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Sou Sou
Everyone knows this tried-and-tested financial practice, used within close-knit
communities. “Susu” is from the Yoruba word “esusu” and is an African banking
system whereby each member contributes a payment to a central banker and in
turn, each member receives the lump sum of all the payments in rotation.
Used correctly, families can get a much-needed windfall every month without
paying extra fees or taxes as with a formal bank account.
The trick here to make sure you have members you can trust; it all falls apart if
someone runs off with the cash pot, enforcing the need for community.

2. Names
Many names in T&T have African origins and beautiful meanings. Here are some
Akil – eldest child, Amari – prince (Swahili), Atiba – Brilliant, Ato – Powerful, born
on Saturday (Ashanti)
Malika - Queen (Kiswahili), Mandisa - Sweet (Xhosa of South Africa), Ashanti –
Strong African woman, Ayana – beautiful flower (Ethiopian)

3. Food
Our food is delicious and this is due in part to the influence of various African
What would Sunday lunch be without ‘blue food’ - yam, dasheen, eddoes,
bananas, fried plantains and ochro? Other foods brought over from the continent
include ‘benee balls’, oil down, and ackra. Ghanians also have a rice-and-peas dish
called ‘Waakye’ which is very similar to our famous Pelau.

4. Festivals
We owe much to our African heritage for passing on a wealth of art and creativity.
Carnival is made up of many characters passed down from African culture, such as
the Midnight Robber and Blue Devils, or Jab Jabs. Many of them, like the moko
jumbie, have acquired international fame, and are used in festivals around the
world. Canboulay or “canboule” is said to have descended from “cambula”; a
Congolese word meaning a parade or procession usually accompanied by call and
response, singing and percussion.

5. Music
Calypso is directly descended from the music of African cultures. Calypso is known
as our national folk song.
According to the NALIS website, Carnival historian Errol Hill, suggests that West
African Tribal songs were the precursor to the calypso. Hollis Liverpool added that
calypso’s roots lie in the West African custom of griot court singing. The griots
usually sang songs of praise and derision and were storytellers.
Gros Jean, an African slave, is reputed to have been the first calypsonian, having
been named ‘Mait Caiso’ (Master of Caiso) by the Diego Martin estate owner
Begorrat in 1790.
In the early days, the songs were sung in patois, in the extempo genre and usually
involved colourful and aggressive language.
There was also the trading of insults among performers, a form called ‘Mepris’
that later developed into the ‘war calypsos’.
The ‘rhythm section’ as many Trinis know and love, is another element of African
culture that has thrived, as is rapso and many other musical genres.

6. Religion
Many Trinis are familiar with African religions such as Orisha, and Obeah, which
are of sacred importance to many African tribes.
The importance attached to dreams and people believing that spirits of their
deceased relatives talking to them is an African tradition. Obeah is connected to
the belief that some people can exorcise psychological or spiritual force over
another person who does not possess the same intensity of spiritual energy.
The Spiritual Baptist faith, which is separate, is a blend of African and Christian
religions, but with a stronger Christian influence, and was brought to Trinidad by
the Merikins, former American slaves who were recruited by the British to fight
for them during the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

7. Stories
Everyone knows the tales of Anansi the spider, and the many other animal
characters he interacts with.
Other mythical tales passed on from African cultures include those of the douen,
socouyant, lagahoo and many more, which are derived from the Fula/Fulani
people in West Africa and the Soninke people of the Savannah Belt.
We also know the tale of ‘Gang Gang Sarah’, an African witch who flew to Tobago.
After spending some time on the island the witch tried to return home but found
she had lost the power of flight after eating too much salt. Her grave can be found
in the village of Culloden, Tobago.

8. Stickfighting
Stickfighting is directly descended from African cultures. The Kalinda is an African
performance of dance, singing and stick fighting.
Stick fighting is also called “Creole wood”, “Bois”, and “Bataille Bois”, and is
performed by men only.
Normally, the stick fighting takes place in the open in a “gayelle (gayal)” or circle
formed by the onlookers.
The drummers squat on one side with their small keg drums: one “cutter” and
two or three “foolay” men. Both hands are used in beating the drums. A small
group of men consisting of a chantouelle and chorus sing the stick fight or Kalinda
songs or “lam-wehs” to the rhythm of the drum. It is the chantouelle’s duty to egg
on the fighters.
Very often stickfighters will ‘bless’ their sticks in a ceremony which is supposed to
imbue it with the spirit of a past African warrior and make them invincible.
9. Bush medicine
The knowledge of African culture has also passed down its herbal lore and
herbalist healers (not to be confused with witch doctors).
For example, the aloe vera plant is used to help detoxify the body, while Annito or
Annato (Bixa orellana) is used as a colouring agent for certain dishes.
Arrowroot is used as a thickener for dishes and gravies, and lemongrass is usually
steeped to make a tea for fevers and coughs.

10. Fashion

The beautiful head-ties and African tribal prints which flood runways throughout
the country and the world originated from African cultures. African prints and
fabrics, also called ‘ankara’ are beautiful, versatile and very chic. The art of the
head-tie is an intricate craft which, when done well, turns the wearer into an
instant 'fashionista'.