Hidden in Opposition – Observations on Obeah, Santa Muerte and the Veiled Potency of Folk Practice

•December 13, 2019 • Leave a Comment

“Obeah is notoriously difficult to define for those searching for a coherent system by this name. Obeah is, like witchcraft, a sorcerous art exercised by the one who possesses the ‘obi’ – or power. The Obeahman or woman inherits a particular power that aids effectively in enhancing the potency of their spellcraft, duppy-catching and sorcery.”

– From Obeah: A Sorcerous Ossuary, by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold

It was Santa Muerte who lead me to Obeah, or rather lead me more deeply into the question of Obeah after I had touched on it earlier while researching the cultural influence of mail-order occultist L.W. de Laurence. In searching out the popular streams, occult ephemera, and urban materia magica that attend to La Nina Bonita’s contemporary public emergence I encountered a deeper understanding of Obeah, an Afro-Latin spirituality that shares with Her a similar confusion in terms of practice and public persona.

These are ghost spiritualities, names spoken in hushed tones, complicated by fear, adoration, respect, and care. To find and understand their devotions is not possible through texts and dispossessed investigation, one must seek their very heart, and in doing so accept the price of seeing beyond the social boundaries that hold us safely in our comfortably commodified identities.

Kaliedescopic Images

Even when one approaches these practices first hand, their very nature bars outsiders from glimpsing their true meaning. Courting Mysteries, and ubiquitous in their assumption of everyday iconographic and symbolic tools, the kaliedescopic image of these traditions emerges as a veil through which the cynical or skeptical observer can’t see past. Obeah, popularized in songs by Captain Beefheart, Dr. John, Exuma, Mad Professor, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Bob Marley, Max Romeo and innumerable others, remains no less obscure for whatever may be gleaned from their interpretations, which are mostly those of musicians and cultural creatives and not necessarily practitioners (with the potential exception of Don Van Vliet, Tony McKay and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.)

The cultural divides between interested academics, curiosity seekers and suburban enthusiasts and the people who practice these communally centered, integral occult traditions also creates a serious block for communication and understanding. Amassing data, anecdotes and fluctuating facts merely serves to further obscure the source of central, active power that these practices work with.

The folks at VICE discovered this while attempting to cover the Obeah tradition back in 2011 with an embarrassing edition of “All the Wrong Places.” Driving around Jamaica looking for an Obeah practitioner in a Mini-Cooper, host Krishna Andavolu, and his “co-pilot” Natalia Sanchez, quickly find that no one will give them a straight answer or any useful information. Andavolu expresses surprise, saying that, “trying to find people to actually talk to us on camera about Obeah has been next to impossible…I think that’s because it’s something you don’t want to fuck with.” More I would say that they don’t feel the need to talk to clumsy tourists about, what on one hand, is a confidence tradition tied with everything from local blackmail to murder, and on the other is a secretive initiatory practice that has at times carried a legal death sentence for practitioners and has deep ties to African traditionalism, community governance and the Caribbean’s revolutionary history.

When they pull up to an occult supply shop in Kingston, Jamaica, which differs very little from many Botanicas and Afro-Latin religious supply stores in the United States, they are faced with a mundane array of what appear to be novelty goods, what the original De Laurence, Scott and Co. catalog described as “Materials Accessory to the Pursuit of Mystic Study.” Various petitionary candles, powders, oils, baths, sprays and amulets produce a colorful tapestry that the hosts giggle at and dismiss as just the outer effects of a complex and curious cultural con-game. The proprietors careful expression of disbelief in the products’ efficacy soothes their sense of doubt, and put up against the notoriety of Obeah practice, the store seems to be some sort of joke.

Attend to the Atmosphere

Yet, when you enter a store like this, if you attend carefully, the atmosphere reverberates with unspoken intentions and actions. Everything on sale here relates to the focus of will, and reading the labels on candles marked Authentic Domination, Command/Compel/Control, and Death to My Enemies, give some idea that these are often very raw human desires that are highlighted.  These stores are central to the human drama of their communities, where emotions and ideals are actively evoked through ritual participation in the greater drama of the cosmos as dilleniated by the seemingly simple color associations, herbs, icons and such. There is an undeniable potency to this. It can be felt even on the most anachronistic objects found here, they manifest a new resonance and import when placed in proximity to more arcane ideations.

In traditions such as Obeah, and the devotions of Santa Muerte, there is no chance to encounter the actual image of the tradition without working with it in some way, and rare are the journalists or scholars who are willing to take the responsibility associated with this kind of work, and silent are the practitioners who have no reason for public scrutiny or understanding of their Mysteries. These are personal, local, and community based practices, which, despite the shock they illicit when they come to light in the commercial culture, have deep roots in the development and sustainability of the societies they exist within.

A Personal Account 

Anthropologist and psychologist, Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold has a new work,  Obeah: A Sorcerous Ossuary, published by Hadean Press, in which he details his experience and understanding of this diverse, secretive and powerful Caribbean tradition. For Frisvold, initiated into a obeah lineage from Trinadad, “obeah is a sorcerous cult, a personal and unique art rooted in spirit pacts and spirit trafficking – as such it is difficult to explain it’s tenets in a uniform way. It is difficult to explain because sorcery tends to be highly pragmatic in its orientation, and thus is centered on one’s merging and induction to a spirit patron or patrons that support the sorcerous power and teach the sorcerer in the virtues of that power.” He goes on further to say that “Obeah takes its power from the woods and sees trees and bushes as arcane spirits….at the core of the tradition is found obiya or sasa, a natural power that can facilitate transformation. The obiya is just this, a power given – an amoral power that transforms.” For some, the curios and “materials accessory to the pursuit of mystical study,” supplied by occult stores, like the one the VICE crew visited in Kingston, provide the symbolic link for that transformation, for others, closer to the forests and the natural source of power, this tradition takes a much more visceral dimension.

