AN ARIMA SHAMAN SEEING RED
Francis Morean @ 16th November 2018.
(This is the tenth in a series of articles being published here by Francis Morean with the focus upon the history of Arima.)
It is very interesting how a single event in one’s life can resonate for many years after. In some ways it is like the ripples that are caused by throwing a single stone in a pool. Some may consider it to be the butterfly effect.
It is also interesting how the same event may create totally different impacts upon the lives of others. Without wishing to repeat myself, I need to mention that this piece connects to some things I have mentioned in some of the early pieces.
November 19th 1989 or Red Friday as it was called, was such a day to me. Trinidad and Tobago fell in our effort to qualify for the World Cup Finals, however it triggered a chain of events in my own life. And it all began with my decision to write a tribute to the Strike Squad, as the National Football Team was affectionately called.
That tribute morphed into a book, which later morphed into an even larger book, which in turn gave birth to a number of other books and manuscripts, all focused principally on matters pertaining to the history of Arima. Over the next few days I plan to share some extracts from that book.
The old Amerindian shaman grew increasingly agitated as he stood with his hands leaning upon the bottom section of the rough termite infested wooden door of his humble abode on the outskirts of Arima.
The quiet start to the morning could not have prepared me for the sudden tension in the atmosphere. I began to wonder if I had done or said something wrong. Javien ‘‘Dixon’’ Capriata was seldom ever an easy man to understand, but it was never difficult to know when he was annoyed about something. I could suddenly feel the tension.
His head shifted like a pendulum as he looked out toward the street. I watched him and waited quietly as he remained standing in a pensive state for what seemed like forever. I had learnt not to disturb him whenever he was in those thoughtful moods. We had spent several lamp-lit hours talking about life in general the night before, and I quickly reflected upon the things we had discussed. I could not think of anything that I may have said or done that may have caused him to become so agitated.
Turning around slowly toward me, with an obvious look of worry and disappointment, he emphatically yet almost sorrowfully said to me:
“Francis. These people do not know what they are doing. They doh know what dey doing, Francis boy. I stand up here and almost everybody that I see pass down this road here, wearing something red. What wrong with Jack Warner? What is wrong with these people?”
The questions were being presented to me, but it was obvious that he did not really wish for any answers.
“They doh understand what red means! Red is danger! Red is fire! Red is trouble! Red is blood!”
Capriata’s pet parrot ‘Cockotte’, cackled raucously, as if in agreement with his master.
I remained silent as I considered the source of his obvious agony and dismay. Not many people lived on the street or on the other nearby streets, but those who passed that morning, were almost all wearing red. Getting up from an old unvarnished chair on which I was sitting, I made my way to the doorway and looked out through his gateway. To me it was a beautiful spectacle. For years, red had been my favourite colour.
As he spoke, the words of SuperBlue’s refrain came over the airwaves:
“Sixteen years ago in Haiti,
We were denied fame and glory,
On the road,
The road to Germany,
Ah new breed, similar journey,
Trying to erase that memory,
On the road,
The Road to Italy
On the Road, On the Road,
We going Italy”
Allison Ayres, the composer of the lyrics and the calypsonian SuperBlue, Austin Lyons, formerly performing under the moniker of the Blue Boy, had captured the nation’s imagination and dreams in the catchy chorus and hook lines in the calypso. All we needed was a draw and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Team would have qualified for the first time for the Finals of a World Cup Football Competition.
For the majority of citizens, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that we would qualify. The final qualifying game was scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday the nineteenth of November 1989 at the National Stadium.
Some Carnival band leaders such as Raoul Garib and Gerard Weekes, whose mas camps were based near the stadium had already, announced plans for celebratory parties. The police had also approved certain areas along the nearby Aubrey Jeffers Highway, Tragarete Road and the Western Main Road where people could fete after the match. At least that was the information provided by Austin “Jack” Warner, the then secretary of the local football association.
In 1973, in the campaign for the World Cup Finals in Germany, the National Football team had been robbed of a place due to terrible referee decisions during the final set of qualifying matches which were played in Haiti. The Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago Limited and BWIA International, our National Airline had made plans to bring home those members of the 1973 team- who were residing abroad in 1989- so that they could witness the historic match and see “the new breed achieve fame and glory”
Some airlines had began to advertise the sale of airline tickets to Italy for citizens who were already making plans to attend the World Cup in their expectation that the local team would qualify.
Several individuals had already nominated the coach of the team, Everald “Gally” Cummings for the individual of the year of a local newspaper.
One large beer producer had even held a dress rehearsal fete for the big day. Two Government Ministers and the then Attorney General even had the time to attend and kick start the celebrations at the Valsayn compound of the company.
