Categorized | Features, General, Local, News

In Search of Shango

(For Pat Ryan)

By Edgar Nkosi White

Edgar Nkosi White

Edgar Nkosi White

Be not deceived. There is no such thing as time and change in the Caribbean. As it was, so it shall be. The plantation house dwells too deeply within us for us to ever change. Political parties may change but never our minds. Whether the country be Guyana, Montserrat, Jamaica or Barbados, the same rules apply, so fear not. The Caribbean the way it used to be will always be. So now, having gotten all nonsense of false hope out of the way, we can begin:

The other day the Spirit came on me and I wanted to play Fife, and because it was a hot day (you know one of those days when they love to say the sun is out in all its glory), I sheltered in the shadow of the Faith Tabernacle Pentecostal Church in Brades. I was in mid-flight when a woman approached me.

“What that is?”

“A fife,” I answered in all my innocence”

“I mean, what that is you a play?”

Fire in the Mountain, I said and then suddenly realized that she was not about Fire in any mountain, and it wasn’t about how sweet the sound of any fife. It was about:

“You no bother bring no Benna music here, you crazy or what? You know where you be?”

“Yes, Montserrat, land of my birth.”

“So you don’t know this is sacred ground?”

Now I thought of summoning the good Mister Wilson who was just across the road selling his ice cream, letting him speak in my defence. Then I remembered where I was: Montserrat, the tightest and most anal island in the Caribbean, and so I thought better of it because he just might act like he’s never seen me in life. Although he does like the fife, I decided not to trouble him with moral decisions.

So instead, I had no choice but to plead that I was an ordained minister (a thing I don’t like to admit easily). She forgave me and retreated after telling me that she was a Watchman for the Lord. And I complimented her and proceeded to play “How Great thou Art” (a very subdued version). But I couldn’t help wondering what she would have done had I set up my drums and started playing Trinidad Shango or Big Drum music of Suriname or Carriacou. She might have wet herself and ran away in terror, having seen the devil himself.

How quickly people forget. She couldn’t remember how recently it was that the Pentecostal Church itself was considered questionable because of all that ecstatic praise and talking in tongues (called glossolalia). I know because I married one (maybe even two). I couldn’t help but admire those brave enough to set up a Pentecostal ministry in such a staid place as Montserrat. Believe me, they suffered mightily for it. They suffered both persecution and prosecution. And yet having now become established, they became just as stiff necked as the Anglicans, the Methodists and the Adventists before them. Bless them.

You see, whereas the fife and flute lift my spirit, it is the drum that gives me life.

Why I say that the Caribbean will never change is because essentially we hate ourselves. Always have and always will.

Or more clearly, what it is we hate is the African in us, the undeniable Africanness of our bodies. This is especially true in Montserrat. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we want to be white (although we love whites and will marry them at the earliest opportunity). We just don’t want to be thought primitive. Fair enough. What I find funny though is the number of Montserratians who marry English and yet return to Montserrat and immediately start sleeping with black Montserratians (usually the same childhood sweethearts from the village they came from). They may, in fact, let go of their spouses, a strange phenomenon. What looked good in the snow and grey of England doesn’t look as impressive in the sun.

Skin turns red with sunburn. However, as I say, there is no need for alarm because for each marriage that ends in ruin, there is some eager young man or woman ready to replace the fallen.

Remember that nothing is ever as appealing as OTP (other people’s property). That’s what keeps the Caribbean going. Fortunately, no one is keeping records except gossipy rum-shop owners.

Yeah man, he take one look at the bamsey and next thing you know, he leggo the wife hand. She had was to go back a England by sheself. Me tell you! Me feel sorry for she because she can’t understand wha happen. She feel she did know he, but she can’t go with Montsrat, ‘tall.”

Anyway, the poorer the people, the more the need for God. The greater the joy and sorrow, the louder the music. It is for this reason that the rich distance themselves from the poor as quickly as possible. They can’t go with the noise. But remember that the rich have no great need of God (until say a volcano erupts and then they need Him for the length of time it takes to relocate).

