“Rituals of Power and Rebellion”

The following article appears in Repeating Islands, Feb. 10, 2013.

Hollis Liverpool just released his book, Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962), at the John S Donaldson, UTT?Port-of-Spain Campus, last Wednesday, as Michelle Loubon reports in this article for The Guardian.

Strumming his guitar, veteran calypsonian/University of T&T professor Hollis Liverpool sang snatches of his comrade Slinger Francisco’s classic Congo Man. The setting was a canefield. It was captured in black and white film during a presentation by retired Alaskan judge and honorary distinguished fellow Ray Funk at the launch of Liverpool’s Rituals of Power and Rebellion The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962). It took place at John S Donaldson, UTT Port-of-Spain Campus, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday.

A blurb in the UTT pamphlet said Liverpool had successfully managed to put into context the political, economic and cultural forces which inadvertently come together to create Carnival. It also noted that what appeared to be simply a musical bacchanal was in fact the struggle of the oppressed people to maintain their cultural identity in a land of foreign domination and class struggle. During the author’s oral abstract, Liverpool lamented he had to go to Michigan, USA, to do his PhD, owing to the paucity of research material on Carnival locally.

Asked about his magnum opus, Liverpool said, “Besides historical sources I used oral sources. I depended on calypsonians, masmen, writers, masqueraders and boismen. The people whom I interviewed the majority have gone to the great beyond.” Zeroing on the themes of Rituals and Rebellion, Liverpool added, “To a large extent many of the songs, events and masquerades in Carnival are rituals of rebellion. The kalinda and calypso are rituals. We show our resistance at Dimanche Gras. It is a ritual of rebellion. Even the steelband. The Chinese man who was beating pan to attract people to his church. It was the first time we saw pan being played. It is in the newspapers. J’Ouvert represents the real African traditions of the Carnival. It is what Dr Kim Johnson (senior research fellow) called the African impulse. The soucouyant, La Diablesse and cow horns, bats and devils are in J’Ouvert.”

Asked if he felt there was an improvement in the corpus of Carnival literature, Liverpool said, “I don’t know. But the book is going to be an addition to the archives. The book captures all the documentation and historical development of Carnival over time. “It is intended to impart knowledge on the complex nature of Carnival and the different people who have contributed to its development. To a large extent the Carnival defines our personality and our cultural identity.”

Tributes to Liverpool

While preparing to vie for the C2k13 calypso monarch crown Liverpool heard superlatives about his scholarship. His songs were Prodigal Son and Virginia’s Alzheimer. In the background, traditional mas characters like a moko jumbie and midnight robber milled around. Playing Midnight Robber was Damien Whiskey, a student in Liverpool’s MA in Carnival Arts class. Liverpool had pioneered it. Apart from being an academic, Liverpool has clinched the coveted crown eight times with gems like The Bandit Factory and The Mailman. Programme administrator Lana Allard chaired the proceedings in which each speaker wished him a ninth victory.

But the focus was on Liverpool’s book. Among those paying tribute to him were Funk; deputy chairman board of governors Kwais Mutema; Dr Ajamu Nymoba; Dr Fazal Ali, provost and president (acting); senior research fellow Dr Kim Johnson; and Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training Fazal Karim. Johnson made the salient point that while everyone celebrated US president Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Trinidadians had written history by electing its first black Prime Minister, the late historian Dr Eric Williams in 1962. “It was the end of colonial T&T. Chalkie’s book was about the elements and one crucial element was the voice of the people. The voice of the people was not heard,” said Johnson.

Mutema described Liverpool as a cultural icon and said we are fortunate to have him at the helm of the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs. “With a PhD in history and ethnomusicology and as the recipient of the prestigious Nicolas Guillen Life-Time Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature, Liverpool stands well qualified both academically as well as practically, to inform us all,” said Mutema.

Karim noted Liverpool’s study of Carnival is a “continuation of the work of academics who are now deceased like Tobago’s Dr JD Elder and Prof Errol Hill, as well as those who are still with us, like Prof Gordon Rohlehr and Dr Jeff Henry.” Apart from Karim, Liverpool made a special presentation to his friend/chairman of committee US Virgin Islands (St Thomas) Kenneth Blake.

For more info, contact UTT at 642-8888 or e-mail theacademy@utt.edu.tt

For the original report go to chalkdust-launches-rituals-power-and-rebellion

See also Calypsonian and WWI Professor Chalkdust launches “Rituals of Power and Rebellion” Repeating Islands.

Wire Bender – One of a dying breed

 The following article was written by Zahra Gordon and published in the Trinidad Guardian, Jan. 15, 2013.

