By Anya Quesnel
“If yuh know yuh strong and yuh sexy…liberate yuhself and live gyal! Roll it gyal!” Alison Hinds’ 2007 soca hit celebrates the power of body reclamation through wining. Now, there are no vineyards in the Caribbean, so what is this wine and why is it so intoxicating?
The dictionary of Trinidad English Creole, Côté ci Côté là, states that to wine as “to rotate ones hips and waist in a suggestive manner”. Urban Dictionary says wining is “a sexy Caribbean dance performed by women. Much better than twerking”. I am pretty certain a man wrote both these definitions. Wining is associated with carnival, calypso, soca and, of course, women’s bodies. Wining seems the epicenter of the exotification of Caribbean women whose asses, legs and breasts are the headline features of most music videos coming out of the region. Scores of sexy island women gyrating their hips under the hot sun are marketed as part of the Carnival package to foreign tourists hungry for a taste of the tropics.
It is true that women are objectified and become part of the heterosexual male-oriented public space during carnival time; it is true that soca and dancehall lyrics are degrading and that many women-identified persons feel immense pressure to look, as Nessa Preppy would say, like “snacks” out on the road on carnival Monday. These are undeniable truths. However, I would like to take a deeper look at the humble-not-so-humble wine.
Trinidadian sexologist Onika Henry says “carnival is a remedy; a tool for decolonizing Caribbean sexuality”. The Carnival space is historically resistive- originating in the time of plantation slavery in which enslaved persons mocked their European so-called owners through dress and dance in the celebratory period preluding the Christian season of Lent. Though carnival today has been heavily shaped by neo-colonial factors like tourism and capitalism, elements of its subversive origins remain. The movement of wining has its roots in West African dance forms which were persecuted under colonial law. Afro-Trinidadians were prohibited from gathering in groups, making music and dancing as these, so the crown government feared, could lead to organized protest. Women’s bodies were marked as sinful and dirty by the Catholic church which dominated governmental policy. After the end of legal slavery in the Anglo-Caribbean colonies, Afro-Trinidadians claimed carnival festivities as a site of opposition to the colonial order. To dance, to exude joy publicly became a politic.
The perpetual identity crisis of Caribbean nations as ex-colonies still struggling to appeal to the standards of the colonizers crystalizes in discourse over wining. Today, wining bodies are scrutinized to no end by those with the attitude that wining is vulgar and degrading. It is the idea that if the only thing “they”- the “proper” people (white, wealthy, British, American)- see of the Caribbean is people dancing scandalously in the streets then “they” will never think us civilized or legitimate. At the very same time, we rely of your dreams of the Caribbean as a hot, sunny, tropical paradise to get your money. Sip on that tea/wine. Women endure the ignorance of politicians who say “lewdness” at carnival time leads to them being sexually abused, public shaming in the media and ever-present criticism from the choir of aunties that looms over ever Caribbean young person; all of this while being indispensable to the tourism industry.
Mainstream Caribbean culture attempts regulate wining in several ways. There is much contention over who can or should wine. Because wining is associated primarily with women, men who wine in parties (or “flex” on each other) are often labelled as effeminate and, within this generally homophobic socio-scape, therefore gay. Women wining on each other is far more acceptable because physical touch between women is less taboo and sometimes desirable in the eyes of men who fetishize lesbian sexuality. Wining is also policed in accordance with standards of beauty which favor curvy, big-bottomed bodies. Fay-Ann Lyons sings that “narrow bumper gyals” must “move over”, leaving space for the big-bootied girls to “kill dem with d heavy-t wine”.
My Trini friends and I expend much energy discussing the how’s and why’s of superstructures, the politics of our bodies and, often, are trying to stunt on each other in a game called Who is the Woke-est? We can talk about the male gaze and colonialism’s grip on everything we know for hours. But our extensive vocabularies and theoretical knowledge seem irrelevant when we are in a party, grouped in that semi-sacred circle, wrapped up in music and dancingdancingdancing. We are embodying ourselves. We are engaging each other in a body-talk that resonates on a different level. All dance has tremendous transformative potential but wining, for us, connects us to the past while keeping us very present. Choosing to be in our bodies is an act of resistance to structural forces that delegitimize feeling as a way of knowing. I am encouraged by the emerging public dialogue on consent in carnival culture and look forward to the carnival space becoming more and more inclusive. Wining is for everyone, should they choose. For me, it is a way back to my body, to unlearn the shame associated with certain body parts. Through dance, I am able to prioritize sensation, something my formal education taught me not to do.
I encourage you to be aware that everything you know of different cultures and countries is intended by some system or another. Be critical of the media you consume and seek alternative narratives. Most importantly, if d music catch yuh spritit, doh ‘fraid to buss a wine!