Need to know | Events calendar (September/October 2019)

Essential info to help you make the most of September and October across the Caribbean — from a new literature festival in Brooklyn to Divali in T&T, Guyana, and Suriname

  • Photo by Jason Audain
  • Jamaica Kincaid. Photo by Agence Opale/Alamy Stock Photo
  • Photo by Anupam Lotlikar/Shutterstock.com
  • Photo by Luis Echeverri Urrea/Shutterstock.com
  • Performance by Las Nietas de Nonó, 28 June, 2019, at the Whitney Biennial 2019, Whitney Museum of American Art. Photo by Paula Court, courtesy The Whitney Museum of American Art
  • Centinelas (Sentinels) (2013), by Daniel Lind-Ramos, installed in the Whitney Biennial 2019. Photo by Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney Museum of American Art
  • Photo by Stephan Hornsey
  • Photo courtesy CPL T20 Ltd 2019

Don’t Miss: Hosay

At the Battle of Karbala, in the year 680, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad was killed. For centuries, this event has been remembered by Shia Muslims as the holy day of Ashura — better known in Trinidad as Hosay. Falling on 10 September this year, Ashura is preceded by ten days of prayers and commemorations which have evolved to combine South Asian and Caribbean influences, culminating in four days of street processions in the neighbourhoods of St James, Tunapuna, and Cedros. On the seventh night, Flag Night, devotees bear multicoloured flags. The eighth night is even more colourful, as family- and community-based groups carry tadjahs — ornate floats representing the tomb of the Prophet’s grandson — through the streets. On the ninth night, heavy red and green moon effigies are carried on the shoulders of the faithful, the task of “dancing” them a form of ritual penance. The insistent sound of tassa drums fills the streets, and onlookers of all faiths witness the spectacle. At the finale, the tadjahs are immersed in the sea.

How to get there? Caribbean Airlines operates numerous flights each day to its base at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad from destinations across the Caribbean and North and South America


Top Five: Caribbean writers in Brooklyn

Each year in early September, Caribbean people residing all over the world converge in Brooklyn, New York. The West Indian American Day Carnival Parade — also known as the Labour Day Parade, and running for over half a century — is the reason, but this year there’s a new festival in town, with the Caribbean squarely in focus. The inaugural Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival, from 6 to 8 September, is eager to encourage, inspire, and thrill culture enthusiasts with a lineup of star Caribbean writers. Here are our picks for five talents you can’t miss.

Jamaica Kincaid

Betrayal, loss, and division as a consequence of colonisation and the disempowerment of women — these are all major themes in the work of the Antigua-born writer, whose novels Annie John and Lucy are considered modern Caribbean classics. Named Elaine Potter Richardson by her parents, Kincaid adopted her nom de plume to write fiercely personal material, and renaming recurs in her works as a metaphor for conquest and colonial domination.

Barbara Jenkins

Following a full career as a secondary school geography teacher, Jenkins discovered her proclivity for writing late in life — and has made up for lost time. Her award-winning short story collection Sic Transit Wagon was followed last year by her novel De Rightest Place, an episodic comic novel set in a Port of Spain rumshop that’s been favourably compared to the fiction of Samuel Selvon.

Mervyn Taylor

A Trinidadian poet based in Brooklyn, Taylor has won praise from no less a figure than Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, who lauded his “admirable degree of subtlety.” Voices Carry, his most recent book of poems, shifts between the island of his birth and the city of his current residence, exploring the complicated links between love and belonging, past and present.

Kei Miller

Considered one of the leading Caribbean poets of his generation, Jamaica-born Miller has also made a name for himself as a novelist and essayist, and has the awards to prove it. His latest book of poems, In Nearby Bushes — hot off the press! — is a disturbing but arresting exploration of violence in the landscape of Jamaica, both historical and contemporary.

Elizabeth Nunez

Known equally as a novelist and literary scholar, Trinidad-born Nunez is a Distinguished Professor at Hunter College, CUNY. Her novels include Boundaries (nominated for a NAACP Image Award), Bruised Hibiscus (American Book Award), and Beyond the Limbo Silence (Independent Publishers Book Award), plus her memoir Not for Everyday Use won the 2015 Hurston Wright Legacy Award and is an Oprah online book club selection.