Magic in Mass Production

Unwittingly, when they casually laugh at the outward mundanity of much of the store’s goods, the VICE crew are admitting that the world of mass consumption and alienation from nature that they are emissaries of, and which supports their ironic detachment, is unable to hold, for them, the deep sense of spiritual power that exists in their idea of what Obeah might be.  Items created by the same technological processes that produce their sunglasses, or the Mini-Cooper their sponsors provided, can’t hold the source of mystery for them that they feel they are seeking, having heard so many stories surrounding dark and occult secrets. The scholar Diana Paton notes a similar irony in an essay found in Obeah and Other Powers – The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing (Duke University Press, 2012.) Discussing the career of  policeman turned ethnologist and 19th century world’s fair exhibitor, Herbert T. Thomas, Paton states that:

“Thomas noted the ‘superior quality’ of the African material in comparison with the ‘useless rubbish and filth used by the obeahmen of Jamaica.’ This illustrated, he claimed, ‘how the cult of obeah worship has deteriorated on the soil of Jamaica.’ His designation of the Jamaican objects as inferior appears, ironically, to be a response to their incorporation of the “modern” manufactured materials acquired through the international trade that the (1891 Jamaica International) Exhibition hoped to promote, such as the mirror, playing cards, and glass marble. The Jamaican use of found and acquired objects for ritual purposes, when contrasted to the artisanal working of animal and vegetable materials attributed to the Mende, allowed the latter to be presented as superior even while the “tribe” was subject to imperial conquest.

In a sense, Thomas’s presentation of the African material was a spatialized version of the approach taken by contemporary representations (including at exhibitions) of India, which presented the country as having degenerated from a better past. The solution was not to return to that past but to eradicate it.”

Yet this seemingly innocent material, a marble, a mirror, some playing cards, in the hands of an Obeahman or woman become a focal point for universal power, so tradition says, that can be used to restore heath and enrich the community, or destroy the very root of vitality in a person or society.  What is missing in the cold reception to the simplicity of these items is the sight and spiritual maturity to actually see their place in a much greater web of influence and cosmology, where, when activated by intention and proper use, they become  tools to access invisible worlds that are far beyond the skeptics’ grasp for no other reason that it takes an initial movement of faith to see them.  So it is that the faux sophistication of the intelligensia is shown to be mute in the face of the penetrating vision of those they label as superstitious and irrational, which is able to transmute common household items into objects of spiritual reference no different in potency than the iconographic marvels of the Gothic cathedrals.

Neutral Powers

Dr. Dianne Diakite, an associate professor of Religion and African American Studies at Emory University, supports the understanding of obeah as a neutral power, which can harm or heal reliant on the intention of the practitioner. However, she adds weight to this neutrality by mentioning that, “one of the intentions for the enslaved community was to utilize Obeah as an aggressive force for weaponry and warfare against the colonial establishment, and we see Obeah at the root of every slave revolt in Jamaica in the 18th century all the way through the Sam Sharp revolt of 1831 which involved 60 thousand enslaved Africans on the island.”

Marcus Garvey, one of the most powerful social figures in Jamaican history, studied the same “mind science” material that, under the filter of Obeah, becomes ‘high science,’ or the ability to tap into the raw power of intention and will at a universal level. Encountered in the guise of popular occult curios and pulp press editions, these same tools become an innocuous blind behind which the fire of revolutionary intention, the organic flux of nature seeking equilibrium, boils awaiting release.

Ghost Spiritualities

In a similar light we find Walmart selling t-shirts with grim reaper imagery that, in Mexico, is used on devotional shirts for Santa Muerte. An image holding the potential to be an icon of what is commonly called a Satanic narco-cult in the popular press is for sale at one of America’s leading resale distributors. Yet its potency is latent without the activation of the name, Santa Muerte. Once She is called, with belief, then the t-shirt becomes something more.

Ghost spiritualities, summoned by a name, requiring work to activate, but once activated they take on a life of their own, their names become something that can only be whispered with meaning, loudly speaking them shows a lack of understanding and marks out the speaker as unknowing, outside the tradition. Mysteries which can be entered, which change the atmosphere of an area, whose symbols stand hidden in plain sight, mocked, looked over, and yet with the right intention capable of setting fire to civilization.

“When I was introduced to Obeah I was also introduced to the ‘Kabalistic banquette.’ The banquette is similar to the banguette we find set for Bawon Samedi and the Ghuede on All-Hallows or the commemoration of the Might Dead found in some strains of Traditional Craft…A master of ceremonies is appointed and given a lash and a sword. On the table is also present a cop of Waite’s ‘The Book of Black Magic’, Lemegeton, The Grimoire of Honorius or Grimorium Verum – although Waite’s book, like de Laurence’s The Great Book of Magical Art, are the most frequent magical books present at the banquette table.”

– From Obeah: A Sorcerous Ossuary, by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold

How many copies of A.E. Waite’s Book of Black Magic lie unexamined in Goodwill and Salvation Army stores across the U.S.  Yet, again, as Frisvold points out in his recent publication, under the influence of obeah this book becomes a nigromantic gate which opens the possibility of spirit communication and trance work.  L.W. de Laurence makes an even more astonishing transformation under the auspices of Obeah, from forgotten mail-order mystic to a beloved Adept of the Devil himself, capable of granting knowledge and power.

