Archive for the 'Fiction' Category


Joshua Marx, Anthropologist Among the Nationalists, Jumbies, and Whores of the Postcolony

Arthur, from Baltimore (as we already know), taught part time at a university in Queens, New York, last year. While there he managed to enchant some students with all his anecdotes, and photos, and footage, from his time in the postcolony where I still lived, where I lived unemployed but presumably doing independent research. Among the students was a very bright anarchist firebrand: Joshua Marx. This is the story of the grief that would be visited on Joshua Marx’s head and body, suffering the “boil down” meted out by the grim undercurrents and alleyway shades of a postcolony in 2007. This is the story about how Joshua Marx discovered that he was white, wealthy, an outsider, a conservative, and an imperialist. It is also a story of what Joshua Marx discovered about his innermost feelings for the postcolony, and how he reoriented himself professionally as a result, having been lucky enough to survive.


Joshua Marx won a Fulbright. He bought himself a new backpack, a laptop, a digital video camera, a digital photo camera, a digital audio recorder, malaria pills, hiking boots, stationery, and of course an airline ticket. Joshua was from a working-class background, and rarely had two nickels to rub together, so this was all a major boon, and off he went. He had a mother and a friend, and these were the only two people to see him off on the morning he left for JFK. Let’s follow him on his departure from New York and his arrival in the postcolony, using ethnographic footage of his journey, glimpsing this special episode of his personal life and professional development as an anthropologist:

Joshua was not sure what to think. The planes on the ground were familiar foreign aircraft, but repainted, brightly, like flowers, or like cheap hookers, he couldn’t make up his mind about which was more reflective. The airport was modern, but with a slimy, air conditioned undertone of squalor that he couldn’t quite pinpoint — was it the young girls in purple shirts with gold fingernails standing next to pyramids of shiny rum bottles and Swiss chocolates in the Duty Free shops? Was it the sleepy-eyed, lugubrious, Customs officials? Was it the dark mob of people outside, waiting for their loved ones, so that he felt doubly excluded? He didn’t know. He was excited, and yet uncomfortable.

Joshua had a rough entry, a very abrasive one in fact. He planned to stay for 18 months — no airline ticket is valid for longer than 12 months, and so he made the mistake of just selecting “one way” when ordering his ticket. He also had no bank statements on him, and hardly any cash. When asked about the purpose of his visit by an over sized, bovine Immigration Officer with a huge gold tooth and garlic on his breath, he responded, “I am here to do social and cultural research.” Well, that only made matters worse. Without indicating that there would be any problem, Officer Cowsingh inserted Joshua’s ticket inside his passport, smacked it shut with his hammy, shiny hands, and rather than handing the documents back, he held them up and waved them at a woman in an ugly blue pantsuit standing at another stall — that was Officer Cassandra Sergeant, the start of the nightmare.


“Eh? A one-way ticket? No, no, no! How you mean a one-way ticket!?”

He could feel not only her hot breath, it was the smoldering look of utter contempt, of unprovoked malice, that caught young Joshua way off guard. He stammered, and she had him. He was now hers to be toyed with.

“You think you can come here, with a one-way piece a nonsense?” she said this flapping his ticket in the air as if it was worthless scrap.

“How do I know you can go back? You have money? Show me, show me. What? How you mean no bank statement!?”

He had heard of how brutal U.S. INS agents can be at the border, and he gathered this was payback of some sort. But why him? Who carries cash anyway? He had his ATM card, and that’s all he needed, that and an American Express charge card.

The worse thing about this is that it was done in front of an audience, the whole hall of arrivals looking on, looking down their noses at him as if he were some drug dealing, hippy terrorist. “Fuck her! Fuck her with a chainsaw! Who the fuck is this cunt, some reincarnation of Captain Fucking Ahab?” These are the thoughts that passed through his head and into the burning veins of his shaking arms.

Had he understood the symbols worked into her attire, he would have known on sight that this woman would be serious trouble. First thing is that she was wearing “maljo” blue. Maljo is a local patois derivation of “mal yeux”, which refers to the “evil eye.” If you wear that kind of blue, it means you are giving people the evil eye, you are dangerous, back off. Then she was wearing a string of jumbie beads. Coincidentally, these contain the black and red colours of the postcolony’s national flag. A jumbie is a malignant phantom. You wear jumbie beads to protect yourself against the evil eye — so this woman was giving evil eye, and making herself immune to it in return. The beads are very toxic seeds: ingesting a single ground up seed could be fatal to an adult. Beautiful and deadly. In some parts of the Caribbean they are even used as rosary beads, as ironic as that may seem.

Hanging from her string of beads was a large “Donkey Eye” seed, also known in some parts as a “sea bean” or an “ojo de buey.” These seeds are related to cow itch, which can send some people to hospital. The seed pods are covered with tiny hairs that can be shaved off to make cow itch. In the Caribbean and Central America some stir the hairs into honey as a remedy to expel intestinal parasites. Her all-seeing donkey eye could itch him and expel him like some sort of turd worm.

The matter would be resolved after he submitted to a total search of each item in his luggage; after US Consular officials had been informed that he violated the nation’s entry requirements and that he should not have been allowed to embark in New York with a one-way ticket; after the airline was chastised; and, after he promised to make himself available at the Ministry of National Security the very next afternoon, with a return ticket in hand, and with an ATM slip that showed the balance of funds in his account, and only then would he be issued with a six-month tourist visa to be renewed at a fee of 300 local dollars.

Four hours after the plane landed, he was “free” to leave.

As he makes his way through the baggage hall he sees one single passenger, who had also been detained for questioning. She is a tall and attractive local lady, returning from a vacation in New York. Joshua notes how she is elegantly and smartly dressed, and though not a fetishist he cannot take his eyes off of her immaculate, shapely feet, in very high heeled strappy sandals. Smooth and sculpted, the colour of coffee and cream, with delicately off-white soles. And he notices her hand going down to one foot and removing the shoe, barely hearing the Customs agent repeating that the bag of apples could not enter, they were on the “negative list.” Holding her shoe by the toe, she brings down the heel with force, like a spike, over and over again, mashing up the bag of apples. Then with an almost coarse voice, she exclaims: “You want apples? Good, now you go get apple sauce!” She is convinced that her apples are to be confiscated, only to then be brought home to be eaten by the Customs agent himself. The agent shouted: “Eh-eh! You could get arres’ for dat!” and she responded, “Arres’ mi nah, then you go see!” He waves her past, saying, “Who vex loss” (the one who loses her cool, loses the duel). She passes Joshua and morphs her face at him, with an expression that says, “What are you looking at?”