For more information, and the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival’s programme, visit bklyncbeanlitfest.com

If you miss the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival in early September, you’ll have a second chance to catch some of the hottest names in Caribbean literature at the Brooklyn Book Festival, running from 16 to 23 September. Look out for Booker Prizewinner Marlon James, Edwidge Danticat, Alex Wheatle, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and more.


Word of Mouth: Divali lights

Shelly-Ann Inniss meets one of the traditional potters who make thousands of deyas for Trinidad’s annual Divali celebrations

My introduction to Divali, the Hindu festival of lights, actually came in Jamaica, when I was a university student. That night, the walk to my flat was unusually dark, except for tiny, flickering lamps in parallel rows along the pathway. I thought a romantic marriage proposal was in progress. Then some Trinidadian friends beckoned me over. I noticed henna designs on the girls’ hands, a feast of food I didn’t recognise, and my Hindu hallmates dressed up and celebrating like it was someone’s birthday. They told me the deyas — the small clay lamps — represent the body, their wicks symbolise the mind, and the oil is a symbol of love. There seemed to be a never-ending supply of deyas in that courtyard, and I wondered where they came from.

Years later, now living in Trinidad, I found out. Several family-run potteries in central Trinidad use local clay to make wares ranging from vases to plant pots year-round — and many thousands of deyas for Divali. Andy Benny, a third-generation potter from Radika’s Pottery Shop, answered my questions.

What material are deyas made from, exactly?

Clay is dug from underground, processed, and refined to make them. Everything is done by hand. We use an old-fashioned kiln — a big oven with wood fire — to bake them, as electricity is too costly.

Are they easy to make?

When you start, clay and water will be everywhere. Once you get the hang of it, you have more control over the clay. My mum, Radika, inspired people to go behind the wheel and practice. Pottery is for everyone. Anyone can get a tabletop wheel and have a pottery studio at home. Pot, clay, and kiln, that’s the process.

If you’re skilled, a deya takes a second or two.

Can people come to your workshop and make their own deyas?

The nice thing about pottery is that it has all the elements — clay from the earth, water to mix the clay, airflow to push the fire. Making stuff from clay makes us resourceful. Schools from preschool upwards come here for sessions, as well as families. They love to watch and participate in making the deyas. Everyone gets really excited when the kiln is fully lit, and the fire is raging.

How many deyas do you manufacture annually?

Approximately four hundred thousand over a six-month period.

How do you prepare the deya for lighting?

It is a simple process: pour oil, get some wick and extend it to the length of the deya just beyond the little lip, and light it. Wax candles save time for people who don’t want to pour oil. Above all, safety is key, so place deyas carefully around your home.

And how do you arrange the lit deyas?

In my younger days, bamboo was bent to form the structures. There was a bamboo-bending competition and the more intricate and ornate your style, the better your chances of winning. Some people still use bamboo, others lay the deyas on the floor. Traditionally, the bamboo is cut and stripped down and the deyas are placed in the joints.

Where is the best place in Trinidad to see Divali lights?

Anywhere there is a Hindu community, but Chaguanas and Felicity are very popular. Some people have an electrical lighting system, and it’s a big attraction. People sit in traffic for hours just to see the lights.

How do you feel when you see the deyas lit on Divali night?

It’s rewarding, as it’s the fruit of your labour and people get the joy of what they’re celebrating, and the symbolism.

Divali, falling on 27 October this year, is a public holiday in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname. For more information about Radika’s Pottery Shop, visit facebook.com/radikaspottery/


Must Try: Cassava five ways

To most of us, cassava is simply a tasty ground provision. But in Guyana, it is a treasure of an indigenous culinary tradition, a key staple of First Peoples for thousands of years. Unsurprisingly, considering that long history, Guyanese have created numerous ways to prepare the starch. As Guyana celebrates Indigenous Heritage Month in September, here are a few dishes and by-products of cassava to get you acquainted.