The Power of a Word

When understood, the word Obeah itself is a gate to this manifestation of natural power, which historically has been seen by the forces of control as corrosive to their social ideals. In an article for The Journal of Caribbean HistoryObeah: Healing and Protection, Kenneth M. Bilby and Jerome S. Handler point out that, “indeed, the term obeah has come to be endowed with a malevolent/malign social power – much like the ‘bad words’which can lead to legal sanctions if publicly uttered in Jamaica or other West Indian societies.” Considering this, it is not surprising that the stumbling VICE media team was unable to make headway asking everyone they ran into for an Obeahman.

Their status as tourists, with media backing, and the fact that, it appears from their footage, they did most of their investigating in the daytime, allowed their quest to end without any unfortunate consequences. The same kind of stumbling naivete from someone without the many social protections the VICE team had could end up in a very bad place wandering through the most chaotic and uncontrolled parts of town looking for sorcerers. Yet it was with an unspoken acknowledgement of this that they stayed on well trod paths and kept most rocks unturned.

Hidden in Opposition

“The path of (Obeah) is not for everyone. It holds a certain allure in its promise of power, but possessing the obiya comes with a price and this price is related to the knowledge of death…Possession of the ‘knowledge of death’ tends to impair – at least for some time until it balances out – one’s happiness. Consequently a large part of Obeahmen and women have chosen lives as recluses, while others have chosen a more active trade as sorcerers-for-hire.”

– From Obeah: A Sorcerous Ossuary, by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold

The sense of eradicating the potent history that underpins a tradition like Obeah is aided by the potential dangers in researching it beyond the safe confines of daylight society, yet this is also what aids the secrecy which empowers these ghost spiritualities. By blindly touching the edge of what Obeah means the merely curious can ignore how close they come to touching the potent existential ‘knowledge of death,’ which Frisvold identifies at the heart of the cult in the experiences he details in his work. This knowledge is what allowed Obeah to become so central to revolutionary groups through out Caribbean history, as it goes far beyond simple understanding of herbs, poisons, and psychology.

Obeah remains hidden in opposition, as the cartoon like popular image of the practice allows it to exist unseen by those unable to read between the lines.  As a cult with spirit congress so close to it’s central practice, the memories of past and present become living experiences. When those memories are centuries of struggle, slavery, poverty, colonial imperialism, and the slow battle to maintain cultural integrity the tradition can take on darker aspects that scholars and journalists remain uncomfortable touching on. It also becomes impossible to consider integration with the powers of oppression and their representatives. It is here that the Obeah becomes a doorway though which repressed communities reassert their natural right, through the cultivation and connection to the central fire of the cosmos and the very secrets of ‘death’ itself.

Idiosyncrasies and the Scholarly Vacuum 

In Frisvold’s work he presents what he admits is an idiosyncratic vision of Obeah, based on the understanding he has through the initiation of an Obeahman from Trinidad who initially tried to persuade him to accept the lighter Caribbean tradition of the Spiritual Baptists.  As with his other works on African Diaspora Traditions, Frisvold has stepped forward in the midst of a scholarly vacuum to provide his personal insights into practices which have been, and continue to remain, shrouded.

For perspective, although a scholarly examination, Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing, never gives a proper description of what Obeah is, or how it is practiced. Eleven academics writing on the topic, and not one article discusses the actual practical existence of the cult. This obfuscation is found in all the material dealing with Obeah, and this is one of the most powerful recommendations of Frisvold’s work, wherein we find an outline of the tradition as he was given it.

Since Obeah is practiced by individuals and small groups across the Caribbean and even in parts of South and Central America, and has no formal or systematic doctrines, even this glimpse into one facet of the practice does nothing to bring light to the secrets that the tradition holds. This is not a critique, but rather a celebration, as all too often scholarly inquiry can act like a cold, dead hand covering the light it seeks to reveal. What Frisvold has provided is a small crack through which we can see some of the deeper currents flowing through this mysterious practice which has supported revolutionaries, confidence artists, community leaders, healers and Scientists for centuries.

Power in Diversity 

The traditions surrounding Santa Muerte have a similar diversity, dependent as they are on the communal response to shrines, personal encounters with La Madrina and the influence of local spiritual leaders.  It is in these kinds of fluid spiritualities, symbolic and amorphous names placed on the cultivation of potent existential forces, that we find answers to what separates the wheat from the chaff in religious experience, and get some hint as to where the real modus operandi lies behind all faith practices. Here there is a greater sense that experience, guided by the cultivation of wisdom through the application of traditional knowledge, provides the true key to spiritual renewal and growth, rather than the rote repetition of doctrines, dogmas and dead ritual.

“Lord of Darkness, King of Light

Come, come here on this stormy night.

There is no star in the sky

I see fire in the dead man’s eye

Touch me, touch me, fix my hand

Let me see what’s in the sand

Man is boy, and boy is man

There ain’t no boss there ain’t no man”

– From the song Mama Loi, Papa Loi by Exuma

Orthodox and official concerns over these traditions is based on this potent connection to the ‘source,’ that fire at the center of existence, which is cultivated, corralled and carefully administered through mainstream religion and politics, and presents a great challenge to controlling powers when it falls into the hands of society’s dispossessed, or those who seek to stand outside the margins of the status quo. Yet this very fire is what enlivens life, providing immediacy and motion to the play of cosmic forces.  The disappointment of the VICE media crew is wrapped in the realization that the society they live in, support, represent and create is incapable of holding the wonder and mystery they associate with meaning and power. Without those who, like the Obeah practitioners or Santa  Muerte devotees, are willing to pursue the spirit beyond the judgement of the static forces of control we are left with the deadening, blind technocracy that threatens to destroy everything which provides any worth to this existence, cutting off all paths to that sacred union which all true traditions profess.

