Puttin’ Yo Self in People Mouth

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 18, 2020

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeJudith Reyes is my neighbor. Our parents lived in the same spot for over eighty years. Neighbors thought our mothers were sisters. Judith’s brother Giles and I live like brothers. We have never quarreled with each other.

Every morning when I am in Trinidad Judith sends me a cup of porridge with prunes in it. She makes it clear that she is not doing that for me. Rather, she is doing this for my mother who she reminds me was my protector. She says: “Yo’ know how much candles yo’ mother light for you at Mt. St. Benedict?”

Judith has taken my mother’s place. She is my protector and my chief look-outa.

Judith is also a devotee of talk radio. When callers castigated me for saying that Sat reminded me of Martin Luther King, she sighed: “O Gord Reggie [that’s my home name] dey licking yo up on the radio. Whey dey have with you so?”

It was Judith who told me about Makeda Darius’s calypso “Not Martin” that referenced my remarks on Sat. Before I knew it, I had received several recordings of the calypso from friends and foes alike. Anthony, my good friend and family, cooed: “Classic kaiso style…. Nice music, Nice tune.”

Lystra, a family friend and devoted listener to WACK, is one of the most informed persons on T&T politics. Our families go back to the beginning of the twentieth century. On WACK radio she is known as “Lystra from Queens.” I asked her to send me her response to the kaiso.

She wrote: “Darius represents the feelings of most people of African ancestry [in Trinidad]. I thought it was well written in that she recounts a lot of areas for which Sat could be applauded but she also shows the differences between the two men.”

I listened to the calypso many times to get its full impact before I made a judgment. The calypso is superbly written and exquisitely rendered. I tapped my feet rhythmically as I listened to it. It reminded me how important well-thought out and well-rendered calypsoes are to the intellectual health of our society.

Her rendition of the calypso written by Christopher Grant also demonstrated the wisdom of our folk-singers and the heightened sophistication of their analyses. In this case there is little distinction between the adeptness of professors (we can call them traditional intellectuals) and what Antonio Gramsi called organic intellectuals, who are in closer touch with their people’s feelings than traditional intellectuals.

Darius can be described as an organic intellectual. She made it known that “While I know is true/whatever you do/ Yo cannot talk bad in a man funeral/ But to stretch the truth/ While sober to boot/ Is wild and reckless, almost criminal.”

That was a heavy lash. She knows what protocol (or human decency) demands. You say good things about the dead but you really can’t overdo it. It borders on intellectual cheating or overreacting to the point which can lead to insincerity.

Darius’s intellectual sophistication here is impeccable. Her analysis reminded me of the subtle judgment that Bishop Charles Telleyrand rendered when Bonaparte ordered the murder of the Duke d’ Enghien. He said of Bonaparte’s command: “It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.” Darius seemed to be saying that my judgment with regards to Sat was more than reckless; it was criminal.

I may not agree with her criticism but it reveals the wisdom of our bards and our ordinary people. They may not use big words but they possess a profound understanding of a situation which gets to a deeper truth of a situation sometimes.

The beautiful thing about this calypso is not so much that it tried to put down Sat as it attempts to critique my reasoning and judgment. She calls out Sat’s indiscretions and compliments some of his actions, but she says you can’t compare the two statespersons, although I am not sure that Darius would call Sat a statesperson.

She says: “A most sensitive man/ O yes was Sat./ Protector of things Indian/You can’t vex with dat./ But where Martin had a dream/To raise up self-esteem/Any time Sat Maharaj talk/was to make a fight.” She goes on to say that King’s legacy is “world peace” whereas Sat was “the protector of the Indians.”

Yet there is a disabling duality in her work, especially when she argues: “A most famous victory/he challenge bravely/ And he overturned the Trinity Cross/ Saying it was Christian,/ Insulting Indians, Especially Hindu religion of course.”

She ends that verse by saying that when the Privy Court ruled in Sat’s favor “we wave goodbye” to the Trinity Cross.

The only question is this: Who is the “we” to whom she refers, the blacks or the Indians?

Well-done calypsoes are important ingredients to fostering the intellectual and social health of our society. At their best, our calypsonians give voice to the innermost feelings of our people. They capture important dimensions of our social and cultural being and this is what I think Darius is doing in her wondrous life-affirming calypso “Not Martin.”

When Darius’s calypso hit the stage, my first cousin queried: “Why yo’ like to put yo’ self in people mouth so?” I immediately thought of a character in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart who was asked about Okonkwo’s behavior. Okonkwo was the major protagonist in the novel. She replied: “I cannot yet find a mouth with which to tell the story.”

I hope my pen has been able to say how grateful I am for Darius’s masterful work “Not Martin.” She may have a winning song for the calypso crown.