Cassareep

This condiment is used in numerous stews and sauces — including the national dish, pepperpot (see below). To make cassareep, peel the cassava and grate it to a pulp. Wring the juices from the pulp — traditionally, this was done with a matapee, a woven tubular sieve. Boil the juice, constantly skimming the scum from the surface, until the liquid is thick, sticky, and dark brown like molasses.

Kasiri/parikari

Here’s another way to use cassava juice: ferment it into a sweet heady beer, known by various names among different indigenous peoples.

Cassava bread

This fried bread cooked with a dash of oil is one of the best ways to introduce gluten-free fare to the health-conscious. The Guyanese method is to cook it in a cake tray above a frying pan.

Metemgee

This coconut-milk-based soup includes cassava, sweet potatoes, plantains, and salted meat — delicious garnished with a fried banga mary fish.

Pepperpot

Guyana’s national dish is a zesty mix of stewed meat, cassareep, peppers, and spices. Traditionally, the pot is periodically replenished with fresh meat and cassareep, which has preservative qualities. There’s a local rumour that the Georgetown Club has had a pepperpot bubbling for over seventy-five years. Talk about a dish with a history . . .

SAI


On View: 2019 Whitney Biennial

Julián Sánchez González on the spiritual and historic concerns of Puerto Rican artists represented in this major biennial survey of contemporary American art

Since its first iteration in 1932, the Whitney Biennial, one of the most important surveys of contemporary American art, has traditionally given little attention to artists based in Puerto Rico. However, this year’s five Puerto Rican artists, together with the previous selection from the biennial of 2017, continue to tell an excitingly different story. As an unincorporated United States territory with no electoral voting rights, dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria sweeping through the Caribbean and a recent surge of political protests, Puerto Rico’s presence in the show is a timely and poignant commentary on neocolonial politics in the Caribbean. In addition to the participation of artists nibia pastrana santiago and Sofía Gallisá-Muriente, pieces by Daniel Lind-Ramos and Las Nietas de Nonó address these issues through innovative proposals in installation and performance formats.

Under the curatorial lens of Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley, this selection of Caribbean artists followed a lengthy process which included over three hundred studio visits across twenty-five locations in the United States. In general terms, the curators have tended to favour topics related to new readings of history, questions on race and gender, the vulnerability of the body, and community engagement, among others. In addition to these transversal topics, the five Boricua creators’ presence in the Biennial signals an ongoing interest of the Whitney Museum in furthering their Latinx curatorial and educational initiative. The recent hiring of curator Marcela Guerrero and the 2018 show Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay: Indigenous Space, Modern Architecture, New Art, for example, aim to further provide underrepresented communities with a louder voice and greater agency within the museum’s space. More specifically, the Biennial works by Lind-Ramos and Las Nietas de Nonó bring to the fore concerns about the retrieval of ancestral knowledge and spiritual practices, and the diasporic experience of Afro-Puerto Rican communities.

According to Holland Cotter, art critic for the New York Times, one of the most transgressive and effective contributions of the 2019 Whitney Biennial is its emphasis on spiritual practices, including the work of Daniel Lind-Ramos, born in 1953 in Loíza, the northeastern stronghold of Afro-Puerto Rican culture. Lind-Ramos’s most recent practice focuses on the creation of large-scale sculptural pieces made from found materials, both industrial and organic. His piece Maria-Maria (2019) is notorious for conflating spirituality with assemblage techniques in an original and striking composition employing coconuts, bubble wrap, and — most critically — FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) blue tarps. Still lingering on rooftops in Loíza two years after Hurricane Maria, this waterproof material speaks directly to a story of political strife, unresponsiveness, and neglect towards the socioeconomic recovery of Puerto Rico after the island’s financial and natural catastrophes.

Moreover, the totem-like structure of this piece and the use of the blue tarps recall a Madonna’s draping veil, and reflect on local hybridised altar-making practices serving as primordial sources for mental endurance and community-building in times of distress. Spirituality and craft aesthetics speak to each other here in a candid, unmediated way, a curatorial avenue that Panetta and Hockley investigated and pursued as a working paradigm for this Biennial. Overall, this piece, together with Lind-Ramos’s similarly breathtaking installation Centinelas (2013), speaks of the survival of African diasporic spiritualities and culture despite the long-standing presence of colonialist, oppressive structures in racial configurations and social relations in the Caribbean.