While the mighty minds of technology and business spin their web of influence over the world, seeking some illusory extension of physical life, material wealth or enhanced human abilities, and while self satisfied artists and journalists continue to create narratives to support them, somewhere in a darkened room a candle is lit, a prayer is spoken, the dead are raised, and the integral fire of existence is invoked to bring health and vitality to the true heirs of immortality. Obeah is not feared because of its practices, whatever they may be where it finds a home, it is feared because, when spoken knowingly, it implies a self mastery and understanding of existence itself that can challenge the ruling powers, and the laws they create, with impunity.

Invisible even when out in the open, the spirit goes where it will, war or peace are solely in the heart’s intention, and in the end everyone face the consequences of which path they chose to walk while journeying through this veil of shadows. Something tells me that those who have found the deeper Mysteries of Obeah won’t be the ones to realize that they were unhappy in their decision.

David Metcalfe is an independent researcher, writer and multimedia artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, The Revealer, the online journal of NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, and The Daily Grail. He writes regularly for Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Modern Mythology, Disinfo.com, The Teeming Brain and his own blog The Eyeless Owl. His writing has been featured in The Immanence of Myth (Weaponized 2011), Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color & Music (Alarm Press, 2011) and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness (North Atlantic/Evolver Editions 2012). Metcalfe is an Associate with Phoenix Rising Digital Academy, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

Mini Documentary: A Brief History of Lucian “Kuduro”

•June 19, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Mini Documentary: A Brief History of Lucian “Kuduro”

New location for bust of Charles Eugene de La Croix

•March 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The statue of the Marquis of Castries was unveiled in George V Park, yesterday. (2015 article)

​A bust of Charles Eugene de La Croix, Marquis de Castries that was relocated from the Constitution Park in 2014 to make way for the Sir John Compton Monument, was unveiled in George V Park in Castries, on Tuesday.

The French Ambassador to the OECS, His Excellency Eric de La Moussaye expressed his pleasure at the choice of placement and the long-lasting relationship between the Government and people of France and Saint Lucia, during the unveiling ceremony.

“The choice of this spot is very symbolic. France, by choosing this spot and Saint Lucia by agreeing to it, shows once again that our friendship is alive and well,” the Ambassador said.

“Despite our fast changing world and the reality of globalization, it is good to remember how partnerships began and how friendships were born and last. The historical monuments and statues of great men of history, such as the one we celebrate today, exist as testament to this friendship.”

The Ambassador also spoke of the significance of the bust and the involvement of the Marquis of Castries in shaping the friendship between France and Saint Lucia.

“In erecting this statue, we are honoring more than one man; we are honoring the history of a people,” he said. “We are honoring a very important period which Saint Lucia went through and which has contributed to forging the destiny of the island and of its people.

“When Charles Eugene de La Croix arrived in the Caribbean for the first time in 1756, he was part of the expeditionary corps which the French had sent into the region to contest control of the Antilles by the English. As admiral and commander, he very quickly understood that Saint Lucia, with its central position, its rich land and its exceptionally safe and deep harbour was of significant importance. From then on, he did everything to ensure it remained a French territory.”

In his remarks at the unveiling ceremony, Prime Minister, Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony spoke of the “long knitted relationship” between France and Saint Lucia and the significance of the bust. “Today’s ceremony is representative of another one of many threads in the long knitted relationship between Saint Lucia and France,” Dr. Anthony said.

“Undeniably, France has been the nation most heavily involved in the early settlement and formation of the Saint Lucia; for while the British were about capitalizing Saint Lucia’s military value for their eighteenth and nineteenth century stratagems, the French were keen on establishing settlements and estates, building roads and raising families and constructing a society in their colonial image.

“And thus, the names of most of our settlements are influenced by the notions of these early French settlers and inhabitants. Many of our places are named for individuals who were governors or who played critical roles in the island’s development: D’Ennery, De Micoud, De Laborie, Choiseul.

“De Castries falls within this class of place names, with the Marquis de Castries being part of a French expeditionary force in 1756 which failed to win Saint Lucia back to the French. It was later restored under the Treaty of Paris seven years later in 1763.”

The ceremony, which was jointly hosted by the Government of Saint Lucia and the Embassy of France to the OECS, was attended by Her Excellency, the Governor General of Saint Lucia and other dignitaries.

Source: New location for bust of Charles Eugene de La Croix

What’s All the Fuss About Hair?

•September 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

To me, the way that we choose to wear our hair as black women, carries more significance than it being ‘just a style’. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we choose to accept it or not, the fuss about hair lies on the surface of some perennial racial issues that have finally begun to surface…

Source: What’s All the Fuss About Hair?

REMEMBERING THE LAUNCH OF A REVOLUTION IN ST. LUCIAN RADIO 40 YEARS AGO

•August 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

REMEMBERING THE LAUNCH OF A REVOLUTION IN ST. LUCIAN RADIO FORTY YEARS AGO

Earl Stephen Huntley - Radio presenter/producer, media Consultant, Diplomat.

Earl Stephen Huntley – Radio presenter/producer, media Consultant, Diplomat.