Joshua, on the recommendation of Arthur, stayed at a guest house for international students, near the local university. He found adjusting to the constant heat and the spicy local food a real challenge and he had non-stop diarrhea for several weeks. It took him two months just to get agreement from members of a local, predominantly East Indian, Muslim community to agree only to do interviews with him — the whole “participant observer” thing struck them as asking a little too much. He would also be allowed to attend Friday prayers, but no other events.

Joshua spent most of his time reading in the university library, where it was cool, where there was ready access to cooked meals, and where he could hang out with other students, both local and foreign. In fact, he met seven other American anthropology students, all doing doctoral research, all for roughly the same period he would be there: Jack Stone from Emory, Hilda MacLeod from Johns Hopkins, Beatrice Ransom from South Florida, Lev Goldberg from UCLA, Tania Overmann from Chicago, Mary-Beth Copeki from NYU, and Joanne Silversmith from Princeton. He never had such in-depth anthropological discussions even in grad classes, and he felt like he was still at home in their company, as defensive as some of them were about what they were researching, where, how, and who with.

It’s not that he missed home as such, he knew he would be back, in some respects he was glad to be immersed in colour, as he explained. He would take snapshots of colourful scenes that struck his eye as refreshing changes from the drab American urban background from which he came. He saw how colour was woven into fabric, food, drink, art, fruit, house paint, you name it. Overall, he was getting to be really happy about being in the postcolony, though he was put off by the widespread adherence to superstitions, the lack of a strong union movement, the absence of any radical socialist movements, and the profuse, gross consumerism.


The Imam had serious reservations about Joshua, his appearance, his name, his nationality, and his religion (or lack of one). Sitting in his air conditioned office, with his hands folded on his belly, the Imam asked Joshua:

“Are you white? Because you look more like what we in local parlance call a ‘poor white'”

“I’m not sure if that’s a criticism or a compliment.”

“Poor white is not a compliment,” the Imam said dryly. He continued: “Marx, Marx, Marx…what kind of name is that? It’s Jewish, not so?”

“Yes, it is.”

The Imam stopped rocking gently in his office chair.

“So you are Jewish then. And what is it that you want from Islam?”

“No, I’m not Jewish. I mean my family is, was. I am an atheist.”

“Atheist! Oh you poor boy, you will have a lot to learn from us,” said the Imam feigning pity, as he ended the sentence by clicking the end of his gold pen against one of his molars.

“So here you are then, an atheist Jewish American poor white boy, studying us Muslims. And you want to be a participant observer. You can explain that to me?”

“Sure. I want to do some interviews with yourself and other members of the community, film some of your ceremonies, sit in on meetings, do some historical research on the emergence of the community, and look at how you engage with the broader world of Islam, globally.”

“And you’re looking for Bin Laden, you forgot that part,” the Imam laughed raucously, interrupting to cough, as his assistants in the room carried on the rolling fat laughter for him. Joshua started to wonder about the choice of his topic, since these really were not people like him, he couldn’t figure out what he was doing here now.

“No, not Bin Laden…”

“Yes, tell me a next one,” the Imam said with dismissive indifference.

“Anyway,” the Imam continued, “back to this observant participation thing, however you call it. It seems to me that you have an idea about what to observe, but what concerns me is what you mean by ‘participation’.”

“Well I was thinking that maybe you would allow me to participate in meetings, prayers, special events…”

“Oh really, how so?” the Imam queried with an arched eyebrow, looking sideways at Joshua as he had spun his office chair part way around.

“Well by sitting in…”

“No, that’s observation again. Anyone can ‘sit in’. I can go ‘sit in’ as Parliament meets, I can ‘sit in’ the gallery. I can ‘sit in’ cinema, and not be big time actor on screen. I can ‘sit in’ restaurant, and not be the cook. Anybody can ‘sit in.’ Sit in does tell me where your backside is set, but it doh tell me nuttin’ about where your backside be headed, how it be movin'” exclaimed the Imam, moving in and out of local parlance for emphasis.

“Sorry, I’m not sure I follow your drift.” Joshua says this timidly, but with some tension in his voice. Joshua is not happy.

“Well then you better open your nose boy, because you cyah be no ‘participant’ if you eh no believer, you understan’?”

“Well hopefully I can learn to see the world from your point of view…”

“How!? By being an unbelieving, Jewish American atheist? Nah, tell me anudda one, boy.”


An excerpt from Joshua’s personal diary, found strewn among the remainder of the few belongings gathered by the police at the scene, on the beach:


After breakfast — some hideously salty and pungent smoked herring inside some thick and greasy flat bread, and a cup of instant coffee thickened by a heavy local cream — Joshua clutched his belly and went out on the gallery to have a smoke in the morning sun, birds singing loudly, uniformed little school children running and walking to school.

The guest house’s owner had a daughter, just returned from “tourism school” in Barbados, not too attractive in Joshua’s eye. In fact, he had politely rebuffed a couple of advances she made since she got back five days ago. She had then asked him if he was a “faggot.” She came and sat next to him on the step, all previous signs of antagonism gone.

“You know, Josh, I know plenty a young women who would just go crazy to meet you, you know. You ever go to the Cat & Blue Bird pub in Chaguaramas?”

“No, why?”

“Now dat is de place to be, boy! Beautiful women, wall to wall, great drink, great music. I will take you tonight.” Her eyes glittered. Joshua thought he should go, just for the experience.


You could hear the music pounding from the long wooden building on the seafront from a mile away, and its neon blue and pink sign could be seen from even further.

He was brought in by the hand, by guest house daughter, and then it was as if she had vanished from his hand. He looked down at his empty palm, and she was nowhere in sight.

