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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Carnival of the Animals

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

Apologies to Camille Saint-Saens

I am guilty. But musicians are a wicked set of people. My girlfriends and I are having a girls-night-out and so we are sitting and talking, and generally having a good time. One of the musicians sends over a bottle of wine. But I don't drink, so I don’t business. My girlfriends suggest I take a little sip. Just a teeny, weeny sip, like we do at communion. They encourage and remind me that Jesus turned water into wine. And so I take a sip.

I just smell the thing. My lips hardly move, more-less open. Suddenly, the band strikes up this soca music. The next thing I know is that one on my brand-new, expensive, high heel shoes just slide off my foot, and dance away, without my permission.

I work hard for my money. I can't afford to lose anything. So naturally, I get up to get back my wandering shoe. The next thing I know is that the other shoe I still have on, or think I have on, decides to become an apostrophe and follow the walk-way one.

Contrary to what some people think, I am not a bad girl. I just can’t help it. Some people are addicted to drugs and alcohol, and even sex. All I need is music. I am not even an addict, really. I am a slave (from a land so far). The story I hear is that my great grandfather used to play organ in church; and the Sunday when I was christening, he played the organ so well (after drinking off the communion wine, on top of a flat of white rum), the whole church, including the parson, and innocent, baby me, put down one piece of dancing in the house of the Lord.

So I have to dance out the penalty for that Sunday by being a slave to music. Being a slave is a very complicated thing. Long ago in Africa, before the Atlantic Slave Trade, we had domestic slavery. In African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Anne C. Bailey tells us that domestic slaves were usually criminals or debtors sold into slavery, and that domestic slavery played the role prisons serve in industrialized societies today. So it is not hard to understand how some domestic slaves were sold by Africans to Europeans. We have to study this because revisionists are saying all sorts of things about how many domestic slaves Africans sold, and how many Africans who were not domestic slaves were captured by Europeans by themselves or in cahoots with Africans.

Domestic slavery in Africa was totally different from the chattel slavery we ended up in after we crossed the Atlantic. Anne C. Bailey tells us that chattel slavery in the Americas meant servitude in perpetuity, and the inhumane, chattel slavery system was codified in law. The African, domestic slavery system was much more varied and sometimes included ways in which slaves could rise above their station and even become chiefs.

But I don’t like to talk about this slavery business because my girlfriends get upset. All I am trying to tell them is that they should not mix up domestic slavery in Africa and chattel slavery across the Atlantic. A chattel is an item of movable personal property, such as furniture, domestic animals, etc. But I know why they get upset.

The way I see it, some of my girlfriends are still in chattel slavery. One of them cannot go anywhere without her extensions. The amount of hair she has in her bedroom, you will think her bedroom is a saloon or a barbershop. Stories say she got recently left because when her boyfriend pulled on her extensions one night, her extension clean gone, and his extension gone too.

Another one is said to take fastness on holiday in Florida and go on the Ferris wheel with her extensions and her boyfriend. When the Ferris wheel and the breeze rise up, the extensions rise up too and fly clean off like an airplane. The gal so embarrass by her nice, natural, ebony, nappy hair, she covers her head (as if her head bald), and bawl and bawl until the whole Ferris wheel wet down. But the boyfriend, playing big man when they reach back home, is telling a different story on how the whole Ferris wheel get wet.

So when it’s carnival time, and I dance, and my shoes go away and sometimes parts of my body look like they want to jump up and get out of prison, it’s not my fault. But I ask why. Why we have carnival celebrations right beside Her Majesty’s Prison? It is so sad and ironic. First of all, as a reminder of domestic slavery in Africa, all people of African descent should have a completely different approach to prisons. How can we lock up our people who have wronged our society and make them wrong each other (again and again) in a prison society? They are not animals; not chattel.

This is why carnival is always so very sad to me. We celebrate emancipation and we fight for reparations. Good. One of my friends says that reparations must come and that reparations have nothing to do with how we treated or treat each other; even if we eat each other. True. (Good thing I am vegetarian). But why are we so afraid to confront our native past and fix our prisons and prisoners as a reminder of our glorious and inglorious past and customs?

And so I dance. I dance half naked even, at carnival time. Police can lock me up, again. I dance until they move carnival celebrations from Antigua Recreation Grounds, next to the prison, or reform the prison to liberate our memories of domestic slavery in Africa. Only so I can keep my brand-new, expensive, high heel shoes from wandering.

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