I'm off to the lovely coral island of Barbados. Besides drowning myself in soca, I'll be exploring the cultural connections between South Carolina and Barbados. Both places were established by the same man and the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor is sending me on a Caribbean-Carolina discovery tour. There won't be any more posts this week but look for my dispatches from Barbados next week.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I've explored some lovely islands, from the pearly pink sands of Barbuda, to the hibiscus topped hills of Tobago. But when it comes to jaw-dropping beauty, nothing comes close to St. Lucia. The island's attractions are so legendary that it's almost a cliche to highlight it's sweeping twin mountains or it's lush rain forest. So my travel story in this week's Chicago Sun Times focuses instead on all the adventures I had there in a feature here. I think that St. Lucia captures the original concept of paradise. Not only is the landscape gorgeous but the people I met were gentle and kind. Pondering all the wonders I experienced, from the famed Gros Islet jump up to Soufriere's drive-in volcano, I think the most memorable time for me was in the tiny fishing village of Virgie. After driving over hills for an hour in an ATV (all terrain vehicle) some villagers set out plates of fresh sugar cane, star fruit, golden apple and coconut pie candy. I took in the countryside with small houses perched on hills, goats roaming and breezes scented with bougainvillea. Paradise indeed.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I said I'd explore the complexities of candomble in earlier posts and here it is, finally. I'll admit, I've been avoiding this for as long as possible because there are so many layers and meanings and opinions attached to this religion that I just don't know where to begin. So I'll begin with my personal experience. On a late June night, in the small southern Brazilian town of Vassouras, I was invited to a candomble ceremony for the feast of San Juan. We drove down some roads and up some hills with only the moon lighting the way. Faintly, we heard the echos of drumming. We climbed down some stairs, past blooming bushes and I saw a huge bonfire. Men were holding large drums over them, tuning the instruments with flames. A tiny altar with flowers and a statue of San Juan stood under a small shack. The men sat down, joined by adolescent boys.
They began drumming in a swirl of intricate rhythms A groups of women, clad in long white gowns and head wraps, moved in a circle to the drums rhythms. They chanted and lifted their skirts so that their feet moved freely. It looked like the whole community of children, teens, father, mothers and grand parents had turned out for this celebration. After I was pulled into the circle to dance with the women, hot bowls of canjica were brought out. A sweet dish of white corn, peanuts and sugar, that reminded me of peanut brittle, I spooned the white clumps up as the participants watched me closely, making sure I ate everything. After canjica, strong coffee with sugar cane juice is traditionally downed but I could barely manage two sips. The Brazilian notion of coffee is more like cappuccino syrup to me. Afterwards, the boys, Juan Pedro, Marcel, Jonathan and Victor came up to me, wanting to know what there names would be in English. I had to break it to them that all except Juan already had anglicized names. They were not happy about that. But the boys cheered themselves up by singing me a Chris Brown song, which was the only English they knew.
Dancing, music and community lie at the heart of candomble but it also represents the spirit of resistance. Brought from Africa over 350 years ago, forms of candomble have sprouted all over the African Diaspora. Ancient Yoruba deities were melded with catholic saints so that uprooted Africans could continue their spiritual practices in the face of persecution. The deities or orixas, all have corresponding saints, colors and days of the week. In candomble, Saint Joan of Arc becomes Oba, the fearless fighter, Saint Lazarus is Omulu, deity of healing and Saint Michael is Logun, deity of polarity. Everywhere I went in Brazil, in restaurants, airports, shops and bookstores, I observed elements of candomble. T-shirts with images of all the orixas sell in boutiques and corner stores. Restaurants, key chains and bronze statues of Imenja, the mermaid deity of the ocean, pop up wherever there is a body of water. Even the all-important soccer teams have their own orixas. Despite candomble being outlawed for much of the 20th century, the religion remains a visible part of Brazilian culture.In Cachoeira, the Bahian town that boasts 42 candomble houses or terreiros, I was invited to visit the Rumpane Ayono Huntobogi house. The only way outsiders can visit is by personal invitation and unfortunately, by the time we had climbed several muddy hills in the rain, the Iyalorisha or high priestess, wasn't there. Still, I got the essence of the experience. Standing outside the terreiro, on top of a sweeping hill surrounded by sacred spaces dedicated to the orixas, I could feel the energy dance around me.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Thursday, October 2, 2008
You don't need to tackle the airlines to travel the world, just head to your nearest boutique. Fashions for 2008 and 2009 continue to be dominated by ethnic inspirations. The runways are awash in African prints, Caribbean colors and head wraps of every design. I love it all, I've never met a dramatic ethnic staple that I didn't like, whether it's a sumptuous Indian sari, an embroidered Mexican sundress or a woven Ethiopian gown. All of these garments are stuffed into my crowded closet because although the current fashion interpretations are great, there's nothing like the real thing. So, I'm spotlighting a designer that represents true global fashion. Trinidad & Tobago's Zadd & Eastman creates flowing ensembles that reflect Trinidad & Tobago's African and Asian cultural mix. They rocked Caribbbean fashion week in Jamaica and provide an elegant escort into Trini style territory.
Images courtesy of Fashion Over Style.