The decor of this place was predictable. Rum and beer posters everywhere, including one of the far side of alcoholism:

He went to the counter, and before he could say what he wanted, the sleek chicky-babe behind the counter told him: “You look like a Jack Iron man to me sweetness!”

“Jack Iron?”

A very fat Indian man, dressed in lots of gold and silk, holding on to two gorgeous young women, both speaking Spanish (odd, he thought) shouted over the music toward his ear: “Yeah boy! Jack Iron! Jack is fuel for yuh iron, boy!” Laughing fatly and gently jigging his waist, the two girls bobbing under his weight, his shiny face added: “Yuh take a shot ah dat and t’row it up in de air, an’ I tellin’ yuh, nuttin’, I mean not a drop, comin’ back dong! Dat stuff so high proof it vanish into t’in air!” With each emphatic sweep of his arm his two women get shunted from side to side, like lifeless appendages.

Joshua paused, but did not want to appear weak to the challenge. He would rise up and meet this pirate, Jack Iron, on his own terms. He took a shot, and felt nothing but a fast spike of liquid heat fire past his tonsils. “Good!” he said. Down came another shot. And then another. And then another. And then another. He was impressing the locals. Someone suggested he mix some brown sugar into it, to sweeten it a bit.

“You want some sweet brown sugar? You see dem two over dey, you tell me which one you want, maybe you want bot’ a dem, no problem man, I go fix up for you.” The same Indian man winked at him, and motioned with the shrug of one shoulder as if to say, “go on boy.”

A man in his twenties, dressed modestly, with long braids, took Joshua’s arm and spoke into his ear: “Brother let me take you out of this place.” Drunk, sweaty, giddy, confused — Joshua mistook this man as some shady character, and yanked his arm away, saying, “Get lost man!”

Vanessa, the girl in the maljo-blue tank top, ‘wined’ her way over to Joshua, once given the signal. She grabbed one of his hands between her two hands, and stroking his arm down from the elbow to the wrist, began to lead him into a corridor behind a red bead curtain. They reached one room, one in a series of dark and filthy rooms all of which had sounds of muffled moans and rusty bed springs emanating from inside. Vanessa, stroking Joshua’s thick sandy blond hair, said: “It’s only a blue note, and you get to do all you want, master.” Joshua, dazed, out of control, slipped a blue note from his pocket, and closed the door behind him. He was too far gone to bother to notice that only a weak little latch was used to “lock” the door. Far too gone to think of a condom.

Three minutes into the heated action, as Joshua sank into a frenzied vertigo, a child’s ruler slid up the crack of the door and pushed the latch open.


Pressed by U.S. Consular officials, local police CID repeatedly questioned the lead suspects, while dismissing the inputs offered by two FBI agents who were permanently stationed on the island. Led by Detective Inspector Lennox Constantine, they began with the seven American anthropology students, leading the local press to believe they were “typical” drunken, drugged, American youth who would have led Joshua to a wild beach party. The American media caught a whiff of the story, and soon Joshua’s face was on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, for three consecutive nights. Pressed by the FBI men, the police finally took samples of the blood found in the prostitute’s room, specifically on the bed, the floor, the walls, the door, the corridor, and from the walkway outside. They do no DNA testing here, so all they could say was that the blood type did not match that of the prostitute, but matched Joshua’s (once they could check his medical records, faxed from Queens), and the blood of two other persons was also found. Constantine also questioned the daughter of the owner of the guest house, who claimed to have spoken to Joshua on only one occasion, and to have no knowledge of where he had gone that night. Her father backed her up. The prostitute deleted any mention of a fat Indian businessman in the company of two South American (illegally imported) prostitutes in the club that night, or perhaps the police failed to record that information. The police had no knowledge of the young man with long braids who witnessed the series of events.

The police were led to a beach, where they found Joshua’s tattered and bloody shirt, his broken glasses, one of his shoes, and what appeared to be a finger nail. What struck them as entirely suspicious was that they also found contents of his room, on the beach, including diary fragments like the one shown above. Constantine went back to the guest house, and placed the owner’s daughter in custody, as well as her father for good measure. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mervin Ramdial, launched a formal case as CID uncovered yet another kidnapping ring. At a press conference, DPP Ramdial and DI Constantine announced that they had evidence that led them to believe that Joshua Marx had been targeted by a kidnapping ring, that no ransom note was found, and that the kidnapping may have been botched. They were scouring the northwest coast for signs of a body. The U.S. State Department, despite pleas to the contrary by the local Chief Minister, issued a Travel Advisory to all American nationals planning a trip to the postcolony.


It was Dimanche Gras, and the Calypso King finals were broadcast live on television. The volume of the television was turned up just high enough to mask the moans, as a young man with long braids applied clean white gauze, and removed bloodied gauze.

The voice of the man said gently, “This is a hurt nation, and plenty does get hurt, all goin’ to hell now, boy. You go be fine, nah worry, they cyah find you here and you go leave soon.” The young man with braids replaced the bandaging on his own arms and jaw, and watched Kurt Allen preach against patriotism in a sharp, relentlessly critical calypso chock full of disillusionment about crime, corruption, dictatorship, racism, and foreign ownership:


At 6:00am, Carnival Monday, with the pumping sounds of the music trucks downtown in the background, the door to the one room apartment in the ghetto opened up. Imam Hosein stepped in, his two large hands held out, his white palms showing, and a paternal smile on his face. Within a moment, Joshua was a waif in his big arms, sobbing with joyful relief.

The Imam, chuckling says, “Now dis is participant observation, ent?” Joshua was barely able to laugh through the pain of his multiple bone fractures.

The young man with braids had done community work with the Imam years ago, and had been in touch with him. Both feared that if Joshua’s whereabouts were known, he would be gone for good, and they both suspected that the police were trying to find him on behalf of the kidnapping ring, led by what was believed to be a prominent member of the local elite.

The Imam put Joshua’s arm around his shoulder and carried him outside. Two very heavy men, wearing white kufis, long black beards, long sleeved white shirtjacks (the local version of the guayabera), black pants, and each with a large caliber handgun tucked into the back of the pants stood in front of a black SUV with tinted windows. Weaving its way through the tight streets of the hillside ghetto, and past bands of Carnival-going masqueraders, the SUV made its way onto a highway named after an American President and a British Prime Minister, and sped at top speed to the airport. The Imam had purchased a one-way ticket back to New York for Joshua, and he would leave, right now, as he was.

