Wed | Feb 26, 2020

Tony Deyal | Mohammed and the mountain

Published:Saturday | February 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM

I walked into a bat. Not a cricket bat, but a costumed demon bat, tall, grinning headpiece with long ears, black velvet arms, and to a seven-year-old, scary like hell. I was at my Uncle Bem's 'parlour' or 'cake shop' in Carapichaima (a village in Central Trinidad), which was also a club and drinking place where rummy was played by rummies and where, at carnival time, everyone ended up.

The shop was next to the railway station, the hub of activity, where well-kept and decorated horse-drawn buggies, the taxis of the time, waited outside for passengers, and a huge concrete cistern or water tank dominated the landscape. This was the stage for our carnival celebrations and what we now call 'Old Time' Carnival was the only mas or masquerade we knew.

I was peeping out at the fearsome 'Jab-Jabs', a band from Chickland and another from Brickfield (two nearby villages), who were strutting around, cracking their whips and working up for a battle with 'bullpistles' and sticks. Then I saw my neighbour, 'Donkey' Arthur, who every year built a 'burrokeet' or donkey/man character which he danced on the street and, running out to get a closer look, landed straight in the darkness of the enfolding bat wings.

Scared to death, I ran home and did not return until a year later when, having encountered the Pirate, Captain Kidd, in my West Indian Reader, I decided to play Midnight Robber and started my spiel with, "Oh, my name is Captain Kidd, and God's Laws I did forbid, as I sailed the sea ... ."

A few years later, the carnival changed. The costumes became bigger and heavier. Huge floats, along the lines of the New Orleans carnival, became increasingly common. I went to school in San Fernando and, pushing these floats, created by people like Mack Copeland, was an uphill task which we did our level best to manage.

One of the most difficult manoeuvres was helping a steel band, with its many metal racks on wheels, to come down the steep hill that is Chancery Lane. Carnival had become cumbersome and I racked up some miles and muscles every year.

The only bands that remained mobile were the sailor bands that were associated mostly with the steel bands. They were community bands, and like the cricket or football teams, everyone from the village or area was a member.

What I loved, though, was the ordinary and pariah mas, the dirty or 'dutty' sailor. Minimal costume, can of Pond's talcum powder in one hand, a rum or beer bottle in the other, and a head so 'bad' that rolling on the road felt like swimming.


Paradise Lost


Then came Paradise Lost. The poem starts with the lines, "Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit,/Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste,/Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,/With loss of Eden , till one greater Man/ Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,/ Sing Heav'nly Muse ... ." This was John Milton's work and greatest achievement. It was the prelude to Paradise Reborn and the coming together of the Mountain and Mohammed.

It is said, "If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain." The story, whether true or contrived by English author, Francis Bacon, is that the Prophet Muhammad was asked to provide proof of his teaching, so he ordered Mount Safa to come to him. When, after several commands, the mountain did not move, Mohammed praised God for being merciful, saying that if the mountain had obeyed his command, it would have fallen on all of them and destroyed them, and therefore he would now go to the mountain and give thanks to God for having mercy on such a disbelieving people.

Peter Minshall has ascended the very heavens of invention. From a costume depicting the Land of the Hummingbird, to the Notting Hill Carnival and then back to Trinidad with the revolutionary Paradise Lost, a band that ended the era of the huge floats and made carnival or mas mobile again, Minshall now towers over all our designers. At the global level, he was involved in the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the 1994 FIFA World Cup and is credited with the invention of Tube Man, aka Tall Boy and Skydancer. While the singer, David Rudder, composed and performs the classic 'High Mas', Peter Minshall creates it.

Ainsworth Mohammed is what we call a 'panman' but one whose strength, whether as a banker or band manager, is the combination of organisational and people skills with foresight and strategic thinking. While deploring the lack of a 'big vision' for steel pan music in Trinidad and Tobago, Ainsworth worked with his band Exodus, which, he said, "was formed out of PRINCIPLE. Discipline, Commitment and Respect for self and others" and this was reflected in its achievements, "not just in competitions, but [in] the bigger picture of people development and community and national service".

I am not sure whether Minshall went to Mohammed or Mohammed to Minshall, but last year I went to pay homage to them both as Exodus and Minshall joined forces in a small but effective 'sailor' band named Spiritus Mundi, or Spirit of the World, a term based on the belief of poet William Butler Yeats, expressed in his poem 'The Second Coming', that each human mind is linked to a single vast intelligence, and that this intelligence causes certain universal symbols to appear in individual minds.

This was Minshall's second coming, his return to Mas, and it was followed a few days ago, on Carnival Tuesday 2018, by "The Eyes of God", the message conveyed by the lowest of the low mas, the sailors, that, "ALL MEN ARE EQUAL IN THE EYES OF GOD. WOULD THAT ALL GODS WERE EQUAL IN THE EYES OF MEN."

I thought of the widening racial gap in Trinidad and Tobago, and as Exodus, with its mix of people of all creeds, races and even places, started on its wanderings through the streets of Port-of-Spain, I exulted, "This land is mine, God gave this land to me."

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying don't underestimate the power of God or His vision. Long before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, God gave Moses the first tablet that could connect to the cloud.