they wine of everyone and anyone can be their target. Yes famalay, that is about your availability and open consent, which does not speak to other women’s desires. The truth is that there is no consent declaration form before a fete. And women and men in parties are not service providers of enjoyment. For each person you approach, you need to gain their consent to dance with them, each time.

I know this appears as much to do about nothing. But nah, it ain’t so. This men’s backlash responses to the recent publication of the “wining laws” (smh) have made this into a national debate. This is a statement the police have communicated to the public in previous years. Like years before, for 2018, it was a necessary reminder to raise awareness in the context of the alarming rates of gender-based violence. At the core of the bacchanal and social media noise is men’s struggle for ideological power – their right to a particular male fantasy in the national imagination. Think of Blaxx’s “No Get Away” (2013) which serves as a cautionary tale, “No woman in de band!”. Or, Machel Montano’s “Vibes Cyah Done” (2012) and the promise of “20 man, 100 woman, oh gosh, de vibes cyah done, yea”. The idea that men cannot have a “free for all” in a party and challenging their fantasy of access to women are met with great resistance. Too many constructions of carnival, for the wrong reasons, are premised on male desire and fantasy.

Fellas, big man ting, we need to learn how to take a brace. A 3.5 brace per fete average is a good performance in your lifetime. A brace is not a disrespect, it’s a brace. Ease up.

And yes, some women have over done it and throw themselves recklessly at men. In a fete, a woman jumped on me and buss my lip. Crazy. And I was turning her down all the time. Under the influence of alcohol, she just went all out. That means for men, we need to create an environment for a man to feel comfortable to decline unwanted advances by women without others judging him as “less of a man” or “against de culture”. At the same time, we should never encourage violent responses to women when they sexually harass us.

Also, one of the reasons I braced the woman was because she was not Wendy Fitzwilliam. And I am yet to attend a party with 10 Rosario Dawsons throwing themselves all over me. Women are also aware that men who insist that a wine is harmless and you should just “free up yourself”, are usually not an Idris Elba or Hrithik Roshan giving you some sexy eyes and smooth talk. Celebrity or not, no one has the right to your body. The people you brace are generally people you are NOT INTERESTED in dancing with.

“Our culture” could be one of consent. Imagine if fete promoters had gender-conscious security officers present who could make appropriate interventions. What kind of carnival can we market to the world that works laboriously to defend human rights and gender equality? And men, imagine if we didn’t have to defend our female friends from other violent men who don’t take “No” for an answer. That is the carnival I want to jump up, pay meh money and free up mehself in. A carnival sweet like a July Julie mango.

The wine belongs to the winer – not Trinidad and Tobago, not carnival, not our culture, not a man.

Further Reading:

Quin, Beth A. 2010. “Sexual Harassment and Masculinity: The Power and Meaning of “Girl Watching”. In Men’s Lives, edited by Michael S. Kimmel and Michael A. Messner, 208-220. USA: Allyn & Bacon.

No Caribs, No Awaraks: Farewell Dr. John Campbell

The repetition of history is pointless if it is taught as something ‘dead’, overly generalised and irrelevant to understanding our current social reality and the way we envision the future of our Caribbean nations. But Dr. John Campbell ensured that history was not a sleeping class or a pointless subject area. The first time I saw him, he proclaimed, “No Caribs, No Arawaks”, exploding the myth of cannibalism and essentially peaceful social organisations of indigenous people. Indeed, for people in Trinidad and Tobago, Carib is a brand of beer and Arawak produces chicken. For Campbell, myths had no place in the minds of his students and more broadly, they undermined the serious and purposeful development of a Caribbean Civilisation. Then we learnt about Tainos and Kalinagos.

While colonising powers remain in the form of global economic and cultural hegemony, Campbell was determined to teach that it was our duty to be willing, and not lazy, to engineer a Caribbean civilisation relevant to the needs, aspirations and history of Caribbean people. Imagine walking into a class with hundreds of students, most in their first year, most upset that that they are “forced” to learn Caribbean history as a foundation course. Then a young lecturer with fluorescent eyes that became the subject of intense debate (real or nah?), entered the lecture room like a performer on stage. Jokes, joke after joke. He was nothing short of a comedian disguising himself as a history lecturer. For him, humour was the medium through which he explained historical content. Indeed, this was necessary in the past ten years, to a growing campus population of seventeen, eighteen and nineteen year olds who matriculated at The UWI but entered with as much preparedness as a Form 7 instead of a post-secondary school phase.