In the airport now, lo and behold, but who should Joshua glimpse having her breakfast break, if none other than the lovely Cassandra Sergeant herself? They walked quickly passed where she sat with two colleagues. Sergeant smirked at Joshua’s appearance, knowing some of what the news said had happened to him. He turned his head sideways, and loud enough for her to hear him, he said one word: “Cunt!”

Her jaw dropped open and the chicken bone fell from her mouth.


On his return to New York, and on the advice of his mother, Joshua dropped his anthropology degree. In subsequent years, he completed a MBA, and now works for Goldman Sachs.

Back in the postcolony, his story has become part of the local lore, especially among newly arriving anthropology students, who share versions of it among themselves over coffee when they meet outside the university’s main library on Friday afternoons.



Daniela Drinks with “Darkie”

Professor Sigismund Goodfellow, a gentleman anthropologist whom we have already encountered, telephoned me last night and asked, “If you would be so good as to escort a new graduate student entering the field. She is Daniela Rubin, and she arrived from Goldsmiths just last week. I am afraid I am too much, shall we say, ‘under the weather,’ to be of any use. Introduce her to your informants, as she is particularly interested in,” he hiccups, “ethnobotany and shamanism.”


I meet Daniela Rubin on a blazingly hot Saturday morning outside of where she is renting a room. She is staying in an antique “gingerbread” house, owned by an elderly couple who are so deaf that they force me to shout, holler, bellow in the street so that the whole place now knows who I am and what I am there for. I am very sensitive about these things, I know how people in this postcolony are always looking and listening and taking notes, on everybody, on strangers perhaps more. Blazingly hot, I said, as it had just rained and now with the sun shining the evaporating rain became like a steam, bristling with biting little flies. After hearing some rustling of papers inside the house, and footsteps on an old wooden floor, out comes this 28 year old woman, olive skinned, long black hair, dressed in heavy brown sandals, khaki green pants, and a canary yellow sleeveless jersey. She walks towards me, limp hand extended, her other arm wrapped around a satchel, and she says, “Hi, I’m Danny.” Danny, a name that’s cute, unlike the lack of any smile on her face.

After performing the usual acrobatics in trying to open the burning hot, dented passenger door, I invite her to enter the oven-on-wheels. I use my sweat rag — I learned from school children to always carry a small hand or face towel to wipe off the litres of sweat I would lose in a day — my soaked sweat rag, to wipe and this way cool down the steering wheel. A buckling start and we lurch forward, past a child with a box on his bike, standing in the gutter, calling out, “Dolla a bodi!” He sees me looking and smiles and says, “white man, yuh na wa na bOdi?” overemphasizing the “O” so his mouth almost raised off his little face. I start to laugh and shake my head, “Next time,” I tell him.

Daniela looked as if her skin had gone into overtime producing a film of sweat and grease, and she fanned herself repeatedly with her agenda. “Is it always this hot?” I tell her that in August it is the worst, and the massive rain really offers little comfort in the end when you have to suffer the steam. I ask her if she knew what “pee wah” was as we pass a pickup truck, with its back panel down, revealing a glowing red and orange mountain of pee wah.

“Oh yes, of course, I have seen it in Guyana. It is of Amazonian origin.”

I ask, “Have you eaten it?”

She shakes her head, and I tell her to try them, they taste vaguely like potatoes, just boil them for about — whatever — until soft to the fork, peel them, and don’t forget to salt the boiling water. “Damn good stuff, man” I say, and she looks straight ahead. I add, “but not as good as tipitambo in my view.”

“Tipi what?” she asks

“Oh, it’s another Amazonian thing there. You possibly know it as Venusia spadafora or whatever.”

Off we go, to find Moses on his Mount.


Several dozen potholes later, her mood shifts, as if the knocking about in the hot car, buffeted by a dense breeze, has somehow allowed her mouth to directly broadcast whatever was on her mind. She asks me,

“So you don’t mind my stepping on your turf, I mean, it’s not like I mean to step on your toes or anything, but I wanted to find out if these were real shamans you were taking me to meet, or some of these new age plastic shaman types.”

Now, I don’t know what a “real shaman” is, but that’s not what bothers me…about a high class student from an elite institution where she should know better, that’s not what bothers me at all.

“Step on my what? Wow…Danny…you seem to take this ‘field’ thing too literally.”

“Brilliant.” She did not want any explanation, just a green light. And that “brilliant” would become the start of almost every sentence she would utter that day.

“Hey Danny I am turning right here”

— “Brilliant”

“I think I may sneeze”

— “Brilliant”

“We might even get there in one piece, as long as my engine does not explode…again”

— “Brilliant”

“I think I might have lung cancer, I don’t know, but I have been coughing up lots of blood”

— “Brilliant”

But the whole “turf and toes” idea would not leave me alone as we wound our way up through the hills. Turf…and toes. Terrain. Feet. Stamping and stomping. My property. My estate. It all seemed very “plantation” to me, very appropriate for this “postcolony”. The thought was magnified as we passed the ruins of a famous estate that once belonged to a French count who went mad and who was said to have drunk the blood of several of his slaves.

(On a side note, I am always amazed at how slavery and torture can be beautified in the postcolony. Candy-coloured plantations, where torture of the severest kind has been documented. On the other hand, in the capital city, there are the ruins of a market where slaves were sold, and most local passers-by don’t even know the history of that block of ruins — some think it was a contemporary building, destroyed by a recent fire. I wondered if, out of a similar desire to attract tourists, if Auschwitz came with a gift shop and a cute cafe.)

“So, Danny, tell me something. You think I see these people as my property, part of my personal collection?”

“Brilliant, I always manage to offend the over-sensitive sort. No, what I am saying is, you were here first, you weren’t even supposed to be the one taking me on a tour –“

— “Oh well Dr. Goodfellow’s car is air conditioned, so you really missed out there…” I say with a hint of jealousy.