The rich are also very quick to talk about the dignity of labour. But have you ever seen a rich man working in the hot sun or even walking? They pay the least taxes, (including even lawyers) and are the quickest to run as far away from the poor as possible. Their relationship to God is always negotiable. The poor, on the other hand, take God very seriously because it’s the one thing that the rich can’t steal from them.

As for me I have a huge appetite for everything and so I need more than just a single wafer placed on the tongue on a Sunday morning, to be filled. And so it was because of my hunger and thirst that I went to Trinidad in search of Shango ceremony.

Shango doesn’t travel well. It can’t be contained in a single room in a two-hour church service. Moreover, it certainly can’t reach England in the cold and damp. Now there is Shango Baptist which is Bible based and who wear similar head-dress and worship in churches. However, Shango itself is Yoruba African based and there is no Bible present. It takes place outside and there is ritual sacrifice of animals (usually a goat for the feast table). There is also rum present. You quickly realise the difference between the two. There is always three drums present, one to keep the heartbeat, another played with sticks (the Repeater drum) and a third to play the counter rhythm. The drummers have to be strong because the ceremony lasts all night. One last thing, it’s not a good idea to close your eyes at a Shango Feast because when the spirit enters, machetes can start flying. Shango is after all the God of lightning and fire and he’s not an easy god. You know this when you see people catch trance and start to writhe.

There was a man who they called the greatest Orisha drummer in Trinidad. He had the power. There were stories of him causing lightning to come suddenly. I went in search of him. I had only heard him on tapes when people recorded him. Not an easy man to find because you couldn’t just hop in a taxi from Port of Spain to his house. Andrew Beddoe

The Spirit is like unto a man who leaves his house at first light and goes to Mountain. In the mist, the trees look like they’re dancing jumbies and the leaves spin like a woman heisting her skirt and dancing always just a short distance before you. You try and reach her and she takes you deeper and deeper into the mountain and leads you finally to a stream. Call her Ochun. Sometimes as you approach her she vanishes or you drown.

To find Beddoe, I had to go to Tunapuna and find one of the few men who could show me the way. A lot of East Indians live in Tunapuna. It’s a good place to drink coconut water because this is where the best coconuts on island come from. But be careful because they have a lot of women there and the coconut water is smoother than Fernandez rum and goes straight to your hood. Before long you find yourself “bazodie” and saying words like “forever”, and you feel you want to climb her like a tree. You’re wondering whether this woman is really La Diablesse, The Woman in White.

“Drink Coconut water

It good for you daughter

Coconut water got a lot of iron

Make you strong like a lion”

The East Indian s came as indentured workers. After slavery was abolished, the British contributed their usual mischief. Having seen that the newly freed blacks were now demanding living wages and were too willing to set fire to the cane-fields at the very height of the season, they did two things: first sent to India for workers who were willing to work for pennies a day, and secondly, outlawed the Shango cult because they noticed that whereas Christianity extolled submission, Shango urged revolt. Soon they were locking up followers. This led to worshippers becoming even more remote and secretive.

As to the East Indians, they were more submissive. The few pennies a day they settled for made certain that no successful unions could be formed for years. This divide and rule tactic exist to this day. The two groups still hate each other and exist in different economic status.

One thing that the East Indians did do that was good was to introduce ganja to the Caribbean. It was they, not the Africans who brought it over. Obviously, they were not searched with as much scrutiny as the slaves had been. As to whether the two groups will ever be able to dwell together, I don’t know. I’ll have to leave that to better and deeper minds (like Naipaul) to figure out. Where they do connect is in music. They each have influenced the other, the presence of flags in Shango, for example. The place which has fought the hardest to maintain the authenticity of the culture is Laventille and places like John-John where Beddoe came from.

