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Archive for July, 2010

Tales of Indian Folklore

Posted by admin On July - 31 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Remember Dee Baba?

by Susan Gosine

In a time long ago, in Trinidad, when sugar cane was still the major source of income for indentured immigrant families, and only the fortunate owned televisions, my grand-mother, Sukhanie, deceased 23 years back, used to tell us tales of the raakhas, a demon possessed baby and the saapin, a snake woman.

Kumar Mahabir's latest book.

On nights when the electricity failed, we would gather in the drab hall of her old house and in the shifting gaze of the flickering flambeau she told of these scary folklore fiends. A teenager then, I believed they were just figments of her imagination, made up to scare us.

I remember too, how, she would trap a fowl cock’s wings beneath one of her foot, pluck the feathers from under the neck and slice off the head, to call on “the Dee” to protect her property. A cigarette, a drink of Puncheon rum, Crix crackers, salted butter and a candle were laid out on a banana leaf for the annual ritual. Years later, my father, also deceased, started the ritual at his home.

Back then it all seemed implausible and I never thought about it until I read Kumar Mahabir’s latest book titled, Indian Caribbean Folklore Spirits, a compilation of old time Indian folk stories that originated in a generation my grand-mother once belonged to.

The 39-page colourfully illustrated book was launched in Trinidad on Friday July 9, 2010, at the National Library, Corner Hart and Abercromby Streets, Port of Spain. It speaks of five supernatural beings associated with Indian folklore: raakhas, churile, saapin, Dee Baba and the jinn.

“Knowledge of these spirits came with Indian immigrants who migrated to the Caribbean between 1838 and 1917 to work on the sugarcane plantations after the abolition of African slavery,” Mahabir wrote in his introduction. “Altogether they contribute to our knowledge of the rich and unique folklore of the Caribbean, and highlight the diversity of peoples and cultures in the region.”

Kumar Mahabir.

Omitted from the compilation were the bhuta (bhoot) or prayt and other spirits of Indian origin that do not take a particular physical form in the Caribbean.

The book is an easy read and can be absorbed in one sitting. A second provides greater understanding of its cultural lore. Descriptions are clear and concise, but it’s the living testimonies that are invaluable. That there are people alive who have witnessed and in some instances encountered such spirits, that most of us have heard only in tales is worth the three years of research that went into its packaging. One can only imagine the wealth of information gathered in such an exercise.

Reading the testimonies, quoted in parts in the interviewees’ own words, gives one a feeling of being transported back in time, into the footpath of our ancestors. It’s a true case of readers believe it or not.

Samdai from Penal and Kamla from Couva told of the raakhas they saw. Devika from Williamsville and Sati from Cunupia told what they knew about the churile. Lalita from Penal, Balliram from Moruga and Usha from Rio Claro told what they knew of the saapin. Ramjit from Penal told how he performed offerings to Dee Baba. Abdul from Cunupia and Sheriffa from San Juan told of the Jinn they saw.

Mahabir also referred to similar spirits in the Caribbean and other countries in the world. He listed movies based on the spirits which are know by different names in other cultures so readers could make the connection. Most would have seen Rosemary’s Baby, Children of the Corn, The Omen, Nagin, Devi, Djinn, Wishmaster, Alladin and I Dream of Jeannie.

Published by Chakra Publishing House, San Juan, Trinidad, Indian Caribbean Folklore Spirits is Mahabir’s seventh book. He is an assistant professor at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. Copies can be purchased through the website http://chakrapub.wordpress.com.

Illegal Immigrants in Fingerprint Trap

Posted by admin On July - 29 - 2010 6 COMMENTS

Group Fears it Will be Introduced in New York

Federal government is seeking to identify illegal immigrants using fingerprints from arrests.  The program, however, is drawing opposition from local authorities and advocates who feel it will result in an excessive dragnet that could result in the deportation of many immigrants.

