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Kulturaustausch Vulturaustausch

Published: 
Friday, September 25, 2015

Part II

Thank God It’s Friday today comprises the end of my 2009 attempt to explain “liming” to readers of the German magazine, Kulturaustausch—Journal of International Perspectives.

The use of offensive words to close gaps is itself the gap between the Trini and the German, the nonchalant limer and the diligent researcher, the speaker who builds words logically by adding to them syllable by syllable to amplify meaning and the one who casually and regularly uses terms that anywhere else in the world would be racist or hostile but in Trinidad are neutral or even benevolent.

That gift for appropriation of the perverse is a facility that is readily brought to bear upon any subject in any context. Trinis will say that a party was “good too bad.” If the surest sign of genius is the ability to entertain contradictory propositions simultaneously, Trinidadian limers approach genius every Friday evening—on the street corner with a beer in their hands. And that nonchalant upending of the ordinary is a key to liming.

It also seems important to me to convey to Karola and the crowd at Kulturaustausch—a word I have never typed out, just copied from her emails and pasted into my text (and still it looks wrong)—that in Trinidad often four generations, grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren, happily party together to the same music, whether it be the music of the Mighty Sparrow, David Rudder or Bunji Garlin, the leading Trinidadian musicians of each of those generations. This happens easiest at weddings but it will happen whenever a party goes on long enough.

Whatever it is that allows that cross-generational relaxation with one another to come into being, the unspoken understanding that the Self must be given over entirely and willingly to others, if Oneness is to be achieved, is the next requirement for liming.

In the West Indies, there is little that cannot be traced back to slavery and the plantation system and, as far as I can discern, liming is no exception. It is only in places where freedom itself is completely taken away—as in slavery in the New World or the attempted destruction of the individual in the Soviet Union—that the individual freedom to choose to do nothing becomes prized. When that freedom is asserted, supported and reinforced by everyone else, it seems to me that this is the bud from which liming blossomed in Trinidad.

But liming is more than just idling as the Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen discerned nearly 20 years ago in his informative, scholarly and, in my judgment, accurate essay, Liming in Trinidad: The Art of Doing Nothing. Liming, done well, is far better than doing nothing. It is an existential assertion, a declaration that the limer is just as much a person as the worker; indeed, more of a person, since anyone can work well but only the free individual, able to shrug off everything under the sun, can lime well.

If you understand that liming is not an activity—indeed it often requires a cessation of activity—but a state of mind, you understand that liming can take place anywhere, at any time. Trinidadians speak of “liming the panyard” (the yards where local steelpan bands keep the oil drums that they use for drumming), “liming the film premiere,” “liming Parliament,” “liming the World Cup final,” or “liming the feminist rally in Woodford Square.” You could even lime the Kulturaustausch.

You can also lime with anyone. It is no exaggeration to say that I often lime with my cat. My dog, though, is not a good liming pardner. He always wants to chase a stick, or wag his tail, or bark at the breeze. He doesn’t grasp the concept that it is the doing nothing that begins the good feeling, or that, for the former serf, the good feeling of achievement could never match the good feeling of the avoidance of achievement.

But the sophisticated mindset of liming should not be confused with mere laziness. Anyone can be lazy but they would be essentially unhappy at the end of the period of laziness, because indulging oneself in laziness is not rest, is not a recharging of the batteries, is mere useless idleness.

Liming, by contrast, is extremely useful idleness. It is a declaration of independence.

For this small period of time, we, the slaves who have always been driven—for hundreds of years in our past, by the whip, and now, by the need to produce a 20 per cent annual return on investment—we, the driven, stood our ground. While we limed with one another, no one could tell us a thing.

We did nothing but what we wanted to do which was nothing, nothing, nothing.

And for all that time that we limed we were. We were people. We were not anything anyone forced us to be, especially we weren't productive. We limed for hours and the lime achieved absolutely firetrucking nothing: we did not beat a rhythm with bottle-and-spoon; we did not sing a single calypso; we did not even have a drink of water, though if someone had a bottle of rum, we would have taken that. We did nothing but assert that we had the gift of recognising and declaring our worth without producing a lump of sugar or a barrel of oil as proof. We were ourselves for ourselves alone.

And anyone who was there would tell you that you couldn’t leave the lime. Because it was so sweet.

BC Pires is a professional limer. You can email your body shots to him at

[email protected]

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