50th Anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago Independence Celebrated in East Orange, NJ

On August 31, 2012, the Sixth Annual Flag Raising ceremony was held in the city of East Orange, New Jersey to commemorate Trinidad and Tobago’s National Independence.


2012 marked the 50th anniversary of Independence for the twin-island Caribbean state and this gave additional significance to this year’s flag raising.

The event was led by Gail Bell-Bonnette, who has been at the forefront of Trinidad and Caribbean cultural activities in the Oranges. Trinidad and Tobago nationals from East Orange and surrounding cities such as Orange, Irvington, and Newark gathered in their hundreds to pay homage to the nation of their birth on the attainment of this jubilee milestone, having overcome slavery and colonialism.

The Mayor of the City of East Orange, Mr. Robert Bowser, brought greetings to the festivities on behalf of himself and the City Council. He urged Trinidad and Tobagonians and all Caribbean nationals resident in the city to participate fully in the politics and general life of the city and to value education, which ensures the foundation for the protection of the freedom and liberties gained. The organizing committee, in conjunction with the New Jersey Carnival Committee, also presented awards to community activists and leaders for their contribution, dedication, and hard work towards the well-being of the Trinidadian community. Many of them had assisted in the East Orange Carnival, which was held for 21 years under the leadership of Gail Bell-Bonnette. In 2012, these faithful are making efforts to successfully re-institute the Carnival in the Oranges, New Jersey.

The crowd, which came out to witness and support the raising of the Trinidad and Tobago flag, was treated to the music of the Oasis Youth Steelband, a rhythm section, and DJ.

African drums popular in TT

The following article was written by Seeta Persad and published in Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday, Wednesday, August 1 2012.

The Kwadum, Apentemma, Aburukuwa I, Aburukuwa II drums. …

It is common to hear African drumming at formal functions and other shows in Trinidad and Tobago.

Some of the drums that were brought to the islands from Africa include the Aburukuwa which is an open drum of the Akan people and the Asante people of Ghana. It is bottle shaped and its skin is held on by pegs. It is usually played with curved sticks. Its sound resembles the song of a bird of the same name. The Aburukuwa is the smallest of the three drums used by the Asante people during rituals and ceremonies. The Aburukuwa and its sister drums, the Kwadum and the Apentemma, were typically covered by red and black cloth to represent death and blood. Although the drums have become associated with funerals and ancestor worship, they were also used during wartime.

Carimbo is a tall African drum made of a hollow trunk of wood, thinned by fire, and covered with a deerskin. It is about 1m tall and 30cm wide. There is also the Carimbo dance which remains a loose and very sensual dance which involved only side to side movements and many spins and hip movements by the female dancer, who typically wore a rounded skirt. The music was mainly to the beat of Carimbó drums. In this dance, a woman would throw her handkerchief on the floor and her male partner would attempt to retrieve it using solely his mouth. Over time, the dance changed, as did the music itself. It was influenced by the Caribbean (for example, Zouk, kompa, and Merengue styles) and French/Spanish dance styles of the Caribbean.

Research shows that the Sakara drum is one of the four major families of Yoruba drums of Nigeria. The other families are the Dundun/Gangan or talking drum, the Batá drum and the Gbedu drum. Each family includes drums of different sizes, with the mother drum (iya ilu) playing the lead role and other drums playing in support. Interestingly the Sakara is a shallow drum with a circular body made with baked clay. The clay shell is perhaps ten inches in diameter and one and a half inches deep, sloping inward funnel-wise towards the back. The skin is secured to the shell with twine and tuned using pegs spaced around its body. The men use goat skin to make the heads of these drums. The fingers of one hand change the tone of the drum, while the drummer hits the face of the drum with a stick. When several sakara drums are played together, the “iya ilu” is the main voice, and dictates the pace and rhythmic style. The fixed pitch omele ako and omele abo drums talk rhythmically, and the smaller and higher-toned omele “chord” drum adds flavour by playing varied pitches.

The Yorubu have traditionally used Sakara drums for a variety of purposes. They are played during Yoruba wedding ceremonies. A king could use them to summon people to court. They were also used to announce visitors to the king, to broadcast messages, and to speak prayers and to play “orikis.”

Kpanlogo drums are a part of the membranophone family of musical instruments; a shell covered by a drumhead made of one of many products, usually rawhide. The drum has a tapered body carved from a single piece of wood that is similar in shape to a conga. The drumhead is typically made from goat, antelope, or cow skin that is stretched over one end of the drum and is tightened through the use of six wooden pegs. The skin can be tightened by tapping the pegs into the drum. Kpanlogo may be played with sticks, bare hands, or a combination of the two. Kpanlogo are traditionally played by an ensemble of drummers, often in sets of six kpanlogo drums of varied size. Djembe, dunun, and cowbell usually accompany the kpanlogo.

