Carnival is freedom, self-expression, release, beauty, sex, madness and mud. And, of course, Carnival is wining, that gyrating, hip-swivelling, bottom-rolling motion that few women not born on this soil can even hope to perfect.
And Carnival, bless it, is the one time when women of every hue and colouration, every creed, stripe and social strata, can toss aside her sensible secretary's pumps, her surgeon's mask, her welder's gloves, her teacher's red-ink pen and become in public the woman she has only allowed herself to be in private. Carnival is one big show, and we, the women, are on stage.
But the whole world is watching, and the further our liberties stretch, the harsher the conservative backlash is likely to be. Because make no mistake, the other 363 days of the year, Trinidad and Tobago is as prudish and buttoned-down as it is possible for a Western nation to be, and the Savannah concourse is littered with the ruined reputations of women who have been reviled, mocked, sanctioned, and even fired, for having been caught wining by the wrong person...or the wrong camera lens.
So, with Carnival upon us, is a wining woman a glory to behold, or a Jezebel to be shunned?
Wining is natural and spontaneous
The majority of people polled...especially men...think that wining is not just okay, but an essential part of our Mas and our culture. Some even think wining is as natural as breathing for us. "It's cultural," says one man. "We may call it different things (church people praise and dance, but they do NOT WINE, perish the thought) but the hip and buttock movements are as much a part of us as is breathing. We have to work hard not to swing our hips naturally."
Wining is seduction
In any Carnival fete, in any Carnival band, you'll find twenty woman to one man, at least according to the results of the scientific survey conducted years ago by the respected statistician, Professor Kitch. So what better forum in which to entice, display and seduce?
"Wining is how we talk to men," says a veteran female Mas player, "Without using our lips. We let the hips talk for us." And the men listen. To them, wining is a come-hither look that originates in the eyes and travels downward. And even if it goes no further than that, even if the searing-hot contact a woman makes on the dance floor is, to quote one local poet, "just a wine", we break apart and step away feeling better about ourselves. We blossom under the warmth of male admiration as flowers do in the sun.
Is wining new?
Another gentleman questions whether the wining phenomenon has really been around as long as we think. "I've seen a lot of footage of people dancing in the streets at Carnival in the 1970s, 60s, and 50s. From none of those videos have I ever seen a woman wine. Dance, sway the hips a bit, yes....but not 'wine'."
If this is so, then the question arises whether the impulse to wine was always there, stifled by social convention, and is only now being given its freedom to run (or, rather, roll) as the constraints of social mores relax?
"It have wine, and it have WINE"
As much as we admire a good winer, there is a prevailing sense that there are limits to what is and is not acceptable. There is a general sense of "play your Mas, but set your boundaries." As another female Mas lover puts it, "Many Carnivals ago, I had the opportunity to watch a young masquerader wine and dance and enjoy herself. She went down to the ground and move all around and nothing about how she conducted herself was lewd or vulgar. She was enjoying her Mas....then there are those who choose to have sex in the streets and take it to the next level. It is how you carry and conduct yourself."
As far as that goes, unfortunately, lewdness is in the eye of the beholder. What may be a tame little shimmy for one person may be a shameless display to another. It's even more unfortunate that while women are still being judged by their attire and conduct at Carnival and beyond, men seldom are.
By and large, though, the sight of a wining woman, a woman working her costume, enjoying her temporary escape from the rigid boundaries that barricade most of us, a woman who loves to be looked at and, in that moment, knows that she is sexy, and desirable, is a beautiful thing to behold.
The sight of this kind of winer, celebrating her freedom and womanhood, rarely evokes shock, and seldom gives rise to a negative reaction from her enthralled audience. "It doesn't change my view of women," a young man observes. "It extends it. It completes it."