In The Valley Of The Mooks, The Dhoti and The Dashiki
Posted: Friday, July 9, 2004
By Linda E. Edwards
It must be getting close to Emancipation Day in Trinidad and Tobago, the great Day of Denial for Afro-Trinidadians who examine themselves to discover who they are, and continue to proclaim that they "not African", as in "me ent no African nuh." And once again, I dust off computer time to comment on these idiocies, uttered by Ministers of Government and other so called leaders of the people. Once again, I futilely invite them to look around, and look at themselves; but as my niece Elke is fond of pointing out "denial is more than a river in Africa."
It seems almost ancient history to be quoting the former Nigerian Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, who was serving here in 1986. He was speaking at a programme at Valsyn Teachers College that year, another Year of Denial, at a programme sponsored by the Anti-Apartheid Organization of TnT. What he said then has stayed in my memory. Permit me to paraphrase: I constantly meet people in my work here, who look African, but who are quick to tell you that "I am part Chinese", or "part Indian," or "mixed with whites." What I see when I look at them, is African. The African is distinctive by his skin colour and hair type. Now, wherever you go in the world, when people see you, they will react to you first as an African, then when you speak, they will probably assign a category: West Indian, North American or African, but first they will judge you and react to you as an African."
Now what about this the Ken Valleys and Reggie Dumases, educated men supposedly, do not understand? It is that absence of leadership among Trinis of African ancestry that still has me puzzled. What level of education does it take to make a child of the African Diaspora stop the foolish utterances that seem to give aid and comfort to those who stole our ancestors, raped our women and attempted genocide in various forms on our people, and are still doing this today? What is there about the British system of doing things that causes a brainwashing unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate themselves? Why are our male leaders continuing the denigration of our people?
"I once met some Negroes on a very dark night. Their faces were so black, I could hardly see them, but their two rows of snow-white teeth were quite plain". Capt. Cutteridge, West Indian Reader Book 3 (I think it is Book Three, but I no longer have the copy, but I memorized that text a long time ago.) Trinidadian children of all races were made to read this, and when an inspector of schools came to visit Cumuto R.C. which is where I went to school, and we read these passages to him in fluent English, he, having had his eyes opened, and being Negro like us, asked if anyone had ever seen a Negro.
"Noooo" we chorused. None of us would admit to meeting anything so black at night that we could see nothing but teeth. (In my child's mind I thought of a lagahoo or some other evil being.)
The inspector gave a bitter smile, and turned to the teacher and criticized him for making us read that derogatory passage. I assign this inspectorship to Mr. A.A. Mark, who having been to England, had had his eyes opened.
Now, my father was quite dark of skin, but I could see him at night. So whatever was being described in the West Indian Reader had no relation to all of his ancestors who arrived in Trinidad in 1815, as a group of free Africans (Mingo and Minerva Edwards were the ancestors who came). It had no relation to my beloved great aunt Say-Say, who went to the ancestors in 1985 and lived on the ancestral land in Hardbargain all her life. and no relation to any of the very dark-skinned people of Williamsville of whom I am a direct descendant.
Eric Williams also had his eyes opened in England. As a young man he must have been proud of his curly hair, his mixed racial heritage and all that. Then he discovered that he was Negro, and there were limits beyond which a person of his heritage could not go, double first at Oxford notwithstanding. He turned that anger into freedom for his people in Trinidad and Tobago, put a lot of emphasis on education, and went to visit the Homeland, Africa, on his first big international trip after Independence.
His political descendants are being narrow-minded when they simply ascribe to clothing a racial identity, of which they are not proud. It is more than clothing.
"Best Village", Mastana Bahar" "Carifesta", and all the folk choirs in the country, are meant to celebrate the duality of our culture. Before we get comfortable in our clothes, we should be comfortable in our skins.