Quammie’s skills are in demand in New York, where he makes costumes for the annual Labour Day Carnival.

Arnim Quammie learned most of his wire bending skills on his own. According to the 66-year-old craftsman who began his mas making career at the tender age of nine, “If you wanted to play mas in those days you had to make your own costume. The bands would have samples but if you wanted to play you had to make your own mas.”

Quammie “born and grow” in St James where he was also involved in the steelband movement. “Older fellas would guide you along the way in some aspects, but most of what I know come from lots of trial and error. It had plenty times when people laugh at my headpiece because it was so ugly but I didn’t care.

“I wanted to play my mas,” he said in an interview yesterday.

By the time Quammie was 17, he designed and constructed a section in a band. Since then, Quammie has worked with numerous bands. Currently based with the band Belmont Original Style Sailors (aka De Boss), Quammie also works on king and queen costumes for both adults and children. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Quammie would also travel to the US annually for the New York Labour Day parade to work with the mas band Burrokeets.

He notes that the wire bending is a dying trade, however, and lamented that the young people whom he once taught were no longer interested in the craft.

“Most people are doing plastic moulding nowadays because they can’t do wire work anymore. Some of the wire benders are dead or aged and the government has no programmes at YTEPP or anywhere to teach young people these things.”

Quammie feels that the loss of interest in wire bending will result in further loss of this culture. “In time to come what you would be seeing for Carnival is more of what we seeing now which is bra and panties because people in T&T don’t appreciate the art of wire bending.”

For the original article: One of a dying breed | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.

Trinidad All Stars: Fleet’s In

Dr. Kim Johnson discusses the sailor mas’ protrayal of the Trinidad All Stars Steel Orchestra and the origins of this style of masquerade from the independent organizations of the enslaved in nineteenth century Trinidad. Caribbean Beat Magazine, issue 113.

The Fleet’s In sailor mas might seem just a grown-up way of enjoying Carnival with a great steelband, Trinidad All Stars. Actually, it’s much more than that. It is a venerable tradition of the oldest steel orchestra in the world, a tradition that links us to the world the slaves made, and, through them, to the culture of West Africa.

Trinidad All Stars was once “Cross of Lorraine” and before that “Fisheye band”, and even before that, during World War II, “Second Fiddle”. When, in 1939, it was launched in the immediate wake of the first progenitive steelband, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, however, it was simply called “Hell Yard band”, after Hell Yard, an empty lot next to the band’s current home.

In the early, pre-steelband years of the twentieth century the Hell Yard crew played cricket and football. They gambled, wrestled, boxed and lifted weights.  And on J’Ouvert morning they produced one of the most famous sailor bands: USS Bad Behaviour.

There were other themes in plebeian mas in Port of Spain: African Ju Ju warriors and wild Indian tribes, for instance. But generally the largest bands, which represented each district of the city, were sailor bands. There were the immaculate, rigorously drilled military sailor bands, such as the USS Oregon from John John, Texas from Laventille, and Hit The Deck from St Paul’s Street.  And there were the dirty “knockabout” sailor bands, such as USS Bad Behaviour, which was drunk, dirty and disorderly – like real sailors ashore.

No one knows Bad Behaviour’s age, but sailor bands have been around for at least a century. In 1911 traditional “masks”, according to the Port of Spain Gazette, included wild Indians, bakers, Barbadian cooks, clowns, devils and sailors. Military bands go back even further. In 1834, describing the first Carnival after abolition of slavery, the Gazette complained of “a large crowd of idle negroes and little people, accompanying a party intending to represent the Artillery.”

Scrupulously observing the minutiae of naval or military ranks, such bands catered to the needs of African slaves to found their own social and ritual hierarchies. They were worlds complete with their own divisions of labour, ranks, chains of command and degrees of prestige, all outside and independent of the grinding racism of the wider, white-dominated society.

They were descended from Trinidad’s slave convoys or regiments, groups dedicated to holding dances on holidays. These – the Cocorite, the Macaque, the St George and the Sans-peur, with up to 17 different ranks, kings, queens, princes and political, legal and military personnel – terrified the whites in 1805. They considered the bands insurrectionary, and cruelly punished their members.

The vicious reaction of the whites was a product of their own hysteria, of course; the slave gangs were formed for nothing more than to hold drum dances and compete against one another. But in another sense, the slave owners’ instinctive fear had grounds, because those bands, built on rules and responsibilities independent of the slave society’s, were forged from no less than the love of liberty.

For original post: Trinidad All Stars: Fleet’s In | Caribbean Beat Magazine.