For the original article: African Drums popular in TT

Caribbean Maroons Hope Tourism Can Save Culture

The following Bloomberg News Business Week report, written by David Mc Fadden, was republished by Repeating Islands.

In a backwoods town along a river cutting between green mountains, quick-footed men and women spin and stomp to the beat of drums. One dancer waving a knife is wrapped head-to-foot in leafy branches, his flashing eyes barely visible through the camouflage.

This traditional dance re-enacts the Jamaican Maroons’ specialty: the ambush. It was once a secret ritual of the fierce bands of escaped slaves who won freedom by launching raids on planters’ estates and repelling invasions of their forest havens with a mastery of guerrilla warfare.

But on this day, descendants of those 18th century fugitives are performing for tourists, academics, filmmakers and other curious outsiders in a fenced “Asafu” dancing yard in Charles Town, a once-moribund Maroon settlement in eastern Jamaica that seemed destined to lose its traditions until revivalists gradually brought it back.

Maroons in the Caribbean are increasingly showcasing their unique culture for visitors in hopes that heritage tourism will guarantee jobs for the young generation and preserve what remains of their centuries-old practices in mostly remote settlements. The basic idea has been tried around the world, from the Gusii people of Kenya to the artisans of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

“If we don’t follow in the footsteps of our foreparents we will find ourselves on the heap of history,” said Wallace Sterling, the “colonel” of the Windward Maroon community of Moore Town. It is one of Jamaica’s four semi-autonomous Maroon tracts, each governed by an elected colonel, a title bestowed on Maroon leaders since their battles with the British army, and a council appointed by the leader.

Trying to counter the endless tide of migration and assimilation, long secretive Maroons are more and more going public with the old ways — singing sacred songs, drumming, making herbal medicine, talking to ancestral spirits, woodcarving, hunting and “jerking” wild pigs. Maroons are credited with inventing Jamaica’s “jerk” style of cooking, in which aromatic spices are rubbed or stuffed into meat before it is roasted on an open fire.

The turn to small-scale tourism for income can safeguard the Maroons’ future and their cultural identity, leaders say. They say it has boosted pride among younger Maroons and encouraged some to stay in their rural hometowns. Other money-making opportunities are scarce in the communities of modest cement-block homes and tiny shops selling cold drinks and snacks.

“For a long time, it’s been very difficult to keep the young people because they tend to leave for the cities to seek work. But now we can train tour guides and our people can sell their crafts, their banana and coconuts,” said Fearon Williams, the colonel of Accompong. An annual Jan. 6 celebration draws thousands of visitors to the isolated town, which sits among rocky cliffs and limestone towers in northwestern Jamaica. “Tourism is making us stronger.”

A tour bus now comes weekly to Charles Town, a village whose colonel, Frank Lumsden, worked as a commodities trader in Chicago before returning to Jamaica in the late 1990s to focus on his ancestral roots.

There are also Maroons in Suriname, on the South American mainland, where escaped slaves over the centuries built their own African-centered societies in sparsely populated Amazonian forests. Suriname’s Maroons also say a broadening emphasis on ecotourism is helping fight cultural disintegration.

“The world is turning into one large village, so it makes no sense for Maroon villages to keep out tourists. Tourists and the money they bring stimulate people in the Maroon communities to produce the products that represent their culture,” said Ronny Asabina, a Maroon who serves in Suriname’s legislature.

But most acknowledge the obstacles facing Maroons, who are estimated to number in the thousands in Jamaica and the tens of thousands in Suriname. The passing along of traditions and customs from one generation to the next has long been weakened by the lures and necessities of modern life.


In Scott’s Hall, a subsistence farming community in eastern Jamaica, longtime colonel Noel Prehay said he hopes tourism can provide a place for many of his townspeople to relearn their traditions.

Prehay said devotion to clandestine spiritual rituals is strong among the town’s ever-dwindling number of elderly residents, as is their knowledge of the Maroon’s Kromanti language, which is closely related to the Twi spoken in parts of the West African nation of Ghana.

“If a person is mad or if they are sick, we can make a healing dance. Our Obeah is a good Obeah,” Prehay said, referring to an Afro-Caribbean religion that involves channeling spiritual forces and is feared by some in Jamaica’s countryside, where superstitions about shamanism and the occult run deep.

