Trinidad is known for its vibrant musical traditions, which reflect the island’s ethnic diversity. The annual Carnival, far and away the biggest event in Trinidad, is filled with soca and calypso music. Soca is a dance music derived from calypso, a music with African antecedents. In parang, a Venezuelan and Spanish derived folk music that dominates Trinidadian Christmas festivities, groups of singers and musicians progress from house to house, performing for their neighbors. Chutney is also an Indo-Caribbean music. In Bacchanalian Sentiments, Kevin K. Birth argues that these and other Trinidadian musical genres and traditions not only provide a soundtrack to daily life on the southern Caribbean island; they are central to the ways that Trinidadians experience and navigate their social lives and interpret political events.
Birth draws on fieldwork he conducted in one of Trinidad’s ethnically diverse rural villages to explore the relationship between music and social and political consciousness on the island. He describes how Trinidadians use the affective power of music and the physiological experience of performance to express and work through issues related to identity, ethnicity, and politics. He looks at how the performers and audience members relate to different musical traditions. Turning explicitly to politics, Birth recounts how Trinidadians used music as a means of making sense of the attempted coup d’état in 1990 and the 1995 parliamentary election, which resulted in a tie between the two major political parties. Bacchanalian Sentiments is an innovative ethnographic analysis of the significance of music, and particular musical forms, in the everyday lives of rural Trinidadians.
C.L.R. James (1901-1989) is one the few political thinkers whose ideas have made a genuinely significant contribution to the development of emancipatory ideas in the twentieth century. In this volume, Anthony Bogues examines the origins of the relationship between the black radical tradition and James's own view of Marxism. Integrating these two political currents provided the basis for a profound critique that became the hallmark of James’s life’s work. Anthony Bogues traces the main features of James’s early political thought, up to his deportation from the United States in the early 1950s, arguing that his work represents a major attempt in the immediate postwar period to establish new frontiers in Marxism and radical political thought in general. This illuminating and scholarly study reinforces James’s position as a political theorist of major standing.
Mixing—whether referred to as mestizaje, callaloo, hybridity, creolization, or multiculturalism—is a foundational cultural trope in Caribbean and Latin American societies. Historically entwined with colonial, anticolonial, and democratic ideologies, ideas about mixing are powerful forces in the ways identities are interpreted and evaluated. As Aisha Khan shows in this ethnography, they reveal the tension that exists between identity as a source of equality and identity as an instrument through which social and cultural hierarchies are reinforced. Focusing on the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean, Khan examines this paradox as it is expressed in key dimensions of Hindu and Muslim cultural history and social relationships in southern Trinidad. In vivid detail, she describes how disempowered communities create livable conditions for themselves while participating in a broader culture that both celebrates and denies difference.
Khan combines ethnographic research she conducted in Trinidad over the course of a decade with extensive archival research to explore how Hindu and Muslim Indo-Trinidadians interpret authority, generational tensions, and the transformations of Indian culture in the Caribbean through metaphors of mixing. She demonstrates how ambivalence about the desirability of a callaloo nation—a multicultural society—is manifest around practices and issues, including rituals, labor, intermarriage, and class mobility. Khan maintains that metaphors of mixing are pervasive and worth paying attention to: the assumptions and concerns they communicate are key to unraveling who Indo-Trinidadians imagine themselves to be and how identities such as race and religion shape and are shaped by the politics of multiculturalism.
In Energy without Conscience David McDermott Hughes investigates why climate change has yet to be seen as a moral issue. He examines the forces that render the use of fossil fuels ordinary and therefore exempt from ethical evaluation. Hughes centers his analysis on Trinidad and Tobago, which is the world's oldest petro-state, having drilled the first continuously producing oil well in 1866. Marrying historical research with interviews with Trinidadian petroleum scientists, policymakers, technicians, and managers, he draws parallels between Trinidad's eighteenth- and nineteenth-century slave labor energy economy and its contemporary oil industry. Hughes shows how both forms of energy rely upon a complicity that absolves producers and consumers from acknowledging the immoral nature of each. He passionately argues that like slavery, producing oil is a moral choice and that oil is at its most dangerous when it is accepted as an ordinary part of everyday life. Only by rejecting arguments that oil is economically, politically, and technologically necessary, and by acknowledging our complicity in an immoral system, can we stem the damage being done to the planet.
In Erotic Islands, Lyndon K. Gill maps a long queer presence at a crossroads of the Caribbean. This transdisciplinary book foregrounds the queer histories of Carnival, calypso, and HIV/AIDS in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. At its heart is an extension of Audre Lorde's use of the erotic as theory and methodology. Gill turns to lesbian/gay artistry and activism to insist on eros as an intertwined political-sensual-spiritual lens through which to see self and society more clearly. This analysis juxtaposes revered musician Calypso Rose, renowned mas man Peter Minshall, and resilient HIV/AIDS organization Friends For Life. Erotic Islands traverses black studies, queer studies, and anthropology toward an emergent black queer diaspora studies.