3 thoughts on “Puttin’ Yo Self in People Mouth”

  1. Congratulations to Makeda Darius on her winning the NWAC Calypso Queen title. Congratulations also to the calypsonians who made it to the big tent for the Calypso Monarch title. Plenty good Kaiso. Salutations to CroCro who copped the people’s choice award and had one of the best kaiso there. He should have made it to the big tent. Congratulations also to Selwyn for making it as the topic of a calypso. I would expect Selwyn to compare CroCro to Martin Luther King because, just like Sat, he’s fighting for his people.
    Selwyn quotes lines from Makeda’s kaiso. “A most famous victory/ he challenge bravely/ And he overturned the Trinity Cross/ Saying it was Christian/ Insulting Indians, Especially Hindu religion of course.” The Privy Council of the UK, our present Supreme Court, ruled in favour of Sat. So here’s the thing. The highest award in the UK is the Victoria Cross, the second highest is the George Cross. The UK, according to Wikepedia, is about 60% Christian, Trinidad and Tobago according to the same source, is about 66% Christian. The Privy Council ruled against Trinidad and Tobago having the Trinity Cross while it has the Victoria Cross and the George Cross as the highest civilian awards. That has to be hypocrisy of the highest order. And what about those who would have objected to the Trinity Cross now living in the UK, why don’t they legally challenge the Victoria Cross? And what would the Privy Council do? Would they rule against the Victoria Cross and the George Cross? Short answer – absolutely not.
    Here is another example of questionable judicial action, which seems like a case of judicial activism. Justice Frank Seepersad threw out the Sedition Act. The Sedition Act has been identified with the colonial masters attempt to “stifle dissent and free speech from people who were being oppressed by reason of their race” as one Express commentator put it. It is an attack on our free speech was the cry. Let us just trace how this overturn of the Sedition Act occurred. Sat Maharaj made certain statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back program on TV Jaagriti on April 15, 2019. Maharaj stated that citizens living in Tobago were lazy and that the men were rapists. That statement resulted in the challenging of the Sedition Act because I guess it was anticipated he would be charged under the Sedition Act.
    To clarify – the Sedition Act states: 3. (1) A seditious intention is an intention— (a) to bring into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection against Government or the Constitution as by law established or the House of Representatives or the Senate or the administration of justice; (b) to excite any person to attempt, otherwise than by lawful means, to procure the alteration of any matter in the State by law established; (c) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago; (d) to engender or promote— (i) feelings of ill-will or hostility between one or more sections of the community on the one hand and any other section or sections of the community on the other hand; or (ii) feelings of ill-will towards, hostility to or contempt for any class of inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago distinguished by race, colour, religion, profession, calling or employment; or (e) to advocate or promote, with intent to destroy in whole or in part any identifiable group, the commission of any of the following acts, namely: (i) killing members of the group; or (ii) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.
    There are two aspects to it. Intentions against the Government and intentions against inhabitants of T&T, While the first, “seditious intention”, has been emphasized in this matter, the second is what has come to be defined as “hate speech”. Hate speech is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation”. Hate speech is “usually thought to include communications of animosity or disparagement of an individual or a group on account of a group characteristic such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation”. The statement by Sat Maharaj was not intended to “excite disaffection against the Government”. The statement was intended to promote “feeling of ill-will towards, hostility to or contempt for any class of inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago distinguished by race, colour, religion…” It was the second aspect of the Sedition Act that was infringed. It was what is now called “hate speech”. Sat was guilty of hate speech.
    Most liberal democracies have laws against hate speech, including Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Netherlands, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, etc. The one major liberal democracy that does not have hate speech laws is the United States.
    The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) prohibits all incitement of racism. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is a United Nations convention. “A third-generation human rights instrument, the Convention commits its members to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races. The Convention also requires its parties to outlaw hate speech and criminalize membership in racist organizations.” (Wikepedia). While the US can afford to go against these recommendations, it is after all a superpower, humble T&T cannot do the same. We have to comply with the UN. Hate speech “shall be prohibited by law”.
    In a recent judgment, “A caution has been given to judges against engaging in “judicial activism” by a judge of the Court of Appeal. The judge in question was Frank Seepersad. In a matter concerning repayment of money by Jack Warner to Krishna Lalla (of SIS, remember him?), one of the judges, Judge Judith Jones, said, “The statements were made at the end of the judgement and are a prime example of what has come to be known as judicial activism,” she said, reminding that “judges have a duty to hear cases presented before them impartially and without prejudice.
    “In order to discharge that duty, a judge should refrain from language or comments that may result in a reasonable apprehension that they may not be able to impartially adjudicate in that area of the law in the future.”
    What is judicial activism? One legal theorist argues that one of the ways judicial activism can be defined is by overturning laws as unconstitutional. Justice Frank Seepersad overturned the Sedition Act because he said it is “unconstitutional”. Seems like judicial activism. We need impartial judges who are without prejudice and who are perceived by the public as not being partial and prejudiced. Democracy requires checks and balances on all branches of government.

  2. ” We need impartial judges who are without prejudice and who are perceived by the public as not being partial and prejudiced. Democracy requires checks and balances on all branches of government”

    The rulings of the majority of judges in T&T are predictable based on political affiliation, formal or informal, public or private.
    The positive recent rulings on the cases against the Chief Justice were disgustingly political, tainted with prejudice.
    This is not new. Politics and race dominate most decisions made in T&T, conscious or sub-conscious.
    There are major differences between the archaic sedition laws in T&T and the laws against hate speech in many developed countries.There is nothing new about judges overturning laws as unconstitutional. Many similar rulings can be sighted in Canadian cases involving Aboriginal rights.
    Hate speech is a frequent topic of controversy in many developed countries. Police refrain from rushing to charge individuals for hate speech in Canada probably because of the ambiguity of the law.

    Was Sat stating facts which certain people found to be offensive?
    Was Sat being politically incorrect to state what was truly happening in Tobago or was he being hateful?

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