At 7:30pm on the 19th(**) August 1974, St, Lucians heard the theme song of a new programme on Radio Caribbean International; it was “Pint O’Wine” by Joey Lewis and His Orchestra from Trinidad and Tobago and it introduced – “Radioa Se San Nou”- the first magazine programme in St. Lucia Kreyol or St. Lucian Patois as it was more commonly called then. The presenter was a young man, Sam Flood from Gros Islet, who was later to style himself Jouk Bois, Rapping Rhapsody, Jamadar- but it was the Jouk Bois sobriquet that was to remain with him. The producer and creator of the programme was your humble servant, Earl Stephen Huntley, who had already been producing and presenting a Caribbean news analysis programme – Carib Report- for the station.
Today, therefore marks forty years since that programme hit St. Lucia’s airwaves and changed radio in St. Lucia. As I look back at its origins, I realise at the time I was only partially aware of the revolution that I was creating. The programme concept was born out of a workshop I had attended in St. Vincent and the Grenadines a couple of months earlier, organised by the Communications department of the Caribbean Conference Churches (where I was to work a few years later as a radio producer/presenter), on the theme, “Communications for Development”. From the discussions, I concluded that if radio in St. Lucia had to be the agent for change and development in St. Lucia that I had accepted it should be, it needed to communicate in the language of the people of St. Lucia- Kreyol – Patois- Lang Maman Nou; the fact that it was known as Lang Maman Nou- our Mother tongue, but in the St. Lucia context, I would suggest that the more correct translation is the Language of Our Mothers, underlined that it was indeed the language of the majority of its people; and in 1970’s St. Lucia, it certainly was, especially in the rural areas of the island.
When I approached the Englishman who was the manger of the then Rediffusion owned Radio Caribbean, David Gardiner, with the idea, he endorsed it because he had previously worked in Mauritius where Kreyol was spoken and he understood the impact that it could have. However there was opposition from some members of the staff of the station who thought that “patois on the radio” would degrade RCI. That was the historical attitude to Kreyol in St. Lucia – a dialect which was not for the elite and the educated classes. But it was the language of the people and Gardiner saw the commercial potential in it. He agreed to do it. However, I had been the product of this very same thinking that patois was not to be spoken and as a child of two school principals, I had not been allowed to speak patois, even though I lived in Monchy, one of the most country areas of St. Lucia in the 1950’s -1970’s; so my Kreyol was just too limited to present the programme myself. That’s how Jouk Bois came in to radio.

Wednesday 21st August 1974 "The Voice of Saint Lucia" article on the advent of Kweyol(then called Patois) radio programme on Radio Caribbean International.

Wednesday 21st August 1974 “The Voice of Saint Lucia” article on the advent of Kweyol(then called Patois) radio programme on Radio Caribbean International.

He had been one of the dynamic Kreyol speakers on the platform of the St. Lucia Labour Party candidate for Gros Islet in the 1974 election campaign and in scouting around for a presenter, he was brought to my attention. He had just exited a job as a meter reader with St. Lucia electricity services and agreed to audition for the programme. Peter Ephraim, one of the technicians at RCI who was my technical producer for Carib Report, and who is now a co- owner of RCI, worked with him on the consoles. The programme was about one month in preparation as we searched for music and I prepared the features I would be presenting. As a former French Caribbean station, RCI had a vast library of French Caribbean Kreyol Music and as fate would have it, two Dominican music groups, Exile One and, Grammacks had just begun their own revolution in Kreyol music with the cadencelypso genre; we had the fuel for the show; we were ready.
Radio Se San Nou hit St. Lucia like a hurricane. Sam Jouk Bois Flood was perfect for the programme- dynamic, witty, energetic, speaking the language of the people as they were used to conversing with it daily. To be hearing it on the radio every night for the first time was for them extraordinary. I had felt and known the programme was going to be successful but I had not anticipated the extent. Commercially, it brought immediate and significant income to RCI, to those who advertised on the programme, to the makers of a St. Lucia manufactured transistor radio, Akay which could not keep up with the demand for it, and for the merchants who sold transistor radios generally. An additional half hour was added to the hour with which the programme was launched (from 7:300 to 9:00pm). More importantly, it gave St. Lucian Kreyol its rightful place in the electronic media in St. Luca and brought respectability to the language that it had hitherto lacked. Instead of degrading Radio Caribbean International, it elevated it and turned it into the people’s radio station. We also allowed the voices of the ordinary people to be on the radio. I sent Sam Flood around the island’s communities with a tape recorder to record their answers to the question: “Ki Sa Ki Ka Affecte Ou?”; and they told the nation- of course largely to the discomfort of the then Government; so before the talk shows which are a staple of radio in St. Lucia today, Radio Se San Nou” on RCI had pioneered this and really taken radio to the people.

Wednesday 21st August 1974 "The Voice of Saint Lucia" article on the advent of Kweyol(then called Patois) radio programme on Radio Caribbean International.

Wednesday 21st August 1974 “The Voice of Saint Lucia” article on the advent of Kweyol(then called Patois) radio programme on Radio Caribbean International.

