Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Obeah and Rebellion - Nanny of Nanny Town

Nowadays, few Caribbean people know about the role Obeah played in slave rebellions throughout the region.  Those who may know about Nanny, one of the few female Maroon leaders, may not know about her reputation as an Obeah practitioner but a note made in Jamaica’s Assembly papers for 1733, records the citation of one William Cuffee for “having killed Nanny, the rebels’ old obeah woman.”

In his 1950 travel book, The Traveler’s Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands, Patrick Leigh Fermor relates his discovery of an old book containing this note on:  “‘The notorious Nanny…[who] was possessed of supernatural powers, and spirited away the best and finest of the slaves from the outlying estates.  She never went into battle armed like the rest, but received the bullets of the enemy that were aimed at her and returned them with fatal effect in a manner of which decency forbids a nearer description.’”
            In fact, the Maroons, themselves, continued to maintain the tradition of Nanny’s magical powers long after she, herself, had died.  Col. C. L. G. Harris of the Moore Town Maroons told folklorist, Laura Tanna, that “many people ascribe magical powers to Nanny.  I [do] so and I think every Maroon who has a right to call himself or herself so, believes so.”  According to him:  “Nanny at one time in her career decided to defeat a whole British battalion single-handedly and so she placed her pot in a particular spot, [on a narrow] pathway [where] the English could march only in single file and so when the British came, each man peeped into the pot because it was boiling, boiling, but no fire was underneath it.”  Each man who looked into the pot fell down and rolled off the cliff and the “army was completely decimated and then Nanny stopped the last one before he could look in” and showed him what had happened to the others and sent him back to tell his commander of their defeat.  Harris added that “it was this great Nanny, who after the signing of the Treaty caught the bullets.  Of course, so many people know the method that she used and she caught them and returned them whence they came.”  Tanna recorded that Harris gestured like a woman lifting her skirts when speaking about how Nanny caught the bullets.  (Legend has it that she caught them in her bottom.
            How much planters of the day knew about Nanny’s reputed supernatural skills is open to speculation.  It is quite probable that they attributed her success in battle to the guerilla tactics employed by the Maroons and to the difficulty they found in fighting over terrain as challenging as that of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains and, to the west, of the Cockpit Country, wooded and pitted as it was.  Her reputation in Obeah was something at which they would have scoffed and which they would have dismissed as laughable.  Europe’s own witches had led no uprisings and been involved in no wars.  Any participation in war by people with assumed supernatural powers had died out with the Celts so the planters had little understanding of the psychological power Obeah practitioners wielded over adherents.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Wisdom of Whores, A Review

The book

In The Wisdom of Whores; Bureaucrats, Brothels and theBusiness of AIDS, Elizabeth Pisani, takes an incisive look at the sex trade, HIV/AIDS prevention strategies and the operations of national and international non-governmental organizations.  Ms. Pisani, an epidemiologist who has worked with UNAIDS, the World Bank and other organizations and governments takes a no-holds barred approach to the issue.  What works?  What doesn’t?  How can governments and multi-nationals spend their HIV/AIDS budgets more effectively?

As Ms. Pisani points out scare tactics don’t always work.  Neither does ignorance.  African governments were slow to respond to the crisis, slow to get the information about the disease to their populations and slow to put reduction strategies such as the distribution of condoms into effect with the result that the virus transmission rate went through the roof.  With the exception of Senegal and Uganda, African societies made like or no effort to talk frankly about sex, about the risks of multiple partnering, about the need to use condoms, about the benefits of circumcision.  Sexual relations in Africa happens in nets – for example, a man may have two or three wives in his compound but also has a visiting relationship with other women.  By contrast, in Europe, relationships happen in ‘strings’ where a man will only have one partner at a time. These are some of the factors which have led to sub-Saharan Africa having the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, followed by the Caribbean where similar factors, multiple partnering and an unwillingness to talk about sex, also obtain.

Ms. Pisani’s focus is mostly on Asia, however, and she explores the facts and the myths behind the spread of the disease in such countries as Thailand and East Timor.  Abstinence only programmes, she points out, haven’t worked in the States and don’t work anywhere else.  What works are programmes for drug injectors, men who have sex with men, and sex workers.  Condom distribution programmes also work.  Yet millions of people continue to contract HIV every year because, as Ms. Pisani charges, governments and NGOs don’t like spending money or time on the “wicked.”  Thus, millions and millions of dollars go into prevention measures that actually do very little to prevent people from getting HIV.  Instead, a weird confluence of religious leaders – the Pope, various imams, preachers, etc. – and non-governmental organizations with one eye on the enormous sums being funneled into AIDS and the other eye on each other, deliberately undermine efforts to reach the marginalized.

This is a book that should be read by government leaders, particularly those of the Caribbean where HIV/AIDS prevention seems to have fallen off the radar but where the disease continues to spread through a potent mix of ignorance and complacency

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Water of Sunlight - available now!