As for me, all I want is Shango and Andrew Beddoe because he is the link between past and present, the keeper of the chants. It took me three days to reach his house because it was the rainy season and you needed a jeep to even approach where he lived. Even then you had to walk because there was nothing approaching a path. When we found his shack and knocked (forget telephone), a woman answered and said he wasn’t there. Not only that, she hadn’t seen him in days but she was at least sure that he would return because his drums were still there.

“He’ll be back when the rum and the money done.”

You could see that she wasn’t too happy with his doings. She gave us that look which a woman gives when she‘s wondering what new problems for her we might be bringing. My friend understood the situation and was able to put something in her hand which would help her get through until his return. She was the sensible one. She had to be. He did, in fact, return in time. His drum strapped to his shoulder and complaining of how things had changed and how the Feast wasn’t the same anymore. People weren’t honouring the ancestors the way they used to.

“Them not respecting themselves. Even goat for the feast them tiefing!”

She didn’t want to hear it because she’d heard it all before. She knew that he needed rest and wouldn’t bother to question him about whether he had anything left from all this time away. That would be behind closed doors. The questions about what he was killing himself so, for?

But this was what he was born to do. She would have preferred it if he stayed home and just went out to do recordings in studios. But that wasn’t Shango. Shango wasn’t coming to a studio or a wine and cheese evening at a Culture Centre. He was outside in the unsafe world where people cried out in their joy and sorrow.

I never got to hear Andrew Beddoe play live. I never got to see him bring lightning down from out the sky. I wasn’t meant to. I only got to touch his calloused hands with the long fingers, strong like sticks. But that was enough. He had been ill for some time but he was well enough to know what he wanted. Better he died there than in England like so many I’d known who’d gone before, anonymously, waiting on the mercy of the Health Service.

In this world if you follow your heart, they will come after you with rods. Not because they hate you. It’s themselves they hate, not you. It’s the freedom of you that angers people, so never take it personal.

Don’t be deceived by thinking it’s you. It’s Shango they see and can never forgive you for opening the door to their heart and entering.

The End

Comments are closed.

TMR print pages

Newsletter

Archives

CARICOM – Staff Vacancy

CXC HEADQUARTERS - Executive Search

https://indd.adobe.com/embed/2b4deb22-cf03-4509-9bbd-938c7e8ecc7d

A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

(For Pat Ryan)

By Edgar Nkosi White

Edgar Nkosi White

Edgar Nkosi White

Insert Ads Here

Be not deceived. There is no such thing as time and change in the Caribbean. As it was, so it shall be. The plantation house dwells too deeply within us for us to ever change. Political parties may change but never our minds. Whether the country be Guyana, Montserrat, Jamaica or Barbados, the same rules apply, so fear not. The Caribbean the way it used to be will always be. So now, having gotten all nonsense of false hope out of the way, we can begin:

The other day the Spirit came on me and I wanted to play Fife, and because it was a hot day (you know one of those days when they love to say the sun is out in all its glory), I sheltered in the shadow of the Faith Tabernacle Pentecostal Church in Brades. I was in mid-flight when a woman approached me.

“What that is?”

“A fife,” I answered in all my innocence”

“I mean, what that is you a play?”

Fire in the Mountain, I said and then suddenly realized that she was not about Fire in any mountain, and it wasn’t about how sweet the sound of any fife. It was about:

“You no bother bring no Benna music here, you crazy or what? You know where you be?”

“Yes, Montserrat, land of my birth.”

“So you don’t know this is sacred ground?”

Now I thought of summoning the good Mister Wilson who was just across the road selling his ice cream, letting him speak in my defence. Then I remembered where I was: Montserrat, the tightest and most anal island in the Caribbean, and so I thought better of it because he just might act like he’s never seen me in life. Although he does like the fife, I decided not to trouble him with moral decisions.

So instead, I had no choice but to plead that I was an ordained minister (a thing I don’t like to admit easily). She forgave me and retreated after telling me that she was a Watchman for the Lord. And I complimented her and proceeded to play “How Great thou Art” (a very subdued version). But I couldn’t help wondering what she would have done had I set up my drums and started playing Trinidad Shango or Big Drum music of Suriname or Carriacou. She might have wet herself and ran away in terror, having seen the devil himself.

