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My comments on Rihanna at Carnival…

My comments on Rihanna at Carnival…

posted on Wednesday August 10, 2011 | in The Basin Jamet | 16 Comments

I learnt to ‘whine” when I was three years old.  For those of you who don’t know what the word “whine” means, it means to gyrate while dancing. I was taught by my grand-mother, myself and all my other little cousins, boys included.  When the sun went down, at that time in the deep country side of the Caribbean 1980’s my grand-mother had neither running water, nor television, our entertainment consisted of crick-crack stories and a transitor radio.  We would gather in a small circle on the linolium covered wooden floor and compete amongst ourselves with my grand-mother as judge, who could whine better.  You cannot imagine the laughter…

This sort of dancing is African in it’s origin and can be found all over the Caribbean and West African countries, Congo, Senegal, Ivory Coast ect.  Nothing to be ashamed of on the contrary something that brings much joy. (A little side note, I immediately bonded with the Belgian artist Carsten Holler at a party at The Garage in Moscow when I saw him doing the Cogolese version of whining, nothing could have impressed me more.)  Which brings me to the issue that caused me to think about this.

Rihanna at Carnival in Barbados.

Cultural Imperialism in conflict!  No one’s going to make me feel bad about this image.

On the contrary, I was just at home in St.Lucia having dinner with my cousins and some other female friends, and they are “SO PROUD OF RIHANNA” because of this exact same picture.  Now these are very successful business women, one runs a chain of coffee shops in several islands, another owns an interior decorating business and another runs 12 miles every day training for the New York Marathon.  Does it make them sluts that they also dance like this on carnival day, in clubs or at house parties?  We’ve been doing it since we were children and taught by our mothers and grand-mothers.  It’s one of the reasons Rihanna’s concerts don’t bother me at all.

Western culture sells everything based on sex a fake sort of sexuality at that, one that leaves its consumers more handicapped.  And when I say that I’m thinking that the women that I see at Carnival don’t need liposuction or lip fillers to seduce a man, no sir not at all.  They come in all shapes and sizes and dress just the same as Rihanna did in the above photo and there is NO SHAME, and there shouldn’t be.  Women dance with women, men with men and it means nothing at all except good ole fun.  It’s freedom at it’s peak.

I mean, suppose I did the kutumba for you, which is a very forceful traditional dance that by Western standards would be seen as savage where you stick your butt far out then jerk it forward one leg raised in the air, it’s come down from so many grand-mothers, and I’m supposed to be ashamed. Oh no, not me.


Here’s one of my favourite Barbadian soca songs by Alison Hinds. When it was realeased my dancing abilities knew no bounds, listen 

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And to give a little more of a feel for it here’s a video from 2008 Calypso Monarch performing for some children here.

Title photo: google images of various women from the islands of Trinidad, St.Lucia, St.Vincent, Barbados and also Brazil.





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  1. SLOMO (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    Great track!

  2. Eli (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    I think the perfect track would be ‘Roll It (Gal) by Alison Hinds. I saw this picture before, and I wasnt toooo shocked because Rihanna is already sexualised. Its part of her image…it sells records. Now, I had an argument with a mate and I do think it does orginate from Caribbean, but like everything….the roots are African.
    ‘Wining’ is sexual, I remember once saying to a woman its a dance and she corrected me saying its a ‘sexual dance’
    So what do you say?
    I assume Caribbeans; Lucians and Bajans alike would be pleased by the image because she is celebrating her culture and is not afraid. She looks happy.

  3. Vonmiwi (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    I gave the article the side-eye too when I read it on The Cut Blog. In Panama we have Carnival and was fun to be had by all. Wherever the African Diaspora is we celebrate what remnants we have passed down to us from former generations. Growing up we always had ‘The Limbo’ competitions to see who go the lowest. Maybe if they would stop following these celebrities for a change they would have a life.

  4. Marjon (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    Thank you for this perspective, Shala! One of the reasons I love Rihanna so much is for her civic pride: she does not hide her Caribbean roots, does not run from them, and preserves that adorable lilt in her voice, which comes out in her songs, interviews, and infamous quotes! It’s amazing that this caused an uproar, but so many female artists who wear literally NOTHING for the sake of NOTHING are celebrated! Instead Rihanna was celebrating her culture and is in turn made into a whipping boy for our own Western hang-ups on sexuality. Talk about “cultural imperialism”…. Keep windin’, ladypants! I will too!