Forty years later, Kreyol broadcasting has not developed as much as I had hoped and thought it would have and as it should have. It is true that other radio stations have taken up Kreyol broadcasting, Sam Jouk Bois Flood and I brought morning kreyol radio to Helen FM 100 in the late 1990’s; and Kreyol has also crept into television; but Kreyol radio is still too limited in scope and content; sadly Radio Caribbean International, which pioneered Kreoyl broadcasting and gave St. Lucia other notable broadcasters as the late Hilarie Alexander and Marcellus “Man” Miller, has dropped its Kreyol programming; so it is refreshing to see that the latest radio station in St. Lucia, WVent has accorded Kreyol four hours daily in the morning.
Forty years later Sam Jouk Bois Flood is still on radio. He has developed in his own inimitable way and is now one of the most controversial and certainly the most listened to radio announcers in St. Lucia and the most successful. As for me, I have been in and out of the media since then, following a diplomatic career but not forgetting my roots in the media. 2014 also marks forty years since I began radio production and broadcasting with an interest in current affairs; and with the diplomatic career almost at an end, it is likely that I will return to what has really been my first love – radio and the desire to use it to inform and educate. As I contemplate that move, I cannot help but reminisce about that night on August 19th(**) 1974, when Pint O wine (chosen by Sam Flood and which he still uses as his theme) heralded Radio Se San Nou and we changed radio broadcasting in St. Lucia. We had indeed opened a chapter in communicating for development in St. Lucia. Forty years later, it is a night I have not forgotten and will not ever forget.——Earl Stephen Huntley

Taken from Facebook post Monday 18th August 2014

** Post script: Initially Mr. Huntley had placed the date as August 18th but later provided the following correction. “I need to make a correction to that post on the Launch of Radio Se San Nou. The date of the commencement of the programme was not the 18th August but Monday 19th August as the attached photos of an article from the Voice in 1974 reporting on the programme show. As a historian , I am embarrassed to say that yesterday being Monday, somehow I got it confused between Monday 19th August 1974 and the 19th August 2014 which is a Tuesday- the 19th August. The 40th anniversary of the programme is in fact today- 19th August.”

Earl Huntley(comments from the same post)
“….In fact the name for the programme – Radio Se San Nou ( which incidentally was borrowed from a programme with a similar name from the previous French service for Martinique and Guadeloupe- David Gardiner suggested we use the same name) was quite apt since it truly made radio, a radio of the people as it gave them a power they had not previously enjoyed because they were expressing themselves on the radio in their language. By the way the technique used then was what was called ” VOX POP” from the Latin Vox Populi- the Voice of the people- as it recorded peoples views and played them back on air. Social media and live phone in programmes were moons away then.”

“….. the programme was also extremely popular in Dominica where Kweyol programming was unknown and DBS Radio was to follow the trail set by RCI. In fact Dominica recognized Marcellus Miller for his contribution to Kweyol in Dominica through his long stint with the programme at RCI at one of their early Kreyol Music festivals”

St. Lucia Rastafari Hold Emancipation March and Deliver Reparations Petition to Governor-General

•August 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

 

La Toc Road entrace to Government House, official residence of Governor General of St. Lucia.

La Toc Road entrance to Government House, official residence of Governor General of St. Lucia.

Marching near La Toc.

As part of their commemoration of Emancipation Day, Rastafari in St. Lucia via the recently formed Iyanola Rastafari Reparation/Repartriation Movement (IRRM) held a march to the residence of the Governor-General Dame Pearlette Louisy to deliver a petition. The march left the Derek Walcott Square from 8:00 a.m. accompanied by police escort onto Brazil and Bridge Street and onward along the La Toc Road. Chanting and singing to the backing of Nyabinghi drums accompanied the entire march with persons along the route coming to observe. The procession arrived at the Governor General’s residence amid heavy downpour. The petition was delivered to officers stationed at the Government House – the residence of the Governor General – to be forwarded by Her Excellency to Queen Elizabeth.

(left to right) Ras Fey, Bongo Wisely, Priest Kailash and Sister Sheba.

(left to right) Ras Fey, Bongo Wisely, Priest Kailash and Sister Sheba.

IRRM Chairman Bongo Wisely Tafari explained what transpired on the day:

“…Today, Emancipation Day 2014, the Iyanola Rastafari Reparation/ Repatriation Movement organized this march [and] a petition where we’ve been collecting signatures. The Petition was delivered to the Governor-General’s residence. Well, unfortunately the Governor-General is on vacation, but we made arrangements with the security forces at her residence.”

At a press conference held on 25th July to announce the march, Bongo Wisely Tafari, President of the Iyanola Council for Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR) explained that the event would be used to bring the attention of Queen Elizabeth (through her representative Governor General) the unpaid compensation and reparations due to descendants of enslaved Africans since the end of enslavement. In addition, he pointed out that it would also commemorate the centenary of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) an organization formed by Marcus Mosiah Garvey which was founded in Jamaica on the 1st August 1914.

Iyanola Rastafari Reparation/Repartriation Movement – 25th July 2014 HTS News Report

Both Hon. Priest Kailash of the IRRM and Priest of the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (also called the Boboshanti order) pointed out that the movement (IRRM) was organized “first and foremost to enforce the bonds of love among Rastafari as a people” as well as “addressing the atrocities” that were perpetrated against members of the Rastafari community by the government. He further pointed out that the Rastafari would be seeking formal apologies from the Government concerning the atrocities and ill-treatment of Rastafari at the hands of the State over the years. He noted that as Reparation and Repatriation were causes initially and continuously raised by the Rastafari Community and for which they were ridiculed by the wider society and ignored by the State, a formal apology from the Government would be in harmony with legitimate pursuance of this cause by CARICOM in recent times.

Kes Wesmore and Black Prince.

Kes Wesmore and Black Prince.