How quickly people forget. She couldn’t remember how recently it was that the Pentecostal Church itself was considered questionable because of all that ecstatic praise and talking in tongues (called glossolalia). I know because I married one (maybe even two). I couldn’t help but admire those brave enough to set up a Pentecostal ministry in such a staid place as Montserrat. Believe me, they suffered mightily for it. They suffered both persecution and prosecution. And yet having now become established, they became just as stiff necked as the Anglicans, the Methodists and the Adventists before them. Bless them.

You see, whereas the fife and flute lift my spirit, it is the drum that gives me life.

Why I say that the Caribbean will never change is because essentially we hate ourselves. Always have and always will.

Or more clearly, what it is we hate is the African in us, the undeniable Africanness of our bodies. This is especially true in Montserrat. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we want to be white (although we love whites and will marry them at the earliest opportunity). We just don’t want to be thought primitive. Fair enough. What I find funny though is the number of Montserratians who marry English and yet return to Montserrat and immediately start sleeping with black Montserratians (usually the same childhood sweethearts from the village they came from). They may, in fact, let go of their spouses, a strange phenomenon. What looked good in the snow and grey of England doesn’t look as impressive in the sun.

Skin turns red with sunburn. However, as I say, there is no need for alarm because for each marriage that ends in ruin, there is some eager young man or woman ready to replace the fallen.

Remember that nothing is ever as appealing as OTP (other people’s property). That’s what keeps the Caribbean going. Fortunately, no one is keeping records except gossipy rum-shop owners.

Yeah man, he take one look at the bamsey and next thing you know, he leggo the wife hand. She had was to go back a England by sheself. Me tell you! Me feel sorry for she because she can’t understand wha happen. She feel she did know he, but she can’t go with Montsrat, ‘tall.”

Anyway, the poorer the people, the more the need for God. The greater the joy and sorrow, the louder the music. It is for this reason that the rich distance themselves from the poor as quickly as possible. They can’t go with the noise. But remember that the rich have no great need of God (until say a volcano erupts and then they need Him for the length of time it takes to relocate).

The rich are also very quick to talk about the dignity of labour. But have you ever seen a rich man working in the hot sun or even walking? They pay the least taxes, (including even lawyers) and are the quickest to run as far away from the poor as possible. Their relationship to God is always negotiable. The poor, on the other hand, take God very seriously because it’s the one thing that the rich can’t steal from them.

As for me I have a huge appetite for everything and so I need more than just a single wafer placed on the tongue on a Sunday morning, to be filled. And so it was because of my hunger and thirst that I went to Trinidad in search of Shango ceremony.

Shango doesn’t travel well. It can’t be contained in a single room in a two-hour church service. Moreover, it certainly can’t reach England in the cold and damp. Now there is Shango Baptist which is Bible based and who wear similar head-dress and worship in churches. However, Shango itself is Yoruba African based and there is no Bible present. It takes place outside and there is ritual sacrifice of animals (usually a goat for the feast table). There is also rum present. You quickly realise the difference between the two. There is always three drums present, one to keep the heartbeat, another played with sticks (the Repeater drum) and a third to play the counter rhythm. The drummers have to be strong because the ceremony lasts all night. One last thing, it’s not a good idea to close your eyes at a Shango Feast because when the spirit enters, machetes can start flying. Shango is after all the God of lightning and fire and he’s not an easy god. You know this when you see people catch trance and start to writhe.

There was a man who they called the greatest Orisha drummer in Trinidad. He had the power. There were stories of him causing lightning to come suddenly. I went in search of him. I had only heard him on tapes when people recorded him. Not an easy man to find because you couldn’t just hop in a taxi from Port of Spain to his house. Andrew Beddoe

The Spirit is like unto a man who leaves his house at first light and goes to Mountain. In the mist, the trees look like they’re dancing jumbies and the leaves spin like a woman heisting her skirt and dancing always just a short distance before you. You try and reach her and she takes you deeper and deeper into the mountain and leads you finally to a stream. Call her Ochun. Sometimes as you approach her she vanishes or you drown.

