Feast of the flesh
By Raffique Shah
March 9, 2014
That Trinidad Carnival is today mostly a feast of the flesh in its most carnal manifestation should surprise no one. We have worked very hard, over decades, to get here. Now that we have reached the pinnacle—a sea of near-naked bodies gyrating and simulating sex acts that put the Kama Sutra to pale—we should rejoice.
Yet, I hear Archbishop Joseph Harris complain about this authoritative definition of our culture. In his Ash Wednesday sermon, Father Harris lamented the debauchery that precedes Lent, although, wisely, he didn't call on the Catholic flock to desist.
Predictably, his congregation comprised mostly older women who have long passed the age of wine and poses, and who, as they prepare to meet the good Lord, probably do not even view Carnival via the television, the best vantage point for close-ups of genital interaction.
Watching the dogs-in-heat displays on TV, which is now standard fare, a friend blurted, "And yuh go see dem tomorrow in church looking pious like the Pope!" No, I responded, this lot no longer cares about forgiveness for biblical sins, so they won't go for ashes. The generations that misbehaved on the streets many years ago, who are now closer to Thee, Lord, are the ones who will hobble into the churches.
So said, so done.
Thing is, we—my generation, the one ahead and a few behind—have no moral authority to condemn today's masqueraders for their licentious behaviour. We failed or neglected to draw a line in the sand or on the road or wherever, when it mattered. Moreover, we are not without sin, so we cannot cast the first or any stone.
A few weeks ago, I wrote singing praises to the Mighty Sparrow as the greatest calypsonian ever. But Sparrow was also the smuttiest calypsonian in history. His most popular songs—"Congo Man", "Mae Mae", "Saltfish", "Sa Sa Yea", "Lion and Donkey"—had strong, even undisguised, sexual connotations.
Sparrow was not singular in this respect. Blakie (Hold de Pussy), Kitchener (Dr Kitch) and Zandolee (Iron Man), to name three among scores of bawdy bards, and a small sampling of their many raunchy renditions, regaled us with songs that were, well, vulgar. And we sang along with them, didn't we? Oh, we did, lustily, maybe even obscenely so.
However, the sexual innuendoes of yesteryear were cleverly concealed behind creative curtains of double entendre and melodies so sweet, I suppose we could excuse ourselves for getting carried away.
As Sparrow often responded to his critics, "De vice in yuh head!"
Besides the bawdy songs, there were other vulgar displays, which, I dare add, had some class about them. How many septuagenarians and octogenarians of today trawled the streets during Jouvert, men dressed in women's nighties that barely covered oversized boobs and exaggerated derrieres? Hundreds carried "pozies" (chamber pots) from which they sipped wild concoctions of alcoholic beverages as they paraded in gay abandon.
Not to be outdone, many women, masks concealing their identities, strapped on vulgar phallic protrusions that they obscenely shook in the faces of onlookers. Then there was Ronnie Williams, a real "Trini-Chinee" who rose to be a senior minister of government, who ritually paraded on Jouvert morning wearing the largest women's panty in the world—I swear.
So, yes, we had our ribaldry, which, at the time, we considered to be fun...and funny.
I imagine the soca bards of today who are explicit in their sexual commands and demands would say, as Sparrow did, that "de vice in we head". I beg to differ. The snippets I have heard contain no double entendre, and some of them are positively frightening. Last year, a Caribbean artiste was advising men who are denied entry to "kick em she back door". And he is just one of a slew of sexual predators by song.
If the male singers are disgusting, many of the females are worse in their degeneracy. And the worst of the lot are the women who parade the streets near-naked, and who engage in what I would term 'dry sex' in public, on the streets, on stages. They leave nothing to the imagination. I hasten to add that a well-executed Trini-wine can be considered a work of art. Nobody does it better, and, properly done, with all the eroticism, only prudes would dismiss it as being vulgar.
There is, however, a virtual chasm between "wining" and the vulgarity that passes for masquerade today. As I argued earlier, we have worked hard to reach this sorry pass. When bikinis and beads intruded on costumes, we complained but enjoyed the 'eye food', lechers that we are.
Soon, women were slashing their tops and bottoms, reducing them to near-nothing, with bandleaders cashing in on this lucrative costumes-in-envelopes million-dollar business. Corporate Trinidad and Government endorsed the trend with big bucks, and we all sat back and watched the demise of costumed bands and the avalanche of nakedness and licentiousness that passes for Trinidad Carnival.
In this scenario, I'm not surprised that All Stars' sailor band won "Band of the Year". How George Bailey must be turning in his grave.
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