“No,” her voice becoming more serious, “what I am saying is, these are the people you are studying, and I didn’t mean to intrude, to usurp, are you able to follow?”

“Ok, but maybe they will like you so very much that they will tell me to bugger off. You know, I think they get a choice about who gets to dig around inside their skulls.”

“Brilliant, I love self-righteousness!” She turns away and I can see a faint smile on her face. I think to myself that this is going to be a very long day.


“Say, Danny, what have you brought as a gift?”

“A gift? For you?” Apparently the chauffeur is not entitled to one, but I let that go.

“No! I mean for the hosts we will be staying with today. Did you bring a little something?”

“Brilliant, now I have to bribe my way past the door.”

“Oh well, screw it man, now we have to find some kind of shop, we can’t show up empty-handed like some leeching scumbags.”

The way her head snapped around at me showed that she was quite gobsmacked by what, I confess, was too strong and was not meant to be about her alone.

As if an idea suddenly struck her hard, she says, slowly: “Listen, would you mind very much getting a bottle of rum?”

“So we should encourage that now?”

Looking at me as if I had become even more of a turd, she clarifies: “No, but if I have to pay to enter, I might as well get a return on my investment.”

What? Meaning she would get a drink out of it, or what?


Toe turf. So there it was, the field is just that, property, you cultivate it, and it’s yours. Can she be blamed? I mean, after all, she was just being careful, and besides it’s part of the unwritten code of anthropology — stay on your own turf. Apparently we are gangsters. But the influence is a biblical one, not so? In that case, it’s not an unwritten code — “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ass.” She just wanted me to know that she was not coveting my ass, or asses. But it’s not just the Holy Bible. It’s also John Locke — how can I say this fruit tree is mine? Well, if I planted it, and invested the labour, then you can’t just come by and take freely.

“JAH LOVE!” shouts a smiling, semi-toothless, bare-chested young Rasta boy from a yard we pass, with a half-peeled, juicy-looking, big, fat orange in his right hand, and a tiny pocket knife in his left hand. I answer, “Alright brother” and just wave backwards.


We get to this ramshackle shop on a bend, and I have to practically skid to stop because I don’t remember anything else on the way to where we’re going. As soon as I enter I get a gentle smile from the owner, an Indian man in his fifties, Radio Ramleela blaring in the background. I rush him. “You have any puncheon?”

“Nah boy, I all outta dat since las’ night.”

“Ok, then lemme get a bottle of Vat 19, a jaliter (2 liter bottle) of Coke, and one of those bottles of salted channa, thanks.” I rush out, and Danny greets me, with “brilliant”, and heat crazed I almost want to strike her on the head with the rum bottle and leave her limp-ass carcass out for the cobos (a French patois derivation of corbeaux, vultures). She doesn’t even offer to bloody share the cost, I mean, come on. Manners! Am I supposed to remind her that she owes me money? Why should she place me in that position?

“Hey so Danny, who is your supervisor, is it Dr. Goodfellow?” I need to know, because someone will owe me big time for this sacrifice I am making.

“Oh no, my supervisor is Danny, you know him.”

“Danny is your supervisor, and you call him Danny, and you call yourself Danny too?”

“He calls me Danny too!” She smiles and winks, like, “we have a little special link, he and I.”

Danny and Danny. Danny too. Danny II. Danny, raised to the power of two. Or, Danny Part Two.

“Ok then, Danny, from now on I will call you Danny2.” She misses the irony, because she can’t see the writing in my head.


“What did you mean by ‘real shaman’ a while ago?” I ask her. We only have about 10 minutes left to the drive and I start to worry about whose space I am about to invade with the Goldsmiths Miss Thing at my side.

“No well, what I meant was, you know, you get some types who want to claim they are ‘indigenous’ such and such, and the whole eco-botanical-nature-shaman thing is usually a tool some use to fortify their claim.”

“Ah, yeah, ok Danny, you see that? I would make sure you keep that in your back pocket when you speak to Moses, because if there is one man who can sniff out a sniffer, it’s him.”

“His name is Moses?”

My left hand rests on the stick between our thighs, as I begin to gear down to take the heat off the brakes as I swerve into Moses’ generous green yard.


What a pleasure, that cool stable shade, after that rocking hot car. I know to make my way to the thatched meeting house, bypassing Moses’ gallery as I shout, “Hello! Afternoon! You sleeping again man?” laughing. We always accused each other of taking too many siestas during the day, an old joke, forget it.

“Max, I coming down now, you go have a sit.” Moses’ big deep voice calling out from behind thin curtains, what a welcome change.

“You bring some little libation?” he asks me, as if he suddenly remembered to ask.

In the meantime, my favourite music video is blaring from his television set, and how appropriate the message is:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“Whoa, Moses, you can smell it though glass or what?”

“Nah, I just asking if to bring down some ice…jackass” he chuckles.

“Yes, lots of ice please.”

“I coming just now.”

I motion to Daniela to take a seat on a bench, and I go sit at the opposite side of the hut, because I intend to drink and observe and little more. I did my driving and now I need my rest. I watch Daniela polish the exterior of the bottle, placing it exactly in the centre of the little round table in the centre of the hut, and she takes out a micro-thin digital audio recorder, and places it right next to the bottle.


Moses, in jeans, a white jersey, and straw hat, shuffles in with a bowl of ice. He catches sight of the audio recorder, and his head cocks back.

“So this is an interview?”

I introduce Daniela to him, and stop at the point where she will need to tell him what her research interests are about.

“I want to learn more about the ritual and pharmacological aspects of native plants in communities such as yours, and how that ties in with identity and issues of power, especially with reference to theories of self-actualization and practices of locality, indigeneity, and contested ideas of healing.”

Moses, sitting on the edge of his hammock, looks at her with a face of stone. The only thing he says is, “uh-huh.”

Daniela fidgets during this intermission, and I see a familiar sparkle coming to Moses’ eyes, followed by a faint smile. He asks, “So how is it that you want me to help you?”

“Well I heard that you say you are a shaman and –“

“That I say that I am a shaman. Uh-huh, go on.”

“So to get started I am trying to develop an inventory of the plants that are most significant to your healing practice.”

