A mocking pretender. That is what 3canal singer and J’Ouvert bandleader Wendell Manwarren said he thought about American actor/businessman Michael B Jordan, who has named his new rum J’Ouvert.
On Sunday some people were enraged, flocking to social media to complain about the Black Panther actor trademarking the word J’Ouvert for his rum.
“I tried to figure out if they are serious. The thing I find appalling is that they tried to trademark something that is inherently a part of our cultural inheritance and cultural legacy. J’Ouvert is a ritual,” Manwarren said.
He thought choosing the name was a marketing attempt and he’s not sure that the rum brand will have any kind of impact on TT’s J’Ouvert, but he was heartened that people were aggrieved over the choice.
“These things are precious to us, and we need to guard them and value them.
"This is the epitome of what I would call a mocking pretender. You don’t know, and you don’t know that you don’t know. You are ignorant and you’re ignorant of your own ignorance.”
Quoting the Tao Te Ching, a book of Chinese philosophy, he said: "Woe unto him who grossly innovates while ignorant of the constant.
"J’Ouvert is our constant. J’Ouvert is our ritual. J’Ouvert marks the beginning of our year. J’Ouvert is our commemoration, our ancestral struggle for liberation and emancipation, so it is not something that we take lightly.”
Attillah Springer, who describes herself as a "jouvayist," said the rum branding is a prime example of how people, locals as well as internationally, are not informed about the cultural history and legacy of J’Ouvert.
“I feel like there is, on one side, a conversation about trademarks, which is essentially a moot point. If you look at the legal standing, there is nothing wrong with registering a trademark named J’Ouvert.”
But she said, this cannot just be looked at from a legal point of view, because from an emotional and cultural context, J’Ouvert has a historical and emotional meaning to the country.
“A lot of people were vex yesterday (Sunday) because they didn’t understand the trademark issue. They did not understand why they were feeling this visceral rejection of the idea that someone could take the name of something that means so much to us and put it to a product that we will never see any benefit from.”
The origins of J’Ouvert, she said, had nothing to do with Carnival, but Emancipation.
“J’Ouvert is part of our emancipatory process. It is a ritual, and it becomes really problematic for someone to try and own that.”
The reason why people were enraged about branding a rum J’Ouvert is because: “We rioted for this. We rioted for the right to have J’Ouvert...J’Ouvert is about visibility. J’Ouvert is about protest, celebration in the face of people who did not see you as a human being.
"When you take all of that into consideration, it was extremely triggering to see in the trademark section something like: 'This means nothing in a foreign language.'”
She said disregard for J’Ouvert’s cultural history and legacy really tripped people off.
She believes when Jordan’s team researched J’Ouvert’s etymology they only checked Wikipedia, which describes it as a street party, but said that does not even scratch the surface.
“J’Ouvert is spiritual. It is an invocation of resistance and rebellion launched from the Canboulay riots.”
She saw people saying J’Ouvert is a corruption of a French term,
Jour Ouvert, which means the opening of the day, but J’Ouvert comes out of TT’s mythology.
Springer said J’Ouvert is what emerges after Emancipation as a celebration of Emancipation and a remembrance of the horrors of enslavement.
“Do you think the society that existed at the time, first of all, (wanted) enslavement to be abolished? Do you think that they were pleased at the fact that these Africans were on the road claiming their freedom?
"No, that is why the J’Ouvert celebration was banned from Emancipation Day and put to the Christian Carnival structure.”
Springer said in cultural appropriation, a dominant culture takes a form that belongs to or is practiced by a minority culture, but does not acknowledge the origin.
She said there is appropriation going on, even though Jordan’s business partner has a TT connection.
“Because he is a part of Trinidad culture, he has a right to claim it, and I fully support that right. However, we still have not reached the point where we are comfortable enough in our skin to give over that access yet.”
She wondered what would happen in a few years when she travels to England, Japan or Germany and says she is going to J’Ouvert and someone asks: “Isn’t that a rum?”
The brand, she said, is trying to build by tapping into the cultural forms that are relevant to the country.
“It is fundamentally dishonest in the trademark application to say J’Ouvert means nothing, because it absolutely means something – that is why they want to associate it with the brand...
“It is being used as the name for this rum. You could have called it 'Fig Leaf.' They didn’t call it that. They called it J’Ouvert, because J’Ouvert means something.”