Dr. Campbell passed away on January 11, 2018. For those who saw him in recent years, they would have seen the decline in his bodily health. Also, they would have seen his crippling body struggle to cross long hallways, across rooms and even up flights of stairs. This determination he exhibited in his physical struggles were the same as he put out for his students in the classroom. In the weeks to come, I am sure faculty and fellow historians will provide an overview of the significance of his scholarly contributions.

Interestingly, digital history mattered to Campbell. He saw it as giving a “…much needed boost to Caribbean historical representation” (Campbell 2012, 94). While he was aware of its limitations and challenges, he harnessed the potential of new technologies in the classroom – CD Rom, videos and eventually advancing the university-wide delivery of the foundation course Caribbean Civilisation as part of the ONE UWI initiative. It is no surprise therefore that student generated book reviews are what come up first and dominate the search in Google based on his publication Beyond Massa: Sugar Management in the British Caribbean, 1770-1834 (2012), once a class assignment.

Many students fresh out of 6th form school detested Caribbean Studies. As someone invested in that area, I know the struggle we’re going up against. Students with ambitions to be medical scientists and engineers are usually last on the sign-up sheet for anything that has to do with history. This has less to do with appreciating the importance of history and more to do with the failure of Caribbean studies teachers at the secondary school level. Dr. Campbell invited hundreds into his fold and at the end of the semester, most were believers in a Caribbean Civilisation.

Most lecturers at The UWI are not the best at teaching, but this is not a UWI problem, this holds true for universities globally. Just because you are trained in a discipline, it does not mean that you’re automatically gifted at delivering knowledge within it. Sadly, many lecturers think they are good…but if you’ve sat in a Caribbean Civ. lecture with Dr. Campbell, dey not in his class!

As we bid farewell to the good Dr., I ask that you remember him, the discipline which he taught, the Faculty of Humanities and Education, the significance of history, and the demand we must make of all educators and political leaders – history matters. And where we come from matters. In the words of Rex Nettleford:

“It is fashionable nowadays to tell ourselves that history does not matter, that we must not dwell on slavery since it is gone, that the conquest of the future with its computers and high technology is far more important than the human dimensions of contemporary social and economic drift. But I hope those who want to conquer that technology know how to count from one to ten. Knowledge of the fundamentals is critical in human progress. Knowledge of where we are coming from is crucial to plans for the future. And where we are coming from has to do with the mass of the population who are the real people in this land.” (Nettleford 1986, 2)

 

 

 

Why Naparima Girls Are Closest To Heaven

For Fariah Hyatali 

This is not a school on a hill, it is a school built within one. On my arrival I was made small against the giant rise of classroom and administrative buildings. The ninety-year old tamarind tree is the legacy of the yard. Currently, the Sarah Morton dormitory of the ancestral cohort of girls is under reconstruction; unlike the rotting wood that collapses the century-old floor, history stretches longer ahead. The Principal’s residence is an uncompromising house, close enough to the students to disseminate discipline, far enough from the city to enjoy the exclusive privilege of natural air-condition’s San Fernando breeze.

I have met Naparima girls in my teenage years before but I took for granted their origin story. I had not seen the straight lines of symmetry as they assemble themselves for morning prayer, their upright backs when they sit on the ground in coordinates of friends, the measure between desk, student, teacher and supreme formality. Most Caribbean children will never attend an institution entirely dedicated to oneness with nature and the development of the mind. Founded in 1912, Naparima Girls High School is built for the destiny of women. It is as if the design of the school is a declaration that “God is a Trini, God is a Woman and her children go to school here!”