Rastafari holding up Ethiopian crosss

The march included Rastafari from the various orders or houses of Rastafari as well as persons from the wider public. Founding member of the Iyanola Rastafari Improvement Association (IRIA), an earlier Rastafari organization, Trescott “Soukou” Augustin, was in attendance at the march and explained the history of Emancipation Celebrations among Rastafari in St. Lucia: “…every time that particular date come around …we feel duty-bound to have some form of public event which normally takes place in the form of a march like what we did there today.” According to Soukou, Rastafari’s commemoration of the event started:

“Way back in the seventies . . . later seventies – ‘79, ‘80 coming up there – because we were always conscious of that. In fact, we always been more intense (sic) on African Liberation Day because we feel that we must make the distinction between [this celebration and Emancipation Day]. Emancipation is some sort of decree to ‘free-up’ the slaves but liberation goes beyond that. Because, as we know, all the ex-colonies they still had their system and their people controlling. So we more look to liberation, you know, than Emancipation. Emancipation is just a stage. So we didn’t really focus on Emancipation Day as much as African Liberation Day. Notwithstanding that, we always recognize Emancipation.”

Rastafari Elders. Trescott

Despite a National Holiday on the Day, official State activities surrounding the event were generally absent before the late 1990s. Previously held on the first Monday in August, the holiday is now celebrated on the 1st of August. Emancipation Day remains the main officially recognized African centered event. Other celebrations include the festivals of the La Rose and La Maguerite societies which developed among African descendants in St. Lucia and which are celebrated in August and October respectively. Among the Rastafari Community events are also held around the Earthday of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and H.I.M Haile Selassie as well as other days such as African Liberation Day.

Following the delivery of the petition, the procession returned to the Derek Walcott Square (formerly Columbus Square) where speeches and chanting continued into the early afternoon.

 

Entrance to Government House, official residence of the Governor General of St. Lucia.

It is important to note that the political status of St. Lucia like most countries in the British colonized Caribbean remains that of Constitutional Monarchy. Three exceptions to this status are the Republics of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica. As such, these countries retain Governors-General who are representatives of the Monarch as part of their political structure. Included below is the text of the petition presented by the IRRM to the Governor-General:

Iyanola Rastafari Reparations Repatriation Movement Inc.

P.O. Box 462, Vieux-Fort P.O. Vieux-Fort, St. Lucia. W. I.

WE CHARGE GENOCIDE/ECOCIDE
(PETITION RECOGNIZING GENOCIDE/ECOCIDE BY THE BRITISH STATE
AGAINST ARIKAN PEOPLE)

The Undersigned Make the Following Heartfelt Declaration:

•   The immoral and inhuman treatment inflicted on Afrikans by the money making Europeans has never been addressed.

•   The racist mindset which fuelled the transatlantic slave trade from the 15th century to the late 19th century has not been terminated.

•   The lack of accountability by those responsible confirms the ongoing racism which creates disproportionate detriment to the offspring of the millions of individuals that were stolen from Afrika.

•   Today the offspring of the stolen Afrikans encounter direct and indirect racial discrimination daily.  This results in poverty, lack of education, unemployment, imprisonment and ill health.

•   The damage that has been done to Afrika also needs to be addressed in a structured and effective manner.

•   The blood, sweat and tears of our Ancestors financed the economic base of the United Kingdom. Therefore it is just and fair that Reparations be made to their offspring.

•   Repatriation should be a viable option for any Descendant of Afrikans captured, enslaved and financially exploited by the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations (UK) and their European counterparts.

•   The immoral acts inflicted on Afrikans against their will cannot be undone. But there has been no real attempt by the perpetrators to address the harm that has resulted from their actions.

•   Now is the time for the victims of the inhumane atrocities to demand reparation for the wrongs that continue to be inflicted on Afrika and Afrikans.

Whereas  we, the undersigned, recognize the destabilisation, oppression and terrorisation of our Afrikan heritage communities, the proliferation of guns, the distribution and sale of drugs and the resultant Black on Black self-annihilation has reached epidemic proportions, causing harm to Afrikan heritage communities within and beyond the St. Lucia and prolonging the war and Holocaust of enslavement (Maangamizi) against Afrikan peoples all over the world; We understand this harm can only be described as acts of Genocide/Ecocide by the State through its agencies of the police, armed forces, security and intelligence agencies and other organised as well as unorganised manifestations of structural,  systemic and institutionalised racism of the white supremacist order of global apartheid. Genocide as defined in Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted on December 9, 1948 explained that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

In addition to the acts of Genocide/Ecocide perpetuated through various instruments of the British State and its European super state, acts of Genocide/Ecocide can also be attributed to the British Government’s misuse of resources extorted through taxes from people in the United Kingdom and plundered from all peoples, communities and nations subjugated to the oppression and exploitation of British/European Imperialism. This is evidenced by the following: (1) the denial of Afrikan and Black human and peoples’ rights; (2) the mentacide of Afrikan heritage youth and adults through the state mis-education system; (3) brutality by police and security agents including deaths in custody; (4) unemployment and mal-employment; (5) the expanding prison and psychiatric industrial complex; (6) racist immigration policies; (7) privatisation schemes including the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA’s) of the European Union (EU) being forced on Afrikan Caribbean & Pacific countries; and (8.) the crimes against humanity inherent in the aggression committed against Afrikan and other majority world peoples. The results of these inhumane public policies have caused devastation to Afrikan heritage within and beyond Britain. Out of these have also arisen environmental injustice, violence, poverty, ignorance and anti-Black racism such as Afriphobia resulting in the destruction of generations of Afrikan heritage people, all amounting to geno/ecocidalcrimes against humanity for which we demand reparations, including voluntary repatriation, as a matter of restorative justice.