Also attempting to make a statement on the importance of traditional knowledge systems, Las Nietas de Nonó — a sister-duo of performers, Lydela (born 1979) and Michel (1982) Nonó — performed Ilustraciones de la Mecánica at the Whitney on three occasions in June. Previously presented at the 2018 Berlin Biennial, this sinister and dystopian performance work confronts the viewer with a gory reenactment of a sterilisation procedure that Lydela, dressed as a white doctor, performs on her sister Michel as she covers her face with her skirt upside down. Leaving the viewer little room for assessing the patient’s expressions, beyond a disfigured body that is violated with scientific curiosity and self-indulgent desire, Ilustraciones refers to a series of hysterectomies performed illegally on black women from rural Puerto Rico between the 1930s and 1980s, encouraged by mainland authorities.

The staging of this act is reinforced by the use of mirrors placed on the ceiling, a gesture forcing the viewer to engage in a voyeuristic attitude. Further confining the patient’s body into, for instance, fragmented legs or a mock-up open belly made of vegetable leather, the still images from these reflected views constitute a powerful compositional choice that speaks of the artists’ interest in investigating violence against black bodies in their subjection to experimentation in hospitals, schools, and prisons. Ultimately, this confrontational work denounces the overriding of the role of healers or curanderas/os by Western medical practices. Focusing on compartmentalised specialisation rather than holistic approaches, modern medicine neglects a fundamental aspect of healing, namely our relationship to various elements and cycles of the natural world. This concern is a growing trend in the work of contemporary artists living in diasporic conditions, such as a recent performance by Guadalupe Maravilla, Walk on Water, at the Queens Museum.

By referencing events critical to the survival of their communities through the lens of spirituality and ancestral heritage, Lind-Ramos and Las Nietas de Nonó put forward a distinct and unique voice into the plethora of political and social claims brought together under the same roof at the Whitney Biennial. While deeply entrenched in the Caribbean’s recent and distant histories, their works transgress boundaries of time and space as they approach with aesthetic finesse the challenges of moving forward into new, more sustainable paradigms for collective behaviour and thinking.


Great Outdoors: Volcano hopping

Spectacular waterfalls, verdant rainforests, beautiful birds, and an active four-thousand-foot volcano make St Vincent a paradise for lovers of nature and adventure. La Soufrière, one of the most studied volcanoes in the world, last erupted forty years ago, between April and October 1979. And while scientists keep a close eye on its status, the steep slopes leading up to the crater offer a thrilling hike with the payoff of incredible views. Vincentian photographer, hotelier, and adventure-seeker Stephan Hornsey sees his homeland as a playground and has an innate calling to explore — which includes several memorable ascents of La Soufrière, and one very stormy night

Are you a daredevil at heart?

I wouldn’t define myself as intentionally reckless, but perhaps an accidental daredevil, considering some of the situations I find myself in. If I decide to do something potentially dangerous, I always plan ahead incessantly.

How often do you go hiking?

Not terribly often, but when I do, it tends to be something personally challenging, and a new experience.

When did you first hike La Soufrière?

One of my earliest memories as a kid was my father holding my arm at the edge of the volcano. He was making sure the winds didn’t take me into the steep crater as I peeped over. These days, the reason is based on a sense of adventure — it’s a volcano, and very cool.

How difficult is the trail?

It’s a well-trodden trail, as the volcano is a hiking highway for many locals. Countless visitors make the trek as a milestone in their vacation. Recently I’ve taken the windward route, which is closer to my home. I’m most comfortable with this route and would recommend it for both time and ease.

If I’m gunning it, then it may take an hour or less from the “base camp.” For most that I have observed or hiked with, it may take an hour and a half or two.

How fit do you need to be?

I’ve seen individuals who considered themselves unfit complete the entire trek from bottom to top and back. It’s totally up to you, as long as you can get back.