“And this is why you brought rum. Is a healing kinda t’ing,” Moses adds, reverting back to local parlance.

Daniela laughs and says, “no, that’s just a present. As I was saying, an inventory…”

“Inventory? Who you work for again? Who you collecting for? You plan to grow these plants on your balcony in cold cold London?”

“No, no, I’m just a student, and the rum is just a gift, I can assure you, it’s just a small way to say thanks.”

Pouring out enough rum to fill her styrofoam cup, Moses says, “and good gifts are the ones you share with friends,” and sprinkling some on the ground, “and with the ancestors.”

Daniela asks, “Max, aren’t you joining us?”

“Well, if you insist. Moses, ‘leh we fire one!’ ” Moses laughs, delighted at how much of the local parlance I want to adopt at any moment.

“So, if I can ask, where does your knowledge of the properties of plants come from,” rushing headlong into what she said was not an interview. It’s as if she had just finished getting her parachute off, picked up her rifle, and hit the field running.

“I get it from the Great Spirit and from dreams!” Moses did not shout this, but he said it with such firmness that it bordered on hostility.

“Drink up,” he tells Daniela. She barely finishes putting down her cup that he fills it back up again, while giving himself a drop or two. She certainly is getting a return on her investment, I thought, and then realized that Moses was making an investment of his own.

In the meantime, I begin to occupy myself with Moses’ underfed black dog, stroking him from his face down to his tail, coating my hands with his thick grease and dust, all the while looking him in the eyes and whispering: “Who’s my sweet, beautiful little agouti dog?” The dog, unaccustomed to such attention, looks up at me stunned, as if asking, “What are you doing?” Moses looks over at me and says, “You will need to wash your hands, he just finish diggin’ by the latrine.” “Digging by the latrine?” I ask the doggy with excitement — “there’s a good little agouti!”


“So you don’t learn about the plants from family or other shamans,” Daniela continues.

“No, I learn about them from talking to animals too.” Moses smiles.

“So the knowledge wasn’t passed down to you then.”

“Well, listen,” Moses says rising to his feet and taking a few paces toward her. “I wouldn’t pass on all my knowledge to my own son, because some you learn special, and some medicine you get from dreams.”

She smiles in a way that could have been read as, “this is bullshit.” Moses puts his hand out and tells her, on his feet, taking a few steps towards her:

“One day a man come to me with prostate problem, he say he can’t pee, how I could help. All night I toss and turn in bed, and then I get a dream. I see a little brown bottle with this word on it: A.B.R.A.C. A voice tell me to give the man a teaspoon of that and his cancer go melt. So next day I go by the pharmacy and I ask for A.B.R.A.C. They look through some big books and them can’t find it, saying it don’t exist. So I start to walk home. I reach a lonely intersection, nobody around, and I hear something — tink, tink, tink, on the ground. A tiny brown bottle roll up to my shoe from nowhere. I pick it up and it say A.B.R.A.C. on the label. When the sick man come, I give him a teaspoon and I tell he: now go take a pee in these beer bottles. He fill up nine bottles without stopping, and he pee black, black like coal he peeing. Swelling gone. No more cancer. Next day I go look for the medicine bottle, and it gone.”

Daniela is silent. She glances at me as if she wants to go, and I pretend not to understand. I thoroughly enjoyed Moses’ story.

“Well, I won’t be finding any A.B.R.A.C. around I’m sure,” Daniela says, “but I was hoping you would know something about the plants used in your community.”

Daniela sees a bush behind Moses, recognizes it, and jumps up to take a leaf. She exclaims, happy, “oh I know this one, this is” the Latin name was unintelligible, “and I learned of its uses when I spent time in the Amazon.”

“And what you call that?” Moses asked, his eyebrows furrowed.

She repeats the Latin name, Neurolaena lobata and talks about the uses of the herb. Moses says, “Well I don’t know about that, but we here does call it Zebapique and it good for diabetes,” whereas Daniela said it was used to treat menstrual pains. She got a doubtful look on her face as she looked at Moses, and he returned it.

They had several such exchanges, touring the yard, picking leaves off various plants, Moses explaining only one particular use for each one (good for cold, good for stomach ache, good for rheumatism), but not how to prepare it, and each time Daniela would correct Moses about any given plant’s uses, saying, “um, not in my book, no.”

Wandering around on my own, I gather black seeds from a plant in my palm. Moses, glancing sideways, and then freezing, says, “No, Max, you would not want to put those in your mouth.”

“Oh no, and why not, dear sir?” I ask, as usual sparring with Moses for fun. “I just may do so.”

“That is datura boy, and the dose you does be thinking of taking is good enough to give a big fat white man like you a big fat white heart attack, and I don’t want to have to be toting your big fat white self up by hospital 60 miles away.” We both laugh loudly.

“Oh so this is datura then. That is native to here?”

“No, East Indians bring it.”

“No there is one native to Mexico, if I am not mistaken,” Daniela interjects.

Moses asks Daniela:

“You know the name of the plant that can take away a person’s voice?”

“Take away a person’s voice, as such? No I don’t believe I ever heard that one before,” Daniela asserts.

“I know, I’m just teasing. Listen, try this leaf, nah, we call it Callaboca mint, it sweet and leave your breath nice. Try it.”

She places the leaf on her tongue, timidly, looking up at him. After a few moments…nothing happens.

Moses asks her again, softly and deliberately, “so, really, you never hear of plant that can make a man go silent?”

Daniela smiles and begins to open her mouth when suddenly she claps her hand to her throat. Her mouth swells up like a balloon. It bursts open, letting out what must have been a kettle’s worth of watery spit, splashing onto her sandals, making mud out of the dry dirt around her feet. Moses says, “Sorry, what is that you be saying? I cyah hear.”

Still spitting, Daniela sticks out a tongue that has swollen, looking like a small, red fist more than a tongue.

“Right, no voice. Case closed. Go drink a ‘cokes’ to cool it down.” Moses had just introduced her to Dumb Cane.

Daniela would spend the next three hours wearing thin on my nerves, drinking, talking excitedly with her new found master, and getting drunk to the point that she slipped down onto her knees at one point. Moses’ plan was working.