There will come a time when the maternal spirits will reckon that a policy for studying science is as much an investment in the future as a policy to study the humanities. I can hear the sounds of Mrs. Roberts perfectionist pan theatre rising up to claim its space through the roofs of the physics, biology and chemistry labs. Already, many of these girls are waking up to the harsh reality that their campus in the clouds is not Trinidad, not Tobago, not most of the Caribbean. The rest of the world reminds them that they are isolated and far apart. These girls may be subject to envy and even ridicule but they learn to humble themselves to bear some of the pain of social inequality and guide the rest of us to the sky so that all dreams take flight.

When these girls return to their communities or mingle with the ‘rest’ of their peers in other uniforms, they are accused of walking with their noses high. They are criticised for being a soulless machine of scholarships and written off as being elitist. All who point fingers have never seen their hard work, dedication and come to terms with the peace made real by the school’s design. But what can other children and teenagers make of those who walk among the clouds at break and lunch time? Perhaps the girls do not look down on anyone else in their city, maybe the height of the Sky Walk and altitude from the highest floor is just a point of view.

A point of view from heaven every child deserves to share.

Poetic Injustice: A Marxist Critique of Full Extreme

In 2008/9, SALISES hosted “Is Calypso Dying?” forum at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus. Panelists included Singing Francine, Elizabeth Montano, Brother Resistance and Dr. Louis Regis. Dr. Regis’ contributions stimulated the most responses in his assertion that soca music did not explicitly express a political consciousness as calypso music had. Citing few and more prominent examples such as Bunji Garlin, Dr. Regis angered the audience in what appeared to be his writing off of soca music. To this day, he remembers the heated environment he helped create at that panel discussion. I disagreed with him then and now. His analysis was not ‘wrong’; an interpretation of soca through the literary canon of calypso blinds anyone from a number of its political statements. In 2017, ‘Busss Head’, ‘Take It Down’, ‘Far From Finished’ and others highlight the capacity of artistes to weigh in to current social and political mattes in their own way. In this vein, ‘Full Extreme’ by the Ultimate Rejects shows that soca music is a critical site of ideological contestation and circulation that describe our society. From the dispossession of youth and alienation of the majority population, ‘Full Extreme’ is an escapist call in Carnival that reflects our contemporary mood of political disconnection and nihilism.

 

The story of the song is simple: the Ultimate Rejects are clearing the way to celebrate carnival with high spirits as a new force in Trinidad and Tobago. The possibility of social decay resembling looting that followed the 1990 coup d’etat (“the city could un down”/”de building could fall down”) and economic failure (“treasury could bun down”/”economy could fall down”) are not enough to stop the revelry (“Recession /Doh bother we /Promote a fete/And you will see/And we go party/Til’ the full extreme/And light it up/With kerosene”).

A simple overview of the song appreciates the artistic description of the pitfalls of a “Carnival mentality” (popularized by Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore but also alluded to by the late Dr. Eric Williams). The Carnival mentality refers to an undisciplined and unproductive work ethic that condemns the economy to backwardness. It is also used to speak to the inevitability of failure for political resistances which struggle to sustain themselves due to this mentality of Trinbagonians.

 

Full Extreme is a part of a tradition that weighs the seriousness of social problems and the lure of entertainment in Carnival. Brother Valentino’s ‘Dis Place Nice’ stands as a classic among all:
“Three quarter of a million of people

cannot get up and do something bout de struggle

But they plan for the next holiday

To fete their lives away

And forgettin’ that they own the soil

Of which their fore-parents toiled…

For the people who form the constitution laws

For the oppressors and foreign investors…”

 

For Valentino, however, satire is not the highest form of creativity. Unlike the Ultimate Rejects, Valentino marks the undercurrent of discontent and resistance:

“But ah hear some people talkin’ bout a revolution day, change is on the way”