In 2011, Trinidad declared a state of emergency. This massive state intervention lasted for 108 days and led to the rounding up of over 7,000 people in areas the state deemed “crime hot spots.” The government justified this action and subsequent police violence on the grounds that these measures were restoring “the rule of law.” In this milieu of expanded policing powers, protests occasioned by police violence against lower-class black people have often garnered little sympathy. But in an improbable turn of events, six officers involved in the shooting of three young people were charged with murder at the height of the state of emergency. To explain this, the host of Crime Watch, the nation’s most popular television show, alleged that there must be a special power at work: obeah.
From eighteenth-century slave rebellions to contemporary responses to police brutality, Caribbean methods of problem-solving “spiritual work” have been criminalized under the label of “obeah.” Connected to a justice-making force, obeah remains a crime in many parts of the anglophone Caribbean. In Experiments with Power, J. Brent Crosson addresses the complex question of what obeah is. Redescribing obeah as “science” and “experiments,” Caribbean spiritual workers unsettle the moral and racial foundations of Western categories of religion. Based on more than a decade of conversations with spiritual workers during and after the state of emergency, this book shows how the reframing of religious practice as an experiment with power transforms conceptions of religion and law in modern nation-states.
Calypso music is an integral part of Trinidad’s national identity. When, for instance, Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the great Trinidadian musician Roaring Lion where he was from, Lion famously replied “the land of calypso.” But in a nation as diverse as Trinidad, why is it that calypso has emerged as the emblematic music?
In Governing Sound, Jocelyne Guilbault examines the conditions that have enabled calypso to be valorized, contested, and targeted as a field of cultural politics in Trinidad. The prominence of calypso, Guilbault argues, is uniquely enmeshed in projects of governing and in competing imaginations of nation, race, and diaspora. During the colonial regime, the period of national independence, and recent decades of neoliberal transformation, calypso and its musical offshoots have enabled new cultural formations while simultaneously excluding specific social expressions, political articulations, and artistic traditions. Drawing on over a decade of ethnographic work, Guilbault maps the musical journeys of Trinidad’s most prominent musicians and arrangers and explains the distinct ways their musical sensibilities became audibly entangled with modes of governing, audience demands, and market incentives.
Generously illustrated and complete with an accompanying CD, Governing Sound constitutes the most comprehensive study to date of Trinidad’s carnival musics.
The Life of Captain Cipriani (1932) is the earliest full-length work of nonfiction by the Trinidadian writer C. L. R. James, one of the most significant historians and Marxist theorists of the twentieth century. It is partly based on James's interviews with Arthur Andrew Cipriani (1875–1945). As a captain with the British West Indies Regiment during the First World War, Cipriani was greatly impressed by the service of black West Indian troops and appalled at their treatment during and after the war. After his return to the West Indies, he became a Trinidadian political leader and advocate for West Indian self-government. James's book is as much polemic as biography. Written in Trinidad and published in England, it is an early and powerful statement of West Indian nationalism. An excerpt, The Case for West-Indian Self Government, was issued by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press in 1933. This volume includes the biography, the pamphlet, and a new introduction in which Bridget Brereton considers both texts and the young C. L. R. James in relation to Trinidadian and West Indian intellectual and social history. She discusses how James came to write his biography of Cipriani, how the book was received in the West Indies and Trinidad, and how, throughout his career, James would use biography to explore the dynamics of politics and history.
Descendants of indentured laborers brought from India to the Caribbean between 1845 and 1917 comprise more than forty percent of Trinidad’s population today. While many Indo-Trinidadians identify themselves as Indian, what “Indian” signifies—about nationalism, gender, culture, caste, race, and religion—in the Caribbean is different from what it means on the subcontinent. Yet the ways that “Indianness” is conceived of and performed in India and in Trinidad have historically been, and remain, intimately related. Offering an innovative analysis of how ideas of Indian identity negotiated within the Indian diaspora in Trinidad affect cultural identities “back home,” Tejaswini Niranjana models a necessary project: comparative research across the global South, scholarship that decenters the “first world” West as the referent against which postcolonial subjects understand themselves and are understood by others.
Niranjana draws on nineteenth-century travel narratives, anthropological and historical studies of Trinidad, Hindi film music, and the lyrics, performance, and reception of chutney-soca and calypso songs to argue that perceptions of Indian female sexuality in Trinidad have long been central to the formation and disruption of dominant narratives of nationhood, modernity, and normative sexuality in India. She illuminates debates in India about “the woman question” as they played out in the early-twentieth-century campaign against indentured servitude in the tropics. In so doing, she reveals India’s disavowal of the indentured woman—viewed as morally depraved by her forced labor in Trinidad—as central to its own anticolonial struggle. Turning to the present, Niranjana looks to Trinidad’s most dynamic site of cultural negotiation: popular music. She describes how contested ideas of Indian femininity are staged by contemporary Trinidadian musicians—male and female, of both Indian and African descent—in genres ranging from new hybrids like chutney-soca to the older but still vibrant music of Afro-Caribbean calypso.
Like many other small towns in Trinidad, Felicity is populated almost entirely by East Indians. In their Caribbean exile, the residents of Felicity have created and recreated the music of their Hindu ancestors. Music of Hindu Trinidad is a fascinating account of the history and cultural significance of Hindu music that explores its symbolic, aesthetic, and psychological aspects while asking the larger question of how this music has contributed to the formation of identity in the midst of their great diaspora.