On every 1st August, Emancipation Day, collections of this petition will be submitted to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II through the The Governor General Office of Her Majesty’s Government of Government House Morne Fortune, Castries. This petition highlights continuing abuses of human, peoples and Mother Earth rights perpetrated against Afrikan heritage communities within and in countries colonised by Britain. It is also meant to mobilise support for the All-Party Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry and galvanise grassroots work towards the Peoples International Tribunal for Global Justice (PITGJ) with a view to putting a full stop by way of reparations to all acts of Genocide/Ecocide.

Three Rastafari ladies.

Three Rastafari ladies.

Two young Boboshantis at the head of the march.

Two young Boboshantis at the head of the march.

Rastafari assembled at the Derek Walcott Square holding placards before march.

Rastafari assembled at the Derek Walcott Square holding placards before march.

Discriminating the Dead | St. Lucia Voice News

•November 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Discriminating the Dead | St. Lucia Voice News.

During the nineteen thirties in the village of Laborie, one would normally hear of the refusal of the Parish priest who, for one reason or another, would refuse permission for one to be buried in the parish cemetery. The only choice was for that burial to take place outside the boundary of the cemetery, in what was called “aba kanan”, “under the kanan”, a series of tall grass resembling those sugarcane plantations, and such burials became “taboo” on the deceased family for life.

Several other rules were arbitrarily enforced by Roman Catholic priests in the various districts, among which were baptizing infants born out of wedlock on Mondays and those born in wedlock on Sundays; the entrance for girls of the St. Joseph’s Convent born out of wedlock on Coral Street and not on Micoud Street which was reserved for those born in wedlock; segregated pews in churches, the omission of the father’s name on birth certificates if the child was born out of wedlock, an anomaly which is now causing headaches for anyone having to renew or obtain a passport in this new dispensation.

As I mentioned in previous articles, because of St. Lucia’s French orientation and the majority of her population speaking French Creole, the Holy See recruited and stationed priests of the FMI Order who were not bilingual and only spoke French in St. Lucia while, for what I have knowledge of, priests of the Dominican Order were stationed in Grenada, and both those of the Dominican and Jesuit Orders were stationed in Trinidad and Tobago.

Being very close to Father Brochard in Laborie, I became curious about the FMI Order and, as an engineering student in London in the fifties, my research on that Order terminated in the crypt of the Brompton Cathedral in Knightsbridge, London, which was within walking distance from my hostel at Hans Crescent. There I was informed by priests of the Dominican and Jesuit orders, that the FMI Order originated in specific monasteries in France, and is of a lower Order of priesthood to those of the Dominican and Jesuit Orders..

The Windward and Leeward Islands were under the diocese of the Archbishop of Port of Spain who visited the parish of St. Lucia once a year to confirm those who took the Holy Communion for the first time, and on one occasion, I was one of those to be confirmed. Hector, the chauffeur for the Catholic Church met the Archbishop at the then Beanefield Airport at Vieux Fort, and transported him to Laborie. The car stopped at the foot of the La Croix hill, and footmen lifted the Archbishop, sat him on a stretcher, and deposited the stretcher on an appropriately decorated covered canopy. Six pallbearers then carried the Archbishop under the canopy to the church where he conducted the confirmation ceremony. All along the route to the parish church, those of us to be confirmed and other onlookers chanted “Vive Monsignor, Vive Pierre Brochard”.


Such pastoral events continued in St. Lucia until the arrival of His Excellency Count Finbar Ryan, a Jesuit Archbishop of Port of Spain, who aborted this hero worship and, with the help of Father Jesse here, things began to change. Priests of the Jesuit Order participated in evening vespers during the Lenten seasons preceding Easter, and the thinking of even diehard Roman Catholics bergan to change.The powers of parish priests were reduced, discrimination among the living and the dead by FMI priests abandoned. Of course, no one can decry the contributions of Farther Brochard of Laborie, Fathers Vrignaud, Jesse and Gachet in Castries, who later became our first Archbishop. It must be remembered that the Roman Catholic Church first had full control of the education system of St. Lucia. Their priests chaired the Public Service Commissions for several years, and some of the civil servants they recommended for senior positions became future Governors-General, the first principal of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, and other senior positions in CARICOM.Today, it is a far cry from reality to hear the mother of a young man who it is alleged, and not proven by an ongoing inquest, that he hanged himself in a Micoud Police holding cell, lamenting on prime time television that the Micoud Parish priest refused her permission to bury her son in the Micoud cemetery. This is a matter for government’s intervention. No church has automatic control of burial grounds. The colonists, including Christopher Columbus, the Buccaneers, the British, French, Spanish and the Dutch were always accompanied by their priests, and the conquered spoils were shared among them.

As a result of those conquests, one witnesses the occupation of vast acreages of prime lands in the City of Castries and in the towns and villages by the Roman Catholic Church for their churches, presbyteries and schools with no grant from the Crown. But plots had to be found to bury the dead, and those burial grounds are Crown grants, and not properties of any church, even though they are known in the districts as cemeteries of the specific churches. Cemeteries were not part of those conquests and remain public property.

All the mother has to do is to get her lawyer to challenge the Micoud Parish priest. The lawyer should go as far as lodging a complaint with the Papal Nuncio in Port of Spain, with specific instructions to forward it to the Holy See for the ruling of His Holiness the Pope. No Parish priest should be allowed to make St. Lucia a laughing stock of the world of the internet where news media are instantaneous.

– See more at: http://www.thevoiceslu.com/let_and_op/2013/november/23_11_13/Discriminating.htm#sthash.tjLjzkHl.dpuf