After being arrested, suspects wait to be processed, some will have their immigration status checked. AP photo.

Although the program has gotten less attention than Arizona’s new immigration law it may end up having a bigger impact on society because of its potential to round up and deport immigrants nationwide.

The San Francisco sheriff  distanced himself from the program, and the City Council in Washington, D.C., blocked the fingerprint plan in the nation’s capital. Colorado is the latest to debate the program,  titled Secure Communities. Immigrant groups claim the initiative will make crime victims reluctant to cooperate with police “due to fear of being drawn into the immigration regime.”

According to the program, the fingerprints of everyone who is booked into jail for any crime will be run against FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records to determine who’s in the country illegally and if they had any previous arrests. Most jurisdictions are not included in the program, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been expanding the initiative.

To date 467 jurisdictions in 26 states have joined. By 2013 ICE plans to have it operating in every jail in the country. Secure Communities is currently being phased into places the government considers as having the greatest need for it based on population estimates of illegal immigrants and crime statistics.

Since everyone arrested would be screened, the program could easily deport more people than Arizona’s new law, said Sunita Patel, an attorney who filed a lawsuit in New York against the federal government on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an immigrant group worried that the program would soon be introduced in New York. She said illegal immigrants could be referred to ICE at the time of arrest, even before a conviction, adding that the program could create an incentive for profiling and a pipeline to deport more people.

The lawsuit seeks, among other things, statistical information about who has been deported as a result of the program and what they were arrested for. “It has the potential to revolutionize immigration enforcement,” said Patel.

Supporters of the program believe it will help to identify dangerous criminals who would otherwise go undetected. From October 27, 2008 to the end of May, near 2.6 million people have been screened under the Secure Communities program. Of those, almost 35,000 were identified as illegal immigrants previously arrested or convicted for the most serious crimes, including murder and rape, ICE said. More than 205,000 who were identified as illegal immigrants had arrest records for less serious crimes.

In Ohio, Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones praised the program, which was implemented in his jurisdiction earlier this month.

“It’s really a heaven-sent for us,” Jones said, adding that the program helps solve the problem police often have of not knowing whether someone they arrested has a criminal history and is in the country illegally.

“I don’t want them in my community,” Jones said. “I’ve got enough homegrown criminals here.”

Carl Rusnok, an ICE spokesman, said Secure Communities is a way for law enforcement to identify illegal immigrants after their arrest at no additional cost to local jurisdictions. Jones agreed.

“We arrest these people anyway,” he said. “All it does is help us deport people who shouldn’t be here.”

Rusnok said ICE created the program after Congress directed the agency to improve the way it identified and deported illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds. Since 2008 ICE has received $550 million for the program, Rusnok said.

Rusnok said the only place he knows of that has requested not to be a part of Secure Communities is San Francisco, which began the program June 8. Eileen Hirst, the chief of staff for San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, said it happened “without our input or approval.”

Hirst said the sheriff thought Secure Communities cast too wide a net and worried that it would sweep up U.S. citizens and minor offenders, such as people who commit traffic infractions but miss their court hearings. Hirst also said the program goes against San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy that calls for authorities to only report foreign-born suspects booked for felonies.

“Now, we’re reporting every single individual who comes into our custody and gets fingerprinted,” Hirst said.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown denied Hennessey’s request to opt out. Brown said that prior to Secure Communities, illegal immigrants with criminal histories were often released before their status were discovered.

This month, Washington, D.C., police decided not to pursue the program because the City Council introduced a bill that would prohibit authorities from sharing arrest data with ICE out of concern for immigrants’ civil rights. Matthew Bromeland, special assistant to the police chief, said police wanted the program and were talking with ICE about how to address concerns from immigrant advocates before the bill forced them to halt negotiations.