The week preceding the game had been designated “Winners Week” by the officials of the local football association. It was a week of rallies, parties, functions and prayers, some of which involved the football team. November 17th, the preceding Friday, was considered “Red Day” by the local football association, and the public was asked to wear something red that day. From the Monday of that week people were already beginning to wear red in public. What Capriata was seeing however, was part of an over whelming flood which had in fact been sweeping the nation. Red Day had arrived. A red trickle was slowly but steadily flowing in the street in front his almost concealed home.
The day before was considered “National Energy Day” and some 8,000 schoolchildren had assembled at the National Stadium to welcome and honour the players of the team from 1973 and the younger footballers who were scheduled to play the important game a few days after. The Ministry of Education had given permission for schoolchildren to wear red that Friday. Employers had also given permission for their employees to do away with their usual work attire and to wear red that Friday. Looking out into the street it was clear that the calls had been heeded.
“We going Italy?” Capriata questioned cynically. Then, in answer to his own question, he said almost disdainfully: “We are not going anywhere. That is madness. Dribble dong dey!! Dribble down dey!? That is not football. Football is about scoring goal on the field.”
I did not wish to challenge Capriata. If anything, his last sentence was eminently correct, but for a slight error, I thought. “Scoring goals”, I said to myself. “Goals win matches”.
SuperBlue’s refrain continued to dominate not only Capriata’s battery operated radio but those of some of the pedestrians in the street who were walking with their portable radios and cassette players.
“On the road, we going Italy,
The streets like ah festival,
People making bacchanal,
East, west, north and south,
Lord hear they mouth,
Yes we going to Italy
People jumping half-naked
And sipping they Carib.
On the road, on the road
We going Italy.”
Capriata was now almost completely annoyed. His diminutive figure had often belied the force of his power and determination. In his moments of annoyance I often visualised the seventeenth century Nepuyo Chief, Hyarima (Hierreima) who is considered by some to be our nation’s first National Hero. As Capriata ranted and raved I could again discern in him the spirit of the warrior.
“All they like is bacchanal and Carnival” he fumed.
“That could win a match?” he muttered as he indignantly continued.
Again, it was not a question he was posing but rather he was making an authoritative statement.
“We eh going nowhere!!” He asserted with an air of finality, before pausing for a while to add, “ It would take another 15 to 20 years before we could qualify for ah World Cup”
SuperBlue’s voice seemed to anger Capriata even more as the calypso continued:
“When we catch them in the Stadium,
We’ll beat them like bongo drums,
We go show them Yankee…….”
Capriata had heard enough. He promptly turned the knob to “change the station”, and then began to beat his chest in his characteristic manner.
“Tell Jack Warner them Yankee will shock we. Is we to ketch! That match come like war you know. Them Yankee know how to fight war you know. I used to observe them when they were here during the war days. Francis I tell you will be like war in ah way. This is a serious match you know. Not this set ah stupidness about dribble dong dey. Not this set ah fete like if is a fete match.”
Lancelot Layne Kebu had been the first local artiste in 1989 to pay tribute in song to the Strike Squad – as the national football team had been publicly celebrated and renamed-.and to rally them in song.
Layne Kebu had followed in the footsteps of a number of local calypsonians who for more than half a century had used their songs to celebrate the prowess of local football teams. He had gone on to produce a video in support of their efforts. As Capriata changed the station, Layne’s composition “Kaisoca Soccer” came across the airwaves. It did not seem to bother Capriata as much as SuperBlue’s runaway football Road March had done.
Capriata’s concerns about the premature celebrations and hyped up atmosphere was shared by some of the citizenry, including some columnists and journalists in the local media.
The weekend before Red Day, sportswriter Horace Harragin had astutely noted, “We have not been so favourably ordained that we are “bound to qualify” for Italy”
A few days before the game, Lincoln Phillips, a former top national goalkeeper had warned about the potential disastrous consequences to Trinidad and Tobago football that could arise due to overconfidence.
Keith Shepherd, a former competitive league football player himself and a senior journalist at the biweekly Mirror newspaper had made some very incisive comments in the Friday edition of the paper which had hit the streets the day before. As Capriata’s agitation began to sub-side my mind turned to Shepherd’s comments. He had written a centre-spread article under the heading, “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over” in which he warned “It’s not over bar the shouting, singing and dancing on the streets. Don’t buy the message of those excitable announcers on the radio and television; and the rantings of Keith Smith and other “bought out” writers at the dailies”.
After reviewing the history of the results of previous matches between Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America he went on to note that “ It’s almost as if America is our bogey side….a sort of jinx. That isn’t to say that I’m here today to push negative vibes. It’s just that in the absence of level-headedness by other media houses- a situation that could easily lull our side into complacency and a feeling that we have already qualified for the 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy- the job of telling it as it is has once again fallen to the Mirror.”
He further noted that the player “who could easily destroy the USA attack with sheer skill is Dwight Yorke, the Tobago teenager with the Aston Villa contract”. He ended by noting that “After all, it ain’t over till it’s over.”