Dis Location: Arrival as Independence

I know I am not the only one who misses the verbal lashes of The Watchman (Wayne Hade of Trinidad, a former police constable) and I thank Guanaguanare very much for taking the time to produce a written transcription of this calypso, as follows below the video. Of course trinidesi also deserves many thanks for his salvage videography. I was living in Trinidad and watching this calypso during Dimanche Gras in 1992, and my memories of Watchman have not faded.

This calypso is so packed with ideas, insights, and historical themes, that it shows Watchman’s mastery for combining them together into one fist. More will follow at the very bottom of the post.

Don’t tell me ’bout no big ship or small boat
Or who sink or who float
‘Cause as man me eh really care
About no Pinta or Nina or if yuh grandfather
swim the Nile to reach over here.
Once we building a region
Dem things shouldn’t matter again
But if you want my opinion
No bones, let me tell yuh plain.
We, West Indians are often said to be
Our very own worst enemy
Though we have a common history
Yet everybody bad talks everybody
They say Trinidadians lazy and foolish
And Guyanese is thief and pickpocket
Yuh can’t talk sense with a Jamaican
And never ever bend in front a Bajan
And every little rock have its own dollar
But some not even good for toilet paper
So if we cannot integrate, well then I regret
That it is clear that none ah we ent arrive as yet.

Don’t tell me ’bout no white man or Indian, Chinese or African
‘Cause as man those with eyes can see
All the races and cultures and mixtures of colours
That exist in everybody
Once we building a region
Dem things shouldn’t matter again
But if you want my opinion
No bones, let me tell yuh plain
Our people are seen as exotic
Just because of their ethnic mix
But ah hear that we in de region
Opposing any integration
They say that the Negroes, they have a plan
To impose douglarisation
So they start to lock their women indoors
And searching all dey cupboards and then dey ‘drawers’
Is alright to mix with Chinese or white
But too much ah black blood does make you blight
So if the colour of yuh skin make you a reject
Then it is clear that non ah we ent arrive as yet.

Don’t tell me ’bout the raping of woman and the exploitation
‘Cause as man, it does get me vex
To hear ’bout planters and masters
And how we grandmothers were abused
When they wanted sex
Once we building a region
Dem things shouldn’t matter again
But if yuh want my opinion
No bones, let me tell yuh plain
Our women are always said to be
Our very most precious commodity
But when tourism not doing well
Is the women, the West Indian men does sell
Every little island has its sea and sand
So them tourist could get a lovely tan
But when a cruise ship land on we shores
The first thing the men ask,
“Where are the whores?”
I think that it’s high time we take a stand
When I say ‘take a stand’, don’t misunderstand
Once the women have a ‘For Sale’ sign on their neck
Then it is clear that non ah we ent arrive as yet.

For the dependent people who can’t see that independence cannot come independently:

Don’t tell me bout no slaveship and bondage and no Middle Passage
‘Cause as man, I know my history
How the white French and Spanish and then the British
Exploit us since slavery
Once we building a region
Dem things shouldn’t matter again
But if you want my opinion
No bones, let me tell you plain
Our history will teach us that Haitians
Fought the French for their liberation
But now the blacks in their own army
Forcing them to turn refugee
And over in Jamaica they’ll criticise
Apartheid in South Africa
Yet they does shoot down one another
For two white men named Manley and Seaga
Stalin should stop begging oppressors
Bush and Reagan could never be our saviours
If we could only shake ourselves from their grasp
Is only then that all ah we will arrive at last.

Let me just list the themes I spot in this calypso, some of which are particular to the Caribbean colonization experience, and others which speak to more global themes of colonialism, decolonization, and resistance.

The first theme is really the title of the song itself, which satirically derives its local meaning from Trinidad’s annual “Arrival Day” celebrations that commemorate the arrival of indentured labourers from India, and is usually an occasion for protesting government discrimination in funding cultural events and media indifference to Indo-Trinidadian history. Other Caribbean nations have arrival days as well, such as Garifuna Arrival Day in Belize. Arrival has a way, for Watchman and others, of dislocating the Trinidadian, planting memory on a distant shore, providing little conscious articulation of a localized identity.

The second theme is not that history does not matter, but that West Indians should not feel trapped by that history, perennially forced to reenact it, imprisoned by the contours of the given.

The third theme is the struggle to achieve regional integration among the former colonies of the Caribbean, some of which actually collectively formed an independent federal nation for a short time (1958-1962), known as the Federation of the West Indies. Watchman decries the parochialism that substitutes for a localism that would see the Caribbean as a sea that unites, rather than divides, returning integration to an indigenous foundation. The problem, as he explains, is that there are too many chiefs and too much inter-island rivalry, also a product of colonial divide and rule. Arrival means reencountering one another.

The fourth theme has to do with another legacy of colonial divide and rule: racial division. Ironically, as he points out, all West Indians, divided among themselves, are collectively seen as Other from the outside, as exotic. The greatest racial stigma that survives, Watchman sings, is that of blackness — mixture with any other group is accepted except for that one. Here he makes a passing reference to Indo-Trinidadian ethnic politicians who complained about “douglarisation,” a supposed desire by the Afro-Trinidadian led ruling party to mix Africans and East Indians (a dougla is a mix of the two).

The fifth theme has to do with the control and objectification of women. He complains about stoking memories of what slavery did to women, only to conveniently forget it and market the region’s women as a sexual attraction to support the tourism industry. Incidentally, he is not at all far off on this: I still recall a prominent state tourism manager in Trinidad, appointed by an African-led ruling party, proclaiming the inescapable requirement to promote Trinidad as a place of sun, sand, and sex. That manager is a woman, incidentally. Watchman warns that tourism is like a return of slavery or the American bases, which saw the growth of a local prostitution industry, something that continued to be cultivated to entertain visiting American sailors right up to the late 1990s, and maybe now still.

The sixth theme is the openly anti-imperialist one, specifically aimed at wresting control of the region from U.S. domination. At the same time, as Watchman exhorts local leaders, while condemning oppression abroad do not practice it at home.

3 thoughts on “Dis Location: Arrival as Independence

  1. Pingback: Archaeology, peasants, women: links from the fringes « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  2. nalini

    This song is incredible!! Thank you for giving it prominence in your blog and for your helpful analysis.

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