THE WATER OF SUNLIGHT - "The Water of Sunlight by Eugenia O’Neal was not an easy book to get through.  It ... had some tough topics to get through. These topics include HIV and drug use among other things. With that being said, I really enjoyed this read. I normally don’t read books with such heavy topics, but I am glad that I read this one...the entire time I was reading this book I rooted for Onita." - Lady Blue Jay


Your day at Mercury begins at 5:00am with the siren.  You will collect your soap and towel and any other necessities and proceed to the shower room.  Your shower is not to last longer than seven minutes.  Remember, cleanliness is your best defense against infection.  Following your shower, you will return to your cell.  At 6:30am, you will proceed to the dining hall for your first meal of the day. 
            Onita flipped to another page.
            The following is a list of prohibited items: Cocaine, Crack, Marijuana, Alcohol, Heroin, Scissors, Knives, Forks, Pens, Guns, Money, Syringes, Stamps, Weapons of any kind.  All controlled substances are strictly prohibited.  Anything that is not sold in the commissary or issued by this institution is prohibited.
            If any prohibited item is found on or around the person of any inmate or in her cell that inmate will be subject, depending on the item, to a penalty ranging from the loss of television privileges for a predetermined time to isolation for a term not exceeding two weeks.
            Onita skipped to another section.
            Visitors are required to dress appropriately.  Visitors dressed in revealing clothing will be prohibited.
            Visitors under the influence of drugs will also be prohibited and visitors may be subject to strip search.
Onita threw the rulebook across the cell.  That shit was not straight.  Who the fuck was gon come visit if they had to wear church clothes?  It was bad enough she was in the middle of nowhere.  Trina and the others wouldn’t hardly know how to get here. 
Onita picked the book back up and put it in her locker.  Maybe throwing the damn book was against the rules too.  Maybe there was even a rule about where you were supposed to put the book, on top or inside the locker.  She took it back out and flipped through it.  On page two it said she could keep a cup and one other item on top her locker, nothing about the rulebook.  Sheeit.  Onita put it back inside.  Ain't no mistaking where she was now.  She flopped down on her bed and stared up at the ceiling.  She was on the second floor of cell-block Number Five.  The soap and towel she had been issued were on a shelf.  The rulebook had explained that, for the first month, commissary items would be credited to her.  Whatever she earned at her prison job would be put to her commissary account and when she had paid off what she owed, a quarter would be set aside in a savings account for when she left.  Jobs were not mandatory but there was a two for one policy in effect.  Every two days she was at a job counted for one day off her sentence.  In twelve months she would qualify for an extra ten days off if she had not violated any rules.
According to the rulebook, she could mop floors or she could work in the laundry, the garment factory, the kitchen, offices and other areas.  Prisoners could also earn favorable parole reviews by attending programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, parenting classes and vocational skills courses.  None of those options set her on fire but the thought of getting out early did.  Moon Dog would have less of a chance to get sent up or offed by anyone else the quicker she got back to him.  Only the thought of living long enough to kill the motherfucker kept her alive. If she had done what she set out to do on Horley Street, she would have turned the gun on herself.  That was her intention.  
Available NOW from Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo and all online booksellers.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Snapshot Saturday!

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

More than a decade ago, I got the chance to go to Anegada to witness the re-introduction of flamingos to the island and was able to take some pix.  Flamingoes had once been common on Anegada, an island with large ponds, but were hunted to extinction.  The National Parks Trust had embarked on a project to get them back and the group below were sent from Bermuda.  They were then caged in a small area of the biggest pond for a little while to allow them to acclimatize and were released a few days or weeks later (I can't remember the exact time frame.)  The group you see below has flourished and there are now more than a hundred flamingos on the island!

 They're always a gorgeous sight!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Caribbean writers, past and present

A lot of people, including the tourists who visit the Caribbean region, don't know much about our literary tradition so, today, I'm continuing with my occasional series on our writers.

First up, Paule Marshall.  Marshall was born in the United States to Barbadian parents in 1929 and grew up to undertake a literary tour with Langston Hughes.  Her novels explore themes of belonging, migration, the search for identity and the role of women in society.  She has been a MacArthur Fellow and the winner of the Dos Passos Prize for Literature.  The Chosen Place, The Timeless People and Brown Girl, Brownstones are two of my favourite works by her.

The Chosen Place, The Timeless People

Samuel Selvon, Trinidadian, was born in 1923 and died in 1994.  His book, Ways of Sunlight, was required reading when I was in high school but it was when I was grown that I read The Lonely Londoners and cracked up laughing at the things some of his West Indian characters got up to in London.  I found Selvon's depiction of black women troubling but his stories are classic portrayals of the struggles of West Indians in London in the 1950s and 1960s when violent attacks on blacks and subsequent riots were not uncommon.

Born in 1938, Rosario Ferre is a Puerto Rican born author who writes poetry and essays as well as novels.  Her first collection of short stories was published in 1976.  She is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico and has been a visiting professor at Rutgers University and John Hopkins University.  I've read both Sweet Diamond Dust (a collection of stories) and The House on the Lagoon which is a stirring story about a woman's interpretation of her family history and the history of the island.

The House on the Lagoon

I hope you'll check out some of these authors!  Enjoy!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Snapshot Saturday!

The City of London on parade!  These were taken a couple years ago when I was in London.  Any organization within the City's environs can take part so it's quite a diverse parade.  The Lord Mayor's golden carriage was last but I didn't get a pix for some reason.

I love the sound of bagpipes!

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Lorna Goodison, poet and author

Lorna Goodison is a poet I read and re-read.  This is an excerpt from one of my favourite poems of hers.

I am Becoming My Mother

Yellow/brown woman
fingers smelling always of onions

My mother raises rare blooms
and waters them with tea
her berith waters sang like rivers
my mother is now me...

And here she is, herself, reading an excerpt from a book about her mother.