HOLLIS “CHALKDUST” LIVERPOOL
IN THE early 1970s, the Mighty Composer (Fred Mitchell) composed and sang a calypso entitled Black Fallacy in which he showed that many people today and “from since in the beginning” continue to use the word “black with a degrading twist,” to denote racism, prejudice and bigotry in their dealings with Africans and African descendants. He named words like “blackjack, blackmail, black lie, black book, black eye and blacklist,” and went on to state that they do so out of spite, for they “know that these words don’t exist.”
The calypso was a hit with the Black Power crowd in the 1970s for Composer explained to his Caribbean, diasporic audiences that whites and bigots “made up the English language in such a way, to belittle my black brothers every day,” hoping to make the world believe that “everything black is evil.”
Now in this era of Black Lives Matter and right on our doorsteps daily, I am drawn to television programmes where Caribbean seermen, in their quest to make a dollar in these covid19 times, are selling their services to Trinidadians especially, with a view to the rooting out of “voodoo, black magic and obeah” from the population.
For the operational records, every time I turn on my TV to watch Beyond the Tape on TV6 with Roger Alexander and Marlon Hopkinson, and Crime Watch with Ian Alleyne on Synergy TV, I am bombarded with advertisements from these prognosticators telling me they have the power to save us Trinis from the evil of black magic, voodoo and obeah.
What makes these advertisements more disdainful and beneath the diameter of human responsibility is that 99.99 per cent of the soothsayers are Hindu pundits. In fact, I counted 17 of them on Supt Alexander’s show on Thursday; they hailed from San Juan to Cedros and boasted of their anti-obeah skills and their certificates for providing cures for voodoo.
It is a fact that if we adhere to the many books and films of racists, voodoo has been shown by these authors to be primitive acts of stupidity and sorcery (control of evil spirits) that even aim to worship Satan and allow evil spirits to be cast upon decent people to the extent that many of the saintly ones, although good-natured and religious, become inundated with diseases, mental and otherwise, that cannot be explained by modern medicine. Worse, voodoo for the racists affect mainly Africans who when they fall under its evil spell, turn into murderous beasts and madmen who cannot live with human beings. Hence, racists preach the need for the purification of such black souls.
If we study history, however, particularly African and Caribbean history, we would know that Vodun (plural Vodu) which was highlighted first in Haiti is the synthesis of the traditional religions of Dahomey, Yorubaland and the Kongo, which the enslaved brought from Africa during the period of African enslavement in the Caribbean, and infused it with certain aspects of Roman Catholicism to which they were exposed in French Saint Domingue, as a way of adaptation to their new environment. CLR James in his famous book on the revolution in Haiti, Black Jacobins, referred to their Vodun religion as “Africa in the West Indies.”
Actually, the Vodun religion had two parts: one was named Rada after the Dahomean city of Allada and the other was named Petra or Petra-Lemba after a leader in Haiti called Don Pedro and the Healing Society from the Kongo district of Haiti named after Lemba. Both Rada and Lemba are African-inspired spirits and spiritual events and both, joined together, allow African people in Haiti to become embraced in a religious Vodun whereby they honour their ancestors and worship Almighty God – to the Catholics, Olorun to the Yorubas, Mawu to the Fons of Dahomey and BonDieu to many Haitians.
Certainly, because of the fact that Africans in Dahomey, now called Benin, and those in Yorubaland worshipped and believed in one supreme creator, it was easy for them to adapt to the Roman-Catholic, Almighty God in Haiti.
Many of us in Trinidad would know, too, that the Rada religion was practised here by the enslaved and freedmen in Belmont Valley Road, Belmont, in the late 18th and throughout the 19th century, so that many of the shrines, artefacts and symbols of the faith, including the Rada cemetery, can still be found in the holy lands of the sacred area, which the enslaved called “Freetown.”
Africans believe that spirits manifest themselves by “mounting” the bodies of their devotees, and in Haiti, as Vodun practitioners, they believed that Catholic saints did the same, by way of miracles. We in Trinidad in the Kalenda before Carnival carried our sticks to the cemetery to be mounted by spirits in preparation for the celebrated stickfights. After Carnival, the mounted sticks were taken back to the cemetery – a return to the spirit world.
Hence in Vodun, spirits mount the believers to do good, to heal the sick, to bless children and marriages and to forecast evils that may be in the way. Racist Whites, however, spread the lies that Vodun priests were all devil worshippers who were bent on putting evil on whites and plantation owners, as a form of remonstrative resistance to enslavement. Hence, they changed the holy term “Vodu” to an evil “voodoo,” represented often by a black doll stuck with pins.
Those of us who are old enough to remember would know that prime minister Forbes Burnham, when Guyana became independent, pronounced that “obeah was the religion of the enslaved.” As such, he legalised obeah in Guyana as the religion of African descendants. In Composer’s calypso, he explained that the term “black magic” was in fact obeah; it is Africa reblended.
The soothsayers of today who peddle all this voodoo nonsense are predators. They seek to exploit people who, now quarantined in their homes, have become depressed and are therefore vulnerable to swindlers. They seek to bring darkness to our world of spiritual light. They are in fact doing the devil’s work. One wonders that in today’s foolish world of Indian magic, Arab magic, Chinee magic and white magic, why would learned Hindu pundits yet seek to focus on and spread the term “black magic?”
Surely, if other groups must show respect for Africans, especially at this time when we celebrate emancipation, and if society must truly understand that “African Lives Matter,” television stations in Trinidad, as well as Roger Alexander, Marlon Hopkinson and Ian Alleyne, must all say “no” to the casting off of “voodoo, black magic and obeah’’ from the noble hearts and minds of Trinidadians/Tobagonians. They must seek to dispel such garbage from their knowledgeable programmes.
The Mighty Composer ended his calypso by saying that when we suffer from a “bad” day, we never call it a “white day.” Why then must we have in our language “a black day, a blackjack and a black Friday.” According to Composer, “This black thing, that they instilling in we, is what breeds inferiority.”