Can you describe the views?

The trail is a snaking path through a tropical rainforest, filled with bamboo, ferns, and other plants. As you ascend further, you are teased with little breaks in the foliage allowing you to see how far you have come. It’s truly motivating. After a short time, you emerge onto the face of the volcano. I am truly in awe of the landscape. It’s hard to imagine without seeing it.

As you ascend, there is one point where you break out of the canopy of trees and the sounds of the rainforest disappear in sudden silence. This is when you realise you are on a volcano, as you turn around to see the coastline far in the distance.

What was your biggest adventure on La Soufrière?

There was a thunderstorm while we were camping inside the crater last year. We had a sub-optimal-size tent to withstand heavy winds and the temperature. The tent was just under six feet, which allowed it to catch the winds constantly tugging on our anchors. At one point it started to dip down to where it touched our chests flat on the floor of the tent. The space made most of our heat escape quickly, which became especially noticeable between 2 and 6 am, as the temperatures dropped to violently shivering conditions.

How did you manage?

I vividly remember staring at the inside of our tent watching it fight to hold itself together from the wind, and thinking, “This really sucks right now, don’t forget it.” The thing about St Vincent is that after a thunderstorm comes the clearest weather and best visibility. The hike that morning came with some very positive thoughts. I have never been scared of La Soufrière, but when we camped in the storm, I was uneasy at some moments.

Have you ever hiked La Soufrière alone?

I challenged myself to solo hike the volcano from sunset into nightfall. At dusk, having just watched the sunset from the southern tip of the crater, I was descending down the open face and suddenly I realised I had to walk all the way home by myself in the dark.

How do you prepare for the hike?

I always set a very specific goal, whether it’s to see sunset, or camp, or just walk up and down. This helps to keep things in perspective, for both preparing and the actual hike itself. Conditions can all change at a moment’s notice.

Whenever I go, I take more than I need so that I can share if necessary, and more importantly, so that I’m not underprepared. Take essentials like water, food, lights, first aid kits, etc.

Comfortable feet make a happy hike. Ensure you wear shoes that are tried and tested in wet, hot, cold, and long treks.

Ascending is hotter than you think, but it’s cold at the top. The weather changes very quickly, so spend at least thirty minutes sitting, looking into the crater, waiting for the clouds to dance in or out.

What makes La Soufrière unforgettable?

This particular hike is challenging, and it immerses you in nature. Yet it never feels far from home for me. This combination of feeling at home while experiencing something so majestic truly makes it a memory to share.

As told to Shelly-Ann Inniss


Datebook

More highlights of September and October across the Caribbean

Caribbean Premier League cricket

4 September to 12 October, venues around the Caribbean
Explore the region through world-class cricket played in an extremely festive atmosphere: music, flag-waving, cheering, and non-stop fun. It’s no surprise cricket fans — and those who just love the party — return each year. cplt20.com

Curaçao Pride

25 to 29 September
Five thrilling days filled with parties and performances by local and international artistes, celebrating the LGBTQ community. A Pride Walk, Pride Happy Hours, a beach party, and boat party are some of the highlights. curacaopride.com

Pure Grenada Dive Fest

28 September to 4 October
Grenada’s underwater wonderland has something for everyone, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced diver. Famous wrecks and diverse marine life await. Jump in! puredivinggrenada.com

World Creole Music Festival

25 to 27 October, Dominica
A cavalcade of star power emanating from the Caribbean, Africa and North America, arranged to thrill the seasoned festival-goer and novice alike. Don’t miss Nigerian singer Davido, soca artistes Mr Killa from Grenada and Bunji Garlin, Fay Ann Lyons, and Patrice Roberts from T&T, alongside bouyon artistes Asa Bantan, Tasha P, the Signal Band, and Triple K from Dominica. discoverdominica.com

Jamaica Food and Drink Festival

26 October to 3 November
Depart from the ordinary and join over sixty talented chefs as they turn Kingston into the culinary epicentre of Jamaica. Fusions of local and international cuisine are served with distinct grit and urban edge. jafoodanddrink.com