Colorado officials became interested in the program after an illegal immigrant from Guatemala with a long criminal record was accused of causing a car crash at a suburban Denver ice-cream shop, killing two women in a truck and a 3-year-old inside the store. Authorities say the illegal immigrant, Francis M. Hernandez, stayed off ICE’s radar because he conned police with 12 aliases and two different dates of birth.

A task-force assembled after the crash recommended Secure Communities as a solution.

Evan Dreyer, a spokesman for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, said Ritter recognized that other states have had issues with the program and he wanted to take time to consider the concerns raised by immigrant rights groups before deciding “how or if to move forward.”

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition said in a letter to the governor that the Secure Communities is “inherently flawed and should not be implemented.” CIRC said one of its main concerns was  with cases of domestic violence, where both parties may be taken into custody while authorities investigate a case, victims may feel reluctant to report a crime out of fear that their illegal status will be discovered.

ICE maintains that only suspects arrested for crimes — and not the people reporting them — will be screened for their legal status.

Sparrow Gets U.S. Congressional Record

Posted by admin On July - 23 - 2010 1 COMMENT

Mighty Sparrow Flies High in New York

Undisputed Calypso King of the World, the Mighty Sparrow celebrated his 75th birthday with much to sing about. Members of the Caribbean community joined in an honor ceremony and offered glowing tribute to the “Birdie” on July 9, 2010 at the Brooklyn Borough Hall, Brooklyn, New York. The bash was hosted by DeeVee International Productions, an entertainment company.

Undisputed Calypso King of the World, The Mighty Sparrow.

Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, daughter of Jamaican immigrants, conferred on him a memorable listing in the United States Congressional Record.

“It is important that the entire nation know what the Mighty Sparrow has done for us,” Clarke, representative for the 11th Congressional District said. “So we have entered him in the Congressional Record.”

But it was a sick Sparrow who performed for hundreds of fans at the NAPA auditorium in Trinidad on Saturday July 17, 2010. The show was titled Celebrating Calypso Monarchs 1939-1980. Stricken by diabetes, Sparrow sang sitting in a wheel chair, to the shock and concern of the crowd who remembered him for wining his waist and flitting around the stage.

Sparrow, whose real name is Slinger Francisco, was born to poor, working-class parents in Gran Roy, Grenada. When he was a year old, his family migrated to Trinidad when he grew up and became a calypsonian.  He attended the New Town Boys School and sang in the choir at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, where he became head choirboy. He has entertained audiences from the Caribbean to Asia, Canada, America and Europe.

Reading from the Record, Clark said he influenced singers Nat King Cole, Frankie Laine, Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstein, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Trinidadian calypso pioneers, Lord Melody, Lord Kitchener, Lord Christo, Lord Invader and the Mighty Spoiler.

The Record stated that his success kicked off with his early hit “Jean and Dinah” when he was just 20. “Not satisfied with early success, he followed up with a rapid succession of hits, including ‘Carnival Boycott’, ‘P.A.Y.E.’, ‘Russian Satellite’, ‘Theresa,’ ‘Good Citizen,’ ‘Salt Fish,’ and ‘Penny Commission,’ just to name a few.”

She noted that Sparrow’s songs covered a “broad range of socially conscious topics including education, tyranny, in Africa, animal cruelty and the welfare of his home of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Clarke called on all her colleagues to “join me in celebrating the birthday and extraordinary body of work that The Mighty Sparrow has contributed during his career as a lyricist, composer, singer, comedian and entertainer.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also honored him with a citation. In a statement read by Roy Hastick, the Grenadian born president and founder of the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI), Bloomberg noted that Sparrow “touched the lives of countless listeners. Today’s event is a terrific opportunity to commemorate all of your past accomplishments while looking forward to many more on the horizon.”

Sparrow’s accomplishments include eight-time Road March King, eight-time Calypso Monarch, an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies, a Bollywood Music Award, general contributions to music and society, with the then New York City Mayor Ed Koch, proclaiming March 18, 1986, “The Mighty Sparrow Day.”