I still haven't learnt how to wine

 

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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 08 Jan 98


Bacchus: Origin: Roman:  God of wine and intoxication. Known period of worship: circa 400 BC to 400 AD.

Synonyms: Liber; Dionysos  (Greek).

Centre(s) of cult: throughout Roman world.

Art references: sculptures and reliefs.

Literary sources: Aeneid (Virgil) etc.

 

Bacchus is modelled closely on the Greek god Dionysos. In Roman mythology, his parents are Jupiter and Semele, the daughter of Kadmos, who became deified only after her death by fire on Olympus. Bacchus grew up through childhood with a wet-nurse Ino (Leukothea). As a youth he was entrusted to the satyr Silenus. He is depicted as a youthful figure wearing an ivy or grape crown and carrying a wand or thyrsus . He is also frequently drawn riding in a chariot pulled by leopards.

 

As god of wine and intoxication, his court includes the female Bacchantes, nymphs, fauns and satyrs. Bacchus was worshipped extensively and commanded a number of festivals including the Liberalia  and Bacchanalia. These possess strongly phallic connotations and on occasion the god was represented by a model phallus. The Encyclopaedia of Gods.  Michael Jordan.

 

My good and bad angels, sacred and profane instincts, are always at battle. For instance, right now I would much rather be scoffing cheesecake and red wine in a frothing bubbling bathtub with a hunk massaging my toes. Instead, I am fending off a familiar panic attack in front of the computer with an activity I consider sacred: writing. Because of the proximity of the Ambassador Hotel’s speakers to my house, I often break off chewing the ends of my hair and staring at the computer to jump up and down to the thumping and banging of a party song. For, dear reader, I still haven't learned how to wine.

 

My first true, true Trini fete was Veni Mange's in 1990. We were dancing to a great calypso. You know the one. It had the words wine, jump, wave and bum bum in it. There, my escort bluntly and gravely informed me I couldn't “wine”. I was appalled at the prospect of being a social outcast so I looked around me to learn. Slim and tubby women and men had their eyes closed as if they were in a trance. They were dead serious. Their lips were pursed, held inward with the effort of concentration. Occasionally they would roll their head down and their hips side to side simultaneously. They didn't move their legs but their hip area moved back and forth, to and fro, to such perfect, intricate timing that the groin area appeared detachable. My head began to spin and all I saw was undulating groins. I wiggled. My escort shook his head. I shook my hips. He laughed. So feeling insecure I drank four rum-and-cokes in succession and I waved and jumped, waved and leapt, flung my hands and tossed my head and, when nobody was looking, furtively tried a wine.

 

That has been my strategy. Last year, despite the “wine” handicap, I played mas’ for the first time and became a complete convert. Not to the disembodied groins but with the freedom and togetherness I felt being part of a river of joyous people. I began to see why the Mas’ is a religion to followers of artists like Minshall.

 

The costumes remained just the materials. It was the deep exuberance which came from within that made it into art.  Like all good art the Mas’ is unselfconscious, reflects and manifests the soul of an entire people. Caribbean people are the oldest and youngest people on Earth. Oldest because we have had thousands of years of civilisations, layers of human conditioning cut away from under us, leaving us mainly with the instincts of original or first man or woman. Youngest because we, brought together by the random forces of history from so many continents in a hodge podge manner, now have to start fresh, create something common to us all. This lack of old and civilised memory makes us crude, harsh or rude, but more often it gives us a sense of wide open waters of possibility, taking us rippling everywhere we choose.

 

People come here every year, having heard (because we still haven't advertised it properly) of the glinting rivers of people on the streets, of the sensuous moving mass. They marvel over the beauty and variety of our people. The permutations of Chinese, Indian, African, European, Syrian, Amerindian - it must blow their minds to see two, three, four continents in one animated face. They are amazed at how natural, graceful, at ease we are on the stage of our streets. Especially our women. When you think of the terrible restrictions placed on women in many societies, of the hypocrisies where women are either mothers or whores, women you marry and those you lust after, you realise how precious these two days of revelry are. We are not furtive snatchers of pleasure, but take it as our right. Without eschewing respect as mother or professional, women can be entirely free spirits, queen or nymph, faun or satyr for a day or two.

 

The calypso is an oracle of survival from bondage and slavery. Calypsonians are in our short history the heart of our society, our custodians, watchdogs, fearlessly monitoring injustices or lapses of human rights for their people. They are the preachers and we, the congregation, so when they say wave, we do it, when they say scream, we scream. Artists like the Roaring Lion, Lord Kitchener, Gypsy, Sparrow and Stalin cleverly twist innuendo and commentary with the rhythm of your heart, make you smile while you wine. (If you can, that is, but I suppose even an imitation wine retains some of the spirit of the thing).

 

How must they feel about their people when the only debate their art gives rise to is over banning "Bottom in the Road", or whether the Indian has a bottom to put in the road in the first place? Entertainers and artists are our mirrors. It would be a disaster to ban them. They are a vital gauge of who we are. And if we are profane and mindless and vulgar, it’s our fault, not theirs. When calypsonians, who are akin to charismatic preachers in their power over hungry, empty souls, simply whip groins into use without engaging anything else, then this spontaneous joy turns into something ugly and profane. It spreads. The groin thing. It spreads into daily life. Nobody can tell me that a resounding chorus of thousands of people chanting "Bottom in the Road" or barking like dogs is not frightening. Or that pre-pubescent girls, frantically flinging their waists about in Chutney, (stoutly defended as culture) while lecherous men look on at girls who could be younger than their daughters, is not thinly-coated child porn.

 

But if you are a master preacher, artist, then you can do more than expose the people, you can guide them. I have seen David Rudder, (who some believe is the greatest lyricist in our time,) mixing lyrics and rhythm and flinging its magic potion out so that hundreds of people are illuminated with the understanding of our corruption, and waste and sensuality, beauty, racism, mindlessness and drug addition in our small country, even as he draws out from us a deep weeping joy of life, music and sensuality.

 

In our region, the instinctive rhythms of Carnival are abundant in our daily lives: raw energy, discipline, creativity, an ability to endure hardship and come up with something bright. But lead your flock into bumsee alone and they become raw physical groin - stupid public masturbation without heart or consciousness. The kids who will get a week off to watch “wining” are too young to understand the context of pleasure.

 

Yes, the phallus is a glorious release, an affirmation of life for adults who take it for no more than it is (which is why wining is necessary to the Mas’ and I have to learn it) But it needs to be put into its place. When the lower regions stop engaging the upper regions then you are simply left with an isolated groin. And groins don't think. When we rouse ourselves to read in waiting rooms and queues, recognise that "culture" is a serious thing which engages the intellect, when our failed education system is revived so that children aren't judged by a rote exam at 11, when men stop preying upon girls and women to feel macho, when we start empowering young people, helping abandoned, homeless children to get an education, restore disintegrating books in our libraries, then we will see a change in calypsoes for Carnival which celebrates emancipation of bodies as well as souls.

 

For those people who can return to a context of books and achievement, groin worship is fine, but what about the people who are victims of a failed education system, poverty, unemployment, abandonment?  What do they do with unadulterated groin? When the party is over all they have is a bottom on the road. And next time the preacher man comes with some message about respecting women, nurturing children, education or building the country, they steups and wine down the place. What a waste, turning this glittering Caribbean humanity into a mass of disembodied groins.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur