Makandal Dagga brought the wine of astonishment, Black Power, for the people to drink. By 1970, he and his colleagues had gotten fed up of new wine in old vessels. In the ensuing battle, Massa smashed his vessel, leaving the people to lap up, here and there, wherever they could.
Here is this story, from my view.
MY GRANDMOTHER. I first met Makandal Daaga when I was 11. Not directly. But through my grandmother. It was 1970. Groups of men occasionally came walking down the road. They did not look dangerous to me. They looked like refugees, walking in dribs and drabs from something. But before they even reached her house, her parlour, in which she sold everything from hops to mosquito coils, she cried: Lock up! Close the parlour! Black Power! She shut the swinging doors of the parlour tight. When they passed, she opened her doors again.
THE MEDIA. My grandmother dreaded that the Black Power people would set her parlour afire. Molotov it! Was this the woman who perpetually cried: “I have guts like corbeaux!”? Who, on being told of a violent rape, had uttered: “If it was me, I woulda bite it off!” Who farmed her own cane, planted, weeded, salted, and crossed swords with cussbud bullcart drivers?
She was running scared of the rag tag bands coming down our road. It was the media. Nothing in the mainstream media told her what Black Power was. To her it was a burning and lootin’. Buildings set afire. Run! Black Power. In time, when no Molotov came, she left her doors ajar, with a block, just in case.
COLLEGE. At the Naparima Colleges in the early 1970s, there were a few conscious students. Among them were Joy and Peter Persad. They went to a march, in San Fernando, Black Power, and were beaten. Prime Minister Williams’ police. Randolph Burroughs. The squads in the Blue Maria.
The students around me guffawed. Mocked. Scurrilous laughter. They were not laughing at the antagonists. They were laughing at Joy and Peter Persad. As if to say, it good for them. The mocking, chuckling, snide laughter shamed the brother and sister in my eyes. Nothing on the college syllabus, none of the teachers, offered a counter story.
Explained Black Power.
FREDERICK STREET. It was 1978. Clerk Two Power at the Government’s Service Commission was giving me thunder. Week after week I travelled up in a bus to Port of Spain. No matter how I tried, I could not get a job. I had to wait for that clerk to change. Walking down Frederick Street, I saw Makandal. He was walking breezy, swift and bold. I moved aside. In awe. He was being hailed, and he was answering back. One man hailed: “Dagga! What about the Revo?!” I remember Dagga’s long, large toes, striking out from his sandals. He answered the man. He was giving an explanation. A rationalisation. Something opaque.
TUNAPUNA. At the University of the West Indies, in the early 1980s, I encountered my first critique of the “system”. I was moved. The critique came from ideologues. Ideological literature. But came it did. I went to Tunapuna, on the Eastern Main Road, a stone’s throw from the market to listen to Dagga. I was amazed. The wine of astonishment: Power To The People! I was shocked by his rhetorical power. New wine in a new bottle! Intoxicating! My intellectual kinship, respect, for NJAC’s ideas grew.
DUKE STREET. I met, with Dr Peter Vine, Dagga at his headquarters in Duke Street in 2009. He had summoned Dr Vine and myself. He was pleased with our work. He came down to the port at Claxton Bay to give the fishermen support against an industrial port at Claxton Bay; the port was destructive to the fisheries and mangrove system. He wanted collaboration. He was large, humble, dignified, open, and friendly.
In our discussions, and later NJAC meetings at Duke Street, I learnt that Williams and Burroughs had tried to beat Dagga and Black Power survival out of existence: the jailings, the shootings, the killings, homes and properties destroyed; a viciousness and savagery, equal to Massa.
PICCADILLY GREENS. Just before the 2010 General Elections I attended a rally on Piccadilly Greens. The forces were gathering against Prime Minister Patrick Manning. Mr. Winston Dookeran and Dagga were there. I had left, too shy to speak, but was called back on the loudspeaker. I belted out a speech, right there before the COP and NJAC leaders. I gave them my full endorsement, telling them of the trials of the people from Cedros to Claxton Bay. I would support their partnership fully, but if they betrayed the people, they would be destroyed, scattered like sand.
When the People’s Partnership began to exercise its sadisms, I turned to Dookeran. He offered blandishments (mamaguy). I turned to Dagga.
Time and time again I called. I was being blocked. I lost access. At the funeral celebration for Dagga, the leaders of the opposition and government sent emissaries to offer tributes. Only one man, dressed in full African wear, carrying his totems and regalia, rose in protest.
“Hypocrite! Hypocrite!” He was admonishing the government minister.
One Prime Minister, Williams, had offered violence to Dagga, smashing one leg; the other, Kamla-Bissessar, offered blandishments, finishing him off.
Luckily, Power to the People, the wine of astonishment is still in the ground.