A great song wafts in from Moses’ radio back in his mud-walled home, it’s “Rum Till I Die” by Adesh Samaroo:

On and on she went about her ex-boyfriend; about how ugly her supervisor’s wife is and how she distrusts Daniela for always coming by their home; about how her supervisor could do much better in terms of a female mate; about how bad she needs to get this Ph.D.; about how she is much smarter than any of the other doctoral students; about how she worries that she won’t get the information that she needs; about how local people stare at her too much when she goes walking by; about her fear that someone could mug her or worse; and, about how she knows many black people in London but none as friends. Moses, lying back in his hammock strung to one side of the hut, just nods and smiles throughout, taking his own mental notes. As the day had grown hotter, he had his jersey off, revealing the tattoo of a crab on his left breast. When Daniela spoke, she did so often while eying that crab.

Daniela was thrashed by rum. As we got up to leave, she stumbled, and then staggered out after me as we left in the dark. The whole time we made our way to the car she kept calling out to Moses, too loudly, “Bye! Bye! Bye! Bye! Bye! Bye!”


I start the engine, we turn around in the road, hands waving out the window to Moses’ silhouette, standing in his driveway, with an aura created by a lone exposed light bulb on the exterior of his home, a few moths swirling around it.

As we get to the end of the road, Daniela says: “That is one clever darkie.”

I said nothing, but I was so surprised that my foot came off the accelerator and we began to slow down.

Daniela adds: “And one strapping man too, if I say so myself. Who is that woman in the background, a care taker?”

“No, that’s his wife.”

“Hmm.” Daniela’s final thought before she passes out, leaving me in blessed dark silence for the drive back to town. I assume Daniela will not be in condition to type up her “field notes” tonight.


Anthropology is Dead, Long Live Anthropology! (Who Wants to Leave those Golden Rule Days in the Jungle?)

I just love being in Anthropology. I think it is a great privilege to be in institutional Anthropology in this time…it’s like being among old colonials, secluded in a beautiful jungle estate house,

as we ponder the demise of our empire, the disrespect and sometimes fury of the restless natives who sense that independence is coming soon, and the occasional loss of one of our own at the savage hands of a native roadside bomber.


Some of us fan ourselves on the veranda, and then suddenly Professor Joyce Fitzgibbons on permanent sabbatical from Cambridge begins to sing a charming old number:

School days, school days
Dear old golden rule days
Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful barefoot beau…

Joyce and Pippa stare me down
as I accidentally walk in on their
dress preparations for this evening's
"Indian Dance" as they call it.
I was made to feel like a worm
in that moment.

Those golden rule days, those days of golden ruling, of ruling over gold. Professor Fitzgibbons’ elder sister (photo above, to the right of Joyce) — “Oh just call me Pippa” as she always said — spoke with a sad smile, “We’ll miss seeing the sunsets over the savannas, the song of the kiskidee in the mornings, and looking out over Point Cumana, rum and coke in hand.” She asked me to go in the next room and turn on our antique gramophone and play her favourite record, and I oblige. ▼

Sipping my rum and coke, I reflect on how this was the perfect discipline for me. This discipline speaks to whole genealogies of conquest and occupation. In my case, old colonialism runs through my family roots: the father raised in an Italian colony in East Africa; the grandfather in the Italian airforce; the American grandmother from California who rushed her little boy past the pile of severed European hands and bowels; the other grandfather, a Viscount, who sired children in Jordan during one of his foreign adventures; the vacations we took as children in French colonies in the Pacific, and British colonies in the Caribbean; living in a country where colonialism springs internal; and, the wife, born at a time when her home was still a British colony. This is the discipline for me.

I love this time, spent in this old house, with old tales, old books, old stories, and old eccentrics. We are joined, finally, on the veranda by Dr. Sigismund Goodfellow (left), who has just been completing an exhaustive oral historical record among practitioners of Yoruba rites, with a generous grant, as he always reminds us, from the Livingstone-Chrysler Trust. He got up from his afternoon nap a bit bleary eyed but nevertheless ready to begin some late afternoon verbal play, with lashings of his wit, “To wit, to woo,” as he always said. “Will you be joining our little, shall we say, fiesta candida tonight?” he asks me with an ominous little wink as he passes his hand around my shoulders.

For madness had set in, as it always does, among old colonials as they ponder and gaze and grieve and despair and imagine about after, after their empire comes rushing to a close. The colonial madness that seems to afflict Caucasian conquerors of tropical “wildernesses” is well known and well documented virtually everywhere, and the fact that we hush it up so much is due to the fact that, well, it would be impolite and inappropriate to Brasso one’s wares in public.

Sigismund tells Arthur, down from a university in Baltimore, “In spite of what that reckless old fool Maurice says, we would indeed miss this grandfather discipline we call Anthropology…”

“Grandmother!” Joyce interjects from four rooms over.

“I swear she has the ears of a bat,” Sigi mumbles. “The point is,” he resumes, “and you tell me frankly Arthur, for only the candid ones may be admitted to la fête de ce soir, while we would miss Anthropology, would they miss us?” He asks this sweeping his right hand out from his pocket and over the railing of the veranda, motioning across a Scarlet Ibis horizon. Arthur from Baltimore replies with a shrug, “Well, you know what I said, and you know what I do, and you ignore it at your own peril.”

Arthur (left, in his “field wear”) is a firm believer in status and respect, displayed through the acquisition of power in the form of capital and corporate connections. Arthur is the one who once dismissed me saying, “Max, you can go ahead and be the pathetic little Willie Loman of anthropology, but some of us prefer to screw on our fists, put on our conference faces, and go out there and get it.” Arthur’s father was in what we now call “direct sales,” and so was his mother, in a manner of speaking, as she had retired from “exotic dancing” shortly after spawning Arthur in 1955.