But visitors are very rare in his poor town along a dusty, rutted road about a 45-minute drive from Jamaica’s capital, Kingston. Unlike the other three Maroon communities in Jamaica, Scott’s Hall has no museum, dancing grounds or other attractions aimed at tourists.

So Prehay worries that most young Maroons will still continue to leave.

“I think the young people are willing and ready to accept the teaching of the culture. But the continual migration to Kingston, to London, to Canada is difficult,” the 70-year-old Prehay said, pointing to surrounding slopes that were farms when he was a young man but are now overgrown with bamboo.

Settlements of escaped slaves emerged in many places in the Western Hemisphere, including the U.S., but the Maroons’ biggest success came in Jamaica, where they helped the British expel the Spanish and then turned on the new rulers, wreaking havoc across an island that was then one of the world’s largest sugar producers.

The Maroons’ name derives from the Spanish word “cimarron,” which means “untamed” or “the wild ones.” Descendants of the warrior Ashanti and Fante tribes of West Africa, the Maroons became adept at surviving in tangled forests in the mountains.

Jamaica’s Maroons avoided open warfare, relying on their knowledge of the terrain, camouflaging themselves with leaves and communicating with the abeng, a cow horn whose call carries for miles.

After nearly a century of fighting, the British finally granted the Maroons formal freedom in a 1739 treaty signed in a cave a few miles outside Accompong by legendary Maroon leader Cudjoe and British army Col. John Guthrie.

But in return for their autonomy, the Maroons agreed to help the British hunt down future runaway slaves. That arrangement may be at the root of a sense of isolation some Maroons felt from other Jamaicans and long kept them living apart. Maroon separatism began to fade with the ebbing of colonialism in Jamaica, which became independent in 1962.

Not all Maroons are confident that relying on tourism can successfully bring back cultural traditions.

“It will take a giant effort if you can find the will. I am not sure that the will is there,” said C.L.G. Harris, a highly respected 95-year-old who was Moore Town’s colonel for decades and worked hard to modernize the community — sometimes, he says, at the expense of traditional religious practices.

Anthropologist Kenneth Bilby, whose book “True-Born Maroons” is based on years of research, much of it conducted while living in Moore Town in the 1970s, said it remains to be seen whether heritage tourism can preserve indigenous communities.

“It’s really quite a complex question whether or not communities can try to develop aspects of their culture and commodify them without also suffering certain losses or negative consequences,” Bilby said from his home in Colorado. Some experts fear that cultural tourism can introduce harmful influences or can make communities into parodies of themselves.

Still, the message of cultural identity is reaching some young Maroons.

“What I’ve learned is that without the culture, you’re nothing,” said Rodney Rose, Charles Town’s 29-year-old abeng blower and museum treasurer who until recently had to travel outside the village for employment. “And while we young Maroons are learning, people from overseas can also learn.”

For the original report: Caribbean Maroons

See also: Caribbean Maroons Hope Tourism Can Save Culture « Repeating Islands.

Spirited tribute at the water’s edge

The following article, written by Donna Lamb, was published in Caribbean Life News, June 13, 2012.

Ceremony at water’s edge.
Photo by Donna Lamb

Sad and celebratory. Searing and uplifting. How can these words possibly go together? Last Sat., they could be experienced as one at the Annual Tribute to Our Ancestors of the Middle Passage, held each year on the Coney Island boardwalk in Brooklyn to honor the tens of millions of Africans who, after being kidnapped from their homelands, died during the voyage across the Atlantic – the Middle Passage – their bodies plunged into the ocean.

Why Coney Island? Because although that name is now synonymous with amusement park rides and games, Coney Island was once the site where slave ships pulled into harbor to sell their human cargo on the auction block.

Some of these human beings, most of them children, became the property of the City of New York (previously New Amsterdam) itself. As examination of their bones in the African Burial Ground show, they were literally worked to death building this city. Many others were “sold down the river” – shipped to the South where they suffered some of the worst cruelty known to man as their unpaid labor was exploited to create the wealth that built this nation. These were crimes against humanity for which the United States still owes reparations.

Ancestral Orchestra leads way to Atlantic Ocean.
Photo by Donna Lamb

This year’s tribute began with a libation ceremony performed by Mdut SeshrAnkh and Mut Nfrt Ka Raet. Following it was a drum invocation led by Guyanese Master Drummer Menes de Griot and Shanto New Generation, the Congo Square Drummers, joined by many others in the Ancestral Orchestra. During this invocation, carried out in all four directions, Grandmaster Kham chanted sacred recognition of the ancestors.

This Youtube video features some highlights of the 2011 Tribute to the Ancestors.

For the full original report: Spirited tribute at the water’s edge • Caribbean Life.