I often point out to the African-American children I try to educate through the teaching of literature, interspersed with social commentary, that we Diaspora Africans(diaspora means the scattering, for those too busy to look it up,) that we Africans in the west are the only people I have ever met who use our skin colour as a curse: "Move yo Black Arse(African American) "haul yuh arse" Afro-Trini. "Yuh done black aready, yuh doh have to be stupid too", also Afro-Trini.
When I was a teenager, it was said of a certain family in TnT, rich in legal tradition, that one could not go to visit them at night. You couldn't find them. This type of slur was considered very funny, so funny in fact, that I who was a country bookie, and never knew these people personally, know the mauvais langue up to today. Friends of mine were proud to decline marriage offers from Tobagonians, because "He too dark". They wanted their children to have good hair. No marriage came, no children either, with no kind of hair whatever.
These attitudes are so ingrained in us, children of Africa, that friends of mine believe they are complimenting me when in winter, my skin is paler than in summer and they refer to it as pretty.. And when I used to straighten my hair, people thought I was beautiful. Now, they don't, and these are Caribbean people of African descent. I am not talking about your uneducated people who do not know better. I am talking of women with M.A's , Ph'D's and M.D.'s
It is the male version of these "foolish women" who still are grateful for the raping of their female ancestors so that they have some bastardized white blood in them, that publicly proclaim to all who trumpet their foolishness utterances in the papers, that they "ent no African". What the devil are they then? Are they Taino? Aruac? Other First American? Indian(from India), Chinese? European? Indonesian? What?
All of these people have distinct facial characteristics that tie them to a land and a people.
No matter where they live, and how long they have lived there, these people, unless they were wiped out like the Tainos and Aruacs, maintain a distinct culture, and identity. It shows itself in preferred foods, clothing, and in the case of Aboriginal people who were forcefully raised as whites, a sense of anomie than demands a return to their Aboriginal cultures.
Our African men, in Trinidad and Tobago, in many of their public utterances, display that same sense of anomie. Their pot of clay, out of which they drank their lives, is broken. It has been cast away, and they are looking for the fragments to reassemble them, and rescue their sense of wholeness, mistakenly, they constantly proclaim who they are not, when skin and hair, as well as nose give them away.
Achille, Walcott's character in Omeros, sails up the Congo and is asked by his ancestor what does his name mean, and he replied "nothing. It's just a name."
The father's comment sears the mind. "And did they mean you to be nothing, those who named you? A name states the expectation one has for a child." Achille has no response.
So, once we though that Timbuctu was a place of Mooks. Who exactly told us that? When we learned that The University of Timbuctu exchanged medical personnel with Oxford in the thirteenth century, some of our minds denied that. We had been too brainwashed already.
A magazine I subscribe to, (its free, published by Saudi Aramco Oil company,) documents the Muslim world, in all its glory. A recent issue devoted conspicuous space to the manuscripts of Mauritania, West Africa. Because Islam does not destroy old books, researchers were able to find Korans and other writings that go back in West Africa to before the year 1000CE. This means that West Africans, of the skin colour of denial of many Trinis were reading and writing in Arabic five hundred years before Columbus came to the New World, and helped begin the slave trade in Africans that today causes prominent politicians in Trinidad and Tobago to downcry the wearing of African and Indian clothes. The same colonial domination brought both African and Indian to TnT. We know that.
As for me, a Christian, African, Trinitodebone female, my wardrobe is full of clothes from other cultures. Abayas(recent acquisitions from a trip to Saudi Arabia), bubbas, ponchos, saris and shalwar kameezes, as well as the clothes from the West. Comfort in one's skin and hair allows comfort in a wide choice off beautiful clothes. I am happy with men in agbadas and dashikis. Life is a costume party, and one should dress for the occasion, and know who one is.
Trinidadian men who are "making it" and who vociferously deny their African-ness are simply lost men. The Western Christianity that they adhere to, proclaimed their ancestors as savages, and enslaved them, yet they cling to the tenets of that belief system, and its euro-centric values, while denying the Africa, whose one teaspoon of blood darkens the skin, thicken the lips, and widens the nose beautifully.
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