“Go where the opportunities take you,” continues Arthur. Sigi almost snarls, a corner of his lip quiveringly pulled upwards, “You are quite the madame, Arthur, a candid little madame I confess…but I never want to leave the Congo.” He did not mean Congo literally of course, it just happened that the television was on and the appropriate words flowed out of it in time ▼

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Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo) – 1947
The Andrews Sisters with Danny Kaye
– written by Bob Hilliard and Carl Sigman

Each morning, a missionary advertises neon sign
He tells the native population that civilization is fine
And three educated savages holler from a bamboo tree
That civilization is a thing for me to see

So bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t wanna leave the Congo,
oh no no no no no
Bingo, bangle, bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go
Don’t want no bright lights, false teeth, doorbells, landlords,
I make it clear
That no matter how they coax him, I’ll stay right here

I was glad to hear Dr. Herbert Gloss’ car come to a skidding stop in the gravel driveway. Herbert (left) is an economist from somewhere in Middlesex, here to advise the transition regime. In private, he is an acidic, self-deprecating, hyper critical, glib man who never lets anything escape his notice. He parks his keys down on the side table, smoothly swoops up a glass, fills it six fingers worth with puncheon rum, and drops a little token ice cube into it as if that will somehow dull the fire. “So what are you old cronies banging on about today? Oh no, don’t tell me, have you hit a speed bump on the way to your funeral arrangements?” Gulp. Sigi at that point actually makes a move as if to leave the room, stopped only by Arthur who has now reappeared naked and smeared with green paint. Sigi gets a warm smile on his face, forgets Herbert, and congratulates Arthur, “It is only 5:17pm, and yet you are already properly attired for la fiesta de esta noche” which he pronounces, as always, with a thick English accent, so thick that it sounds like he is deliberately making fun of the language, whichever language, perhaps his own.

“Oh yes, well I can’t miss this now can I,” says Herbert, as if speaking to himself.

Joyce and Pippa appear, like two mad parrots, their saggy white bodies festooned in feathers and cloth strips, and they shout imperiously, “Silence, silence, everyone! The dance begins.” These anthropologists, always so eager to reenact the dances and songs and myths of “the natives,” announce a departure from the norm. “This is a play on exoticism, our personal tribute to the old classic, Big Chief Ugh Amugh Ugh.” I am about to let something obscene splatter from my lips, but Herbert motions “shh” to me with a finger to his mouth and whispers, “This should be good. Bask in it.”

The dance proceeds. In the pause after the dance, Sigi breaks into the applause.

“Big Chief indeed!” exclaims Sigi, as if the dance reminded him in some oblique way about current events that have been dogging him. Look, the reader has to understand that Sigi has only two things on his mind tonight, his demented feast ritual, where they gather naked in a circle, preferably drunk, and dance around a bonfire, and his complaints about native hostility and crime. He continues, “I say, Big Chief indeed! Much like this new ‘First Minister’ fellow, Mr. Chief Walla Walla who got the Tomahawk Blues whilst pursuing a first in social anthropology and museumology at Oxford. He is treachery itself, treachery with a hearing aid and sun glasses.”

I really cannot contain myself at this point. “Listen man, you can’t just stomp around in people’s yards as if you owned them, as if you have some right over others, please, be serious.”

“Too right! Too bloody right I say!” Herbert is merely stoking the fire for a good fight, as he peers with one eye down to the bottom of his empty glass.

That must have been the only time I saw Sigi actually will me to death with his cold, hardening, narrowing little eyes, it really was intimidating.

Herbert intervenes, “No, Sigi, really let’s hear this Trojan Horse out, this should be amusing. I love to hear the bark of an underdog admitted to the Pig House, sorry, I meant Big House, and still barking his underdog language.” Sigi adds, “Fine with me, for as the local saying goes: let the jackass bray.” He lights a pipe with his back turned to me.

Colonialism runs in my family roots, and could have well privileged my family were it not for the inevitable stripping wrought by a World War. I grew up with an inheritance of champagne tastes on a mauby wallet, with many glimpses of privilege, but ultimately as a déclassé son of a white collar worker — an airline employee, coincidentally, because wanderlust seems to have a genetic strain to it. We lived for almost twenty years next to a 16-lane highway, and all emerged partially deaf as a result, and as very loud talkers, and with a desire to get the hell out.

Back to my comments to Sigi. I say, “You know how wanted you are, you see where the ‘informed consent’ is, in action, when the locals welcome you with roadside bombs. You have no rights here.” It was harsh, but the stench of despair and the madness it nurtured was too much.

This despair that leaves us — them — flailing about for alternatives, for anything to get a kind smile again, a warm reception, respectful tributes, and not the thousand inane taxi-driver questions about pyramids and bone collecting; to speak the name of our own and be met by a public that says, “oh yes I read her latest book,” rather than “who? sorry, never heard of her”…and that from fellow scholars! Despair as they ask why they are irrelevant, why they are not wanted, why nobody listens to them, and what about the contribution they have to make, how about their applied efforts, we invented the green button on photocopiers, we are mapping humanity to terrains that enable kill chains across Iraq and Afghanistan, we own ‘culture’, we forsake ‘culture,’ we are theorists, no wait we are ethnographers, we are ethnography itself, we are above it all, we are beneath it all, we are nuanced, we are complex, maybe we should go public, another pipe dream straight out of The Iceman Cometh. These people are quite blazingly mad.

As I leave, I see that somebody spray painted the words “SOON COME” and the outline of a machete on the front door.


The First Australopithecus War

Because even chipped paint on a wall is proving to be a distraction. File this under “nonsense”, another entry for my “out there” category.


(click for the full sized image, 959 kb)


the source of the inspiration, scenes of a balcony wall

The Story:

A war that did not need to be fought. Everyone had land, everyone had food. Some wanted more, or feared they would lose the plenty that they already had. Fear set in, itself the prime cause of the war and all ensuing hatred.

The elders (shown on both sides of the screaming figure at the top of the image) far from being the ones to cool the heads of the teams of warriors (shown toward the bottom of each side), were actually the ones to fail to seek a compromise, and began to shout obscenities and threats at each other.

Every conflict since then has been a rerun: this was the first original war, the one to show all succeeding generations their end. It was fought around the shores of what is today known as Lake Turkana in East Africa.

(This story is “true”, as recorded on a balcony in Montreal and revealed by chipped paint.)



feed de devil





January 2019
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de ark-hive



top spirit blows




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pay de devil

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