What some societies call a “seer” or soothsayer, clairvoyant or prophet, we in Trinidad call a “see-ah” man.” When I was young and someone lost an article, money, spouse or any other significant or sometimes increasingly insignificant object, that person visited the obeah or seeah man to find out the truth and sometimes inflict the appropriate or grossly overweighted punishment on the person fingered by the “seeah-man.” When people wanted to harm someone they believe had harmed them or when they wanted an object belonging to the other person, including said significant other, they went to the obeah man or even the priests at the Benedictine monastery high on a hilltop in North Trinidad.
Calypsonian the Mighty Sparrow sang about Melda who repeatedly made herself a “pappyshow” by “going round the country looking for obeah.” This word “pappyshow” has nothing to do with any demonstration by Melda, or exhibition featuring her paternal ancestor. The meaning of the word “pappyshow” can be deduced from the different contexts in which it appears.
For example a newspaper columnist wrote, “It has become starkly evident and disturbing that Trinidadians are now grossly accustomed and desensitised to the pappyshow that is our local politics.” A former prime minister, Basdeo Panday, described a birthday tribute paid to him by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar as a “pappyshow.” A friend in Antigua was not clear. “I thought she was a grandmother,” he commented. “Wouldn’t that be a “mammyshow” or “grannyshow”?
I had to explain to him that the term “pappy” in “pappyshow” was not gender specific and was like the green elephant joke. First you ask, “What colour gun would you use to shoot a blue elephant?” The answer is a blue-elephant gun. Then you ask, “What kind of gun would you use to shoot a pink-elephant?” The answer is that there is no such thing as a pink-elephant gun.
You have to catch the pink elephant, paint it blue and then shoot it with a blue elephant gun. As one calypsonian demonstrated, females can pappyshow someone. There was a calypso about a lady named Miss Santa, a resident of Morvant, who “tief a big man from St James and tie him like a cow in Morvant/Sun and rain wetting the man but he can’t get away poor feller.” In other words, she made a pappyshow of him.
Lise Winer in her book on Varieties of English Around the World: Trinidad and Tobago links the word “pappyshow” to “puppet show” and “papeechaud” and says it means “someone who appears ridiculous, foolish, absurd…” Quoting from an “old time” calysonian named Destroyer, she provided as an example, “Listen to what I notice a few years ago,/Matrimony become a pappshow.” Ms Winer quotes from Paul Keens-Douglas, “We use to pappyshow police. And play respectable when we see priest.” I jokingly told Ms Winer that clearly her name would appear twice in the book, one as the author and the other as a definition. I never heard from her again. Maybe she thought I pappyshowed her.
The fact is that pappyshow truly fits the national psyche. Trinidad is the only country where “elite” is a brand of shirt, “reform” is a village in the South, “republic” is a bank, and “independent senator” is an oxymoron. Then there is a children’s game called “moral” which has nothing to do with honesty or values but requires balls.
Despite the frequent use of the obeah men and women, there are two major contradictions at the heart of all Trinis. The first is a unique combination of a dependency syndrome and an entitlement syndrome. On the one hand there is enormous pressure on governments or a “Gimme, gimme” mentality. On the other is the assertion of the legitimacy of rights that have no basis except in membership of a race or political party.
This is hard enough to deal with but when it is compounded by an “Ah know!” mentality you have the quintessential Trini. There are no secrets because we know what happened before anything was even contemplated by anyone. When any event occurs, we already knew about it. His Caricom colleagues referred to one of our prime ministers as “Ah Know”. “He like Noah,” one of them said, “all he missing is the Ark.”
A few days ago we heard about the seizure of cocaine in Norfolk, Virginia. Immediately everybody knew who did it. A business that took 80 years to build and the family whose blood, sweat and tears built it were immediately crushed by the rumour mill and the “Ah knows”. They became a regional pappyshow made so by those in authority and by those who lacked authority but had a surfeit of slander and malice. Now it turns out that the family was not involved and their products are safe to use.
But how do you build back a reputation? How do you win back customers lost to rumour and character assassination? How do you regain the trust that made this company the most successful non-oil exporter and a regional success story? This is one case where, Trini that I am, I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I know is that it is time for the DEA and others to end the pappyshow and put the real criminals where they belong. In the can!
*Tony Deyal was last seen providing his children with a massive pappyshow. He took off his cap and exposed his Trini roots.