  5. Blie (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    I can not imagine you doing any of those things you described. That said, culture is beautiful and there is certainly nothing wrong with expression, sexuality…

  6. Amy Creyer (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    Thank you so much for this post Shala! I am so glad you contextualized Rihanna’s carnival dancing in the wider culture of the Caribbean. I know this is off-topic, but I studied African history at Michigan State University under Nwando Achebe, the daughter of the great African writer Chinua Achebe. I took a study abroad trip to Jamaica where I used the historical archives at the University of the West Indies to study Queen Nanny, the former Ashanti queen who led her enslaved people to freedom in the mountains. While there I learned all about Caribbean attitudes toward sexuality. I knew from studying African history that female sexuality is celebrated in most West African cultures – not “degraded” as it often is in Western European cultures. I think white women like myself are quick to see any female doing anything remotely sexual as being “exploited” or “degraded” because of the ideas and references they themselves bring to the conversation. Since Western European culture is patriarchal, white women often tend to project that experience onto other cultures. As you show in this post, point-of-view is critical because people will always see a single action from a variety of perspectives, but it’s most important to consider the perspective of the person acting – in this case, Rihanna.

    Side note: I love that you explore topics of culture, society, and politics on your blog. It’s always nice to learn about the views and passions of other intellectual fashion lovers.

  7. Shirley Osborne (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    I did a big ole “sschupps” when I heard the comments. Rihanna is a West Indian woman, end of story. She (and the others of us who know how and when to “go on bad”and love it) needs neither explain nor justify, and certainly not apologise.

  8. robyn (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    I couldn’t agree with the above comments more. It is past the time for judging little understood traditions and cultural norms of the diaspora. Embracing life and the joie de vivre should be humanities single focus, everything will work out from there. Thx, for sharing a story from your younger years, I always like Grandma stories :)… because I was so close to mine and often refer to the influences she has had on me.

  9. Sherry (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    I am not even sure that Rhianna’s winding needs an explanation. Sometimes I think it’s OK for people who don’t understand to comment in ways that misrepresent. This will always be a feature in a world which houses such a range of cultures. I think we may all even be guilty of this when we criticise things we don’t fully understand. People may talk about Rhianna because of what they actually see. What people don’t actually get, and probably will never get, is that she is not getting aroused by her dance. It’s OK however, if you want to read it some other perverted way.

    What upsets me is when our fellow West Indians, such as well-known St. Lucian media man, Rick Wayne, degrade our culture like it’s the most despicable thing on the planet; in a way that begs a ‘civilising mission’ all over again. You can hear such people debate about winding as immoral, disgraceful and degrading EVERY year after carnival. Many other West Indian politicians do the same. Many may know of Sarah Flood who has precisely the same views in her dealings at the UN on behalf of St. Lucia. This is where my angst is, not with people who don’t understand.

  10. Lucayan (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    THANK YOU FOR POSTING….i am from the Bahamas and i love ever aspect of my culture and i embrace it fully. It helps me understand who i am. After this controversy i better understand the world. I thought people would understand that this is a cultural event and that it is unique to the islands. Although we do not have carnival here we have our festivals and i think it is one of the most beautiful expressions in the world. When i dance i “Whine”… i dare someone to tell me otherwise! :)

  11. Naki-O (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    Thank you for reminding me a Faluma. Big choooon! Your comments on Rihanna at Carnival perfectly captured my thoughts watching the American press berate her for something they just don’t understand.

  12. Yanira Garza (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    Thank you so much for this. In Puerto Rico, dances like these are common and very enjoyable. It makes me miss my family and the fun we all have. Unfortunately, living in a conservative (by comparison) city like Chicago, a simple move of the hip on a dance floor is enough to get frowned upon. Shame on the media for frowning on her (and all of our) culture(s).

  13. SJW (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    Yup! Couldn’t agree more with you Shala. It’s what we do and even though it may look extremely sexual to the outside world, it’s nothing more than having a fabulous time

  14. Rose about town (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    Straight up feeling your blog

  15. Au Courant Distilled (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

    I wrote a commentary article to the same effect, and a reader emailed me your comments – couldn’t agree more! I’m from Trinidad (but I now live in the US) and I KNOW the other West Indian nationals would instantly feel the same way about this; there’s nothing shameful, at all. I have some photos of myself and my husband wining at Trinidad Carnival three years ago that would put Rihanna’s to shame. And to be truthful, we were probably the most conservative dancers in the Carnival band! Cultural imperialism conflicts, indeed… And about those at-home wining competitions – they used to be ‘fierce’! Lol – love the new site, by the way!

    • shala (Reply) on Wednesday 10, 2011

      Hi sorry your comment somehow went straight to spam. Just saw it now.

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