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Remembering traditions in renewing vows

Thursday, April 4, 2013
Diary of a Mothering Worker - Entry 52

Every year for my anniversary, bridal mehendi is etched on my hands and feet. It’s a ritual symbolising more than the marriage.


My wedding mehendi was first done at my matikor, organised and attended by women of all hues and mixes, religious beliefs, sexualities, feminisms and politics. 


This was no ordinary matikor, though it did draw from the divine and feminine in Hinduism and in the ceremony itself. And it did feature women and sisterhood, song and rhythm, ritual decoration, invocation, fire and, of course, educational dancing with a baigan.


The women who attended all came as goddesses and warrior women from various mythologies and histories. Athena, Gaia, Poolan Devi, Oshun and more, descended in dress and spirit to mark my transition. 


That night called upon more than one tradition, and did so in ways that were creative and invented.


While some might look askance at such unorthodoxy, it also brilliantly showed how cultures combine, continue and emerge with new meanings as each generation makes them their own in relation to their time. 


In no way do these inventions replace enactments that seek consistency and continuity but they do open spaces for resistance, reinterpretation and even rejuvenation. 


These ideas are the basis for the sacred practices that distinctively represent Trinidad and Tobago today, whether it’s the hybrid blessings of Siparia Mai or the high mass of J’Ouvert. 


What followed, was a wedding whose rites equally combined the old and authorised with the imaginative and unsanctioned. 


At 10 am, wearing a wedding kurta suit and a red sari, Stone and I were married in our back garden by his godmother, a Reverend in the Church of the Nazarene. Muslim blessings were also given.


Because he’s a music producer and I’m a poet, we walked down our aisle to our own beats and rhymes. We hoped would they remind us that after nine years of bliss, promises kept don’t need a wedding to be declared. 


In the evening, we held another service whose steps I devised for no other reason than they mattered to me, like amulets strung around not only the bride and groom, but the whole occasion. 


One Wicca sistren drummed as we joined our friends. And this time, I wore my aunt’s sari from her wedding thirty-five years ago along with my great grandmother’s earrings.


Another Carib sistren lit sage and chanted, mentioning all the corners of the country that hold indigenous value and within which we live today. 


Our friends wrote our vows and then read them to us, giving us the blessing of their collective hopes and wishes. We then jumped over a cocoyea broom, hand-made with cowrie shells by another sistren. That’s when it all became complete. 


Maybe it’s being feminist that makes me feel empowered to choose the traditions and rituals that feel right regardless of whether others agree. Maybe it’s being just sort of contrary. 


Maybe it’s being from a country where our greatest legacy is our inventiveness, which has enabled us to not only survive, but also to thrive. Maybe it’s being an anthropologist and knowing that culture is always being made anew. 


Maybe it’s learning from a generation of women around me who draw on every religious and cultural resource of the land regardless of their race or creed. 


In sweet T&T, you can have a dougla matikor and indigenised wedding which draws on diasporic and local beliefs, generations of female collectivity and generous amounts of love. 


Beyond being a bride, this is what I remember as the mehendi is being drawn on my body. All histories are ours to claim and make sacred, uniquely.


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