To find Beddoe, I had to go to Tunapuna and find one of the few men who could show me the way. A lot of East Indians live in Tunapuna. It’s a good place to drink coconut water because this is where the best coconuts on island come from. But be careful because they have a lot of women there and the coconut water is smoother than Fernandez rum and goes straight to your hood. Before long you find yourself “bazodie” and saying words like “forever”, and you feel you want to climb her like a tree. You’re wondering whether this woman is really La Diablesse, The Woman in White.

“Drink Coconut water

It good for you daughter

Coconut water got a lot of iron

Make you strong like a lion”

The East Indian s came as indentured workers. After slavery was abolished, the British contributed their usual mischief. Having seen that the newly freed blacks were now demanding living wages and were too willing to set fire to the cane-fields at the very height of the season, they did two things: first sent to India for workers who were willing to work for pennies a day, and secondly, outlawed the Shango cult because they noticed that whereas Christianity extolled submission, Shango urged revolt. Soon they were locking up followers. This led to worshippers becoming even more remote and secretive.

As to the East Indians, they were more submissive. The few pennies a day they settled for made certain that no successful unions could be formed for years. This divide and rule tactic exist to this day. The two groups still hate each other and exist in different economic status.

One thing that the East Indians did do that was good was to introduce ganja to the Caribbean. It was they, not the Africans who brought it over. Obviously, they were not searched with as much scrutiny as the slaves had been. As to whether the two groups will ever be able to dwell together, I don’t know. I’ll have to leave that to better and deeper minds (like Naipaul) to figure out. Where they do connect is in music. They each have influenced the other, the presence of flags in Shango, for example. The place which has fought the hardest to maintain the authenticity of the culture is Laventille and places like John-John where Beddoe came from.

As for me, all I want is Shango and Andrew Beddoe because he is the link between past and present, the keeper of the chants. It took me three days to reach his house because it was the rainy season and you needed a jeep to even approach where he lived. Even then you had to walk because there was nothing approaching a path. When we found his shack and knocked (forget telephone), a woman answered and said he wasn’t there. Not only that, she hadn’t seen him in days but she was at least sure that he would return because his drums were still there.

“He’ll be back when the rum and the money done.”

You could see that she wasn’t too happy with his doings. She gave us that look which a woman gives when she‘s wondering what new problems for her we might be bringing. My friend understood the situation and was able to put something in her hand which would help her get through until his return. She was the sensible one. She had to be. He did, in fact, return in time. His drum strapped to his shoulder and complaining of how things had changed and how the Feast wasn’t the same anymore. People weren’t honouring the ancestors the way they used to.

“Them not respecting themselves. Even goat for the feast them tiefing!”

She didn’t want to hear it because she’d heard it all before. She knew that he needed rest and wouldn’t bother to question him about whether he had anything left from all this time away. That would be behind closed doors. The questions about what he was killing himself so, for?

But this was what he was born to do. She would have preferred it if he stayed home and just went out to do recordings in studios. But that wasn’t Shango. Shango wasn’t coming to a studio or a wine and cheese evening at a Culture Centre. He was outside in the unsafe world where people cried out in their joy and sorrow.

I never got to hear Andrew Beddoe play live. I never got to see him bring lightning down from out the sky. I wasn’t meant to. I only got to touch his calloused hands with the long fingers, strong like sticks. But that was enough. He had been ill for some time but he was well enough to know what he wanted. Better he died there than in England like so many I’d known who’d gone before, anonymously, waiting on the mercy of the Health Service.

In this world if you follow your heart, they will come after you with rods. Not because they hate you. It’s themselves they hate, not you. It’s the freedom of you that angers people, so never take it personal.

Don’t be deceived by thinking it’s you. It’s Shango they see and can never forgive you for opening the door to their heart and entering.

The End