Myers details the musical repertory of Felicity, which is based largely on north Indian genres including the traditional Bhojpuri folk songs and drumming styles brought by the first indentured laborers in 1845. In her engaging exploration of the fate of Indian classical music and new popular styles such as Hindi calypso, soca, and chutney, she even finds herself at the ancestral home of Trinidadian V. S. Naipaul in India. Copiously illustrated and accompanied by a compact disk, Music of Hindu Trinidad is a model ethnographic study.
In a small, locally owned Trinidadian factory that produces household goods, 80 percent of the line workers are women, almost all black or East Indian. The supervisors are all men, either white or East Indian. Kevin Yelvington worked for a year in this factory to study how ethnicity and gender are integral elements of the class structure, a social and economic structure that permeates all relations between men and women in the factory. These primary divisions determine the way the production process is ordered and labor divided.
Unlike women in other industries in "underdeveloped" parts of the world who are recruited by foreign firms, Caribbean women have always contributed to the local economy. Within this historical context, Yelvington outlines the development of the state, and addresses exploitation and domination in the labor process. Yelvington also documents the sexually charged interactions between workers and managers and explores how both use flirting and innuendo to their advantage. Weddings and other social events outside the factory provide insightful details about how the creation of social identities carries over to all aspects of the local culture.
Roy Cape is a Trinidadian saxophonist active as a band musician for more than fifty years and as a bandleader for more than thirty. He is known throughout the islands and the Caribbean diasporas in North America and Europe. Part ethnography, part biography, and part Caribbean music history, Roy Cape is about the making of reputation and circulation, and about the meaning of labor and work ethics. An experiment in storytelling, it joins Roy's voice with that of ethnomusicologist Jocelyne Guilbault. The idea for the book emerged from an exchange they had while discussing Roy's journey as a performer and bandleader. In conversation, they began experimenting with voice, with who takes the lead, who says what, when, to whom, and why. Their book reflects that dynamic, combining first-person narrative, dialogue, and the polyphony of Roy's bandmates' voices. Listening to recordings and looking at old photographs elicited more recollections, which allowed Roy to expand on recurring themes and motifs. This congenial, candid book offers different ways of knowing Roy's labor of love—his sound and work through sound, his reputation and circulation as a renowned musician and bandleader in the world.
William Hardin Burnley (1780–1850) was the largest slave owner in Trinidad during the nineteenth century. Born in the United States to English parents, he settled on the island in 1802 and became one of its most influential citizens and a prominent agent of the British Empire. A central figure among elite and moneyed transnational slave owners, Burnley moved easily through the Atlantic world of the Caribbean, the United States, Great Britain, and Europe, and counted among his friends Alexis de Tocqueville, British politician Joseph Hume, and prime minister William Gladstone.
In this first full-length biography of Burnley, Selwyn R. Cudjoe chronicles the life of Trinidad's "founding father" and sketches the social and cultural milieu in which he lived. Reexamining the decades of transition from slavery to freedom through the lens of Burnley's life, The Slave Master of Trinidad demonstrates that the legacies of slavery persisted in the new post-emancipation society.
James Houk's field work in Trinidad and subsequent involvement in the Orisha religion allows him a uniquely intimate perspective on a complex and eclectic religion. Originating in Nigeria, Orisha combines elements of African religions (notably Yoruba), Catholicism, Hinduism, Protestantism Spiritual Baptist, and Kabbalah. A religion of spirits and spirit possession, ceremonies and feasts, churches and shrines, sacrifices and sacred objects, Orisha is constantly shifting and unstable, its practice widely varied. As a belief system, it is a powerful presence in the social structure, culture, and, more recently, the political realm of Trinidad.
Houk carefully examines the historical forces that have transformed Orisha from a relatively simple religion in colonial Trinidad to an abstruse mix of belief, ritual, and symbolism. The voices of worshippers and Orisha leaders spring to life the intensity and power of the religion. Houk's own recounting of participation in many of the mystical ceremonies, including taking on the important role of drummer in several feasts, his initiation into Orisha, and his exceptional field research provide fascinating details essential in understanding the development of this Caribbean religion.
In Spiritual Citizenship N. Fadeke Castor employs the titular concept to illuminate how Ifá/Orisha practices informed by Yoruba cosmology shape local, national, and transnational belonging in African diasporic communities in Trinidad and beyond. Drawing on almost two decades of fieldwork in Trinidad, Castor outlines how the political activism and social upheaval of the 1970s set the stage for African diasporic religions to enter mainstream Trinidadian society. She establishes how the postcolonial performance of Ifá/Orisha practices in Trinidad fosters a sense of belonging that invigorates its practitioners to work toward freedom, equality, and social justice. Demonstrating how spirituality is inextricable from the political project of black liberation, Castor illustrates the ways in which Ifá/Orisha beliefs and practices offer Trinidadians the means to strengthen belonging throughout the diaspora, access past generations, heal historical wounds, and envision a decolonial future.