Although listeners and fete-goers know MX Prime (Maximus Dan) and the Ultimate Rejects are “conscious” soca artistes who produce lyrical content and positive messaging in their songs, this reputation makes us look past how ‘Full Extreme’ negates economic decline with entertainment, cause for concern with apathy, and dispossession with distance and escape. Therefore, ‘Full Extreme’ is not interested in working class and/or popular liberation (or offering us a truth about it), instead, it promotes a drift from political action. In a society where the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, the refrain “we jammin’ still” serves as a stage command to accept the status quo. In our culture, we must encourage our people to jam but we must also communicate a politics that cultivates desire through the idea of solidarity, against alienation and individualism, and a movement in carnival that reconstitutes current economic and social relations.
Perhaps it is only MX Prime, once Maximus Dan who can deliver this message with such success. He represents merit and incorruptibility as he represents authority and diversion. This song is a form of poetic injustice; it stands in the face of a shrinking economy by 4.5%, austerity programme cuts, a mountain of homicides and domestic violence cases and offers nihilism as a response: The choice to celebrate and ignore problems while recognising that the persistence of problems does not provide us with an occasion to celebrate. This song fits well with the elitist shift in carnival to more exclusive and isolated all-inclusive experiences separated from the wider context of political and social life. The song is a depoliticised complaint about the economic recession and alienation.

 

The Ultimate Rejects’ ‘Full Extreme’ has proven the critics of soca wrong – the music has a message! Asking people to listen and look out for bourgeois ideology is not only a difficult task, it’s a bit awkward. As a people, our job is to deconstruct the message and determine its utility as a way of thinking. I draw great pleasure from seeing the return of Maximus Dan with the visibility and respect he commanded in the early 2000s. I do think however, that the politics of this song also represents his physical and stage transformation to MX Prime. In ‘Full Extreme’, the Ultimate Rejects ultimately defend, not defect from the status quo and the current economic order that maligns so many young people who listen, love and jammin’ still to the song.

JulianspromosTV|2017. Ultimate Rejects – Full Extreme “2017 Soca” (Trinidad), 3:52, Published December 6, 2016. Accessed February 26, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd8_zvKhtN8

Performed by: Ultimate Rejects
Written by: Ultimate Rejects

So make way for the U
make way for R

Tell them I feeling good

Like a new machine

Like morning dew

Fresh on de scene

And we go party

To the full extreme

And light it up

With gasoline

 

O Lord, the city could bun down

We jammin’ still

We jammin’ still

De building could fall down

We jammin’ still

We jammin’ still

 

Just hold them and wuk dem
Hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

 

Just hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

No, we don’t business, woi

No, we don’t business

We get on like we don’t business

We get on like we don’t business

Free up like yuh doh business

Free up like yuh doh business, woi

No, we don’t business, woi

No, we don’t business

Recession

Doh bother we

Promote a fete

And you will see

And we go party

Til’ the full extreme

And light it up

With kerosene

 

The treasury could bun down

We jammin’ still

We jammin’ still

 

Economy could fall down

We jammin’ still

We jammin’!

 

Just hold them and wuk dem
Hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

 

Just hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

No, we don’t business, woi

No, we don’t business

We get on like we don’t business

We get on like we don’t business

Free up like yuh doh business

Free up like yuh doh business, woi

No, we don’t business, woi

No, we don’t business
No, we don’t business

(we don’t business)

 

No, we don’t business

(we don’t business)

 

No, we don’t business

(we don’t business)

 

No, we don’t business

(we don’t business)

 

No, we don’t business

(we don’t business)

 

No, we don’t business

(we don’t business)

 

So make way for the U
make way for R
Make way for the U

Make way for the R

So make way

Make way

 

the city could bun down

We jammin’ still

We jammin’ still

De building could fall down

We jammin’ still

We jammin’ still

 

Just hold them and wuk dem
Hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

 

Just hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

Hold them and wuk dem

No, we don’t business, woi

No, we don’t business

We get on like we don’t business

We get on like we don’t business

Free up like yuh doh business

Free up like yuh doh business, woi

No, we don’t business, woi

No, we don’t business

 

Blog Reference:
Santan, Amilcar. 2017. “Poetic Injustice: A Marxist Critique of Full Extreme.” Accessed [Insert Date Accessed]. http://amilcarsanatan.com/marxist-critique-full-extreme/

Cover Picture:
Trini Jungle Juice. Accessed February 27, 2017.
http://www.trinijunglejuice.com/tjjnews/content_images/1/2017/we_jammin_still.jpg