Political Correctness and the Art of Overtone Singing.

Out of respect for Asami Nagakiya and her family, I had not intended to devote too much of this blog's space to the odoriferous controversy arising out of events following the murder of their loved one, but Asami, I hope that you know what is in my heart y con su permiso...


When the rain falls heavily over North Western Trinidad, there are often floods in Port of Spain. The weather advisory should warn that there is a danger of flooding especially if exceptionally high tides are expected to coincide with the runoff. If the Mayor of the City of Port of Spain, out of an abundance of caution and concern takes it upon himself to warn citizens that they should bring umbrellas, wear sensible shoes, stay away from open gutters, avoid the city centre if possible, postpone visiting Port of Spain if your business there is not urgent, and finally that parents relay these advisories to their children, wouldn't you say that he is doing his job?

Official advisories are meant to share information and very often serious warnings. Officials and countries release advisories all the time and not just about inclement weather, about threats to health, safety and travel. Since Asami's murder, for example, the Japanese embassy has put out a travel advisory warning its citizens to guard their safety in Trinidad and Tobago.

Are they setting themselves up for a charge of victim blaming if something unfortunate should happen to another of their nationals and if they should make the mistake of reminding media hounds that warnings were issued?

Or is it that crimes and tragedies do not happen if we remain silent about latent or active danger? Will the Zika virus be more likely to pass us by if we provide breeding grounds for Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes in our communities? If the Zika virus is an active threat that has not yet been brought under control, how can we not warn against it? And if the Zika virus should overwhelm our country and an official speaks the truth to remind us that we did not take the recommended actions, will that official be blamed, shamed and asked to resign.

Similarly, if violence in Trinidad and Tobago is systemic, and there seems to be no projected end in sight, and if women are easier targets, don't women deserve to be reminded?

The Brazilian Carnival is also a scene of violence against women. This article, for example, discusses one of the Brazilian campaigns to address the number of cases of sexual harassment and violence against women which occur more frequently in festive periods such as their Carnival. In this campaign they encourage victims and witnesses to report abuses through specialized public services. Included in their description of abuses which are to be denounced are: acts of physical or sexual violence, kissing a woman by force, detaining her by the arm and refusing to let her go, offending her by touching her body without permission and  attacking her verbally or disrespecting her when she says no.

Another article, "Assédio sexual: mulher, a culpa não é sua. | Sexual assault, the woman is not to blame." addresses the perception among 26 percent of 3810 Brazilian respondents in a study of social tolerance of violence against women, that women who wear clothes that show off the body deserve to be attacked. This is considered blaming the rape victim. Worrying also is that between 2009 and 2011, it is estimated that  there were more than 17, 000 femicides in the country. In Sao Paulo in 2014, there were 17 reported instances of women being abused on public transport. Of these, 16 were categorised as harassment offensive to modesty, and as rape. I have a feeling that the actual number of cases is probably much higher and that these incidents are shrugged off as traumatic but inevitable from what I know of similar behaviour in our country.

Back to our situation, I refrained from jumping to any conclusions about the Mayor's statements. I needed to review an original and unaltered recording of what Port of Spain's Mayor, Raymond Tim Kee actually said. I did not want to accept a conflation of discrete statements or excerpts that could have been cherry-picked to support allegations. Not having all of this evidence at hand, I could not in good conscience judge him in the court of "social media". To do so would have revealed me to be as reckless and thoughtless as he has been accused of being. The video clip which I have posted below is the only evidence which I was able to review. Suffice it to say that it did not make me see pink.


Many of you must have heard about the mass assaults against merrymakers that were carried out by an estimated 1,000 young men during Cologne's New Year's Eve celebrations in Germany this year. At the time when the Guardian article was published on January 6, 2016, over 100 complaints had been made to German police, two-thirds of which are linked to sexual assault, including two rapes. Although police and witnesses claimed that the assailants were of North African and Arab appearance, the Guardian noted that up to that time, neither the identity nor origin of any of these men had been established. SOURCE

"According to witnesses, the males, between 15 and 35 years old, tightly surrounded women in groups of 30 or 40, before groping them and mugging them and their partners. Many threw firecrackers into the crowds, adding to the mayhem that ensued, which later forced the police to clear the square.

Police have said the men appeared to have been coordinated, comparing their modus operandi to that of criminal gangs that have operated in strength for several years in the area and turning it into a place many Cologners avoid after dark. Known locally as antänzer (waltzers), the men snuggle up to their victims, often twisting a leg around them in an apparently playful fashion, which causes them to lose balance, whereupon the perpetrator uses the opportunity to whip a wallet or mobile phone from a pocket or bag." SOURCE

Responding to these events on the 5th of January, the Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker spoke on live television and among other things, she advised that in future women would have to be better prepared in her city to deal with migrants. She would have thinking especially about the safety of women during Cologne's upcoming Carnival season this month and trying to prepare women for a possible repeat of the New Year's Eve attacks. She stated that “women and young girls have to be more protected in the future so these things don’t happen again." When she was asked by a journalist for specifics on how this protection could be achieved, she suggested that there was "always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length from strangers – that is to say to make sure yourself, you don’t look to be too close to people who are not known to you, and to whom you don’t have a trusting relationship.” Mayor Reker also advised women to “stick together in groups and to not get split up, even if you’re in a party mood.” SOURCE

Enlarging the protests about the initial attacks was then the outrage at her suggestions. The Mayor of Cologne was accused of blaming the victims.

Now back to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Keep in mind that the protests had already taken place in Cologne, and yes, the situation was publicised on Twitter with the inevitable hash tags. For example, #einearmlaenge - "an arm's length" become one of German's top-trending hashtags during the period. But it was now Thursday February 11 in Port of Spain and our Carnival had concluded a day before. The still costumed body of a murdered Japanese female had been discovered in the Savannah on Ash Wednesday and the city's Mayor was being asked for his comments. Judging by the ferocity of the protest which followed, if I had not listened to the recording I would have imagined that he had said, "She look fuh dat...jus' sayin'."  But he hadn't. Instead, his tragic error was in not having at hand a supply of brief and politically correct replies for such eventualities. He dawdled too much and sniffing the kerosene content in his clumsy words, a public and the media lit a match.

If you examine the articles which appeared both locally and in the international press, the conclusion was unanimous. The consensus was that the Mayor had callously blamed the victim for her murder. But knowing the situation on the ground and the culture from which I come, I could see what had prompted our Mayor's concern, something that he tried to explain after the protest and the demand for his resignation:

“I am compelled to write to the public about the statements I made about behaviour at Carnival time, and the responsibility of persons, women specifically, to safeguard themselves against the predators that come out to play in droves for the season. My statements about vulgarity were made in isolation when asked about safety, a week prior to the tragic incident with Asami Nagakiya.” SOURCE

A week prior. Was this made clear in the reports?

“When asked about Asami, like the rest of the public, I did not know the intricacies of the crime at hand. The news of her discovery was still very fresh and I was not completely prepared to discuss it in an intimate way. I could only have assumed foul play was at hand based on the nature of her discovery and the presence of bruises and wounds on her body, which is why my statement about women protecting themselves was very broad and very general. It was not about Asami’s case specifically and in retrospect, as I have said before, I regret the timing of this message.” SOURCE

As I write this, the Mayor has resigned. Was he good at his job? I haven't a clue. That inconsequential matter was never discussed publicly but I'm told by more brilliant minds that the good is oft interred. Also, I am not aware of his having ever been given the opportunity to explain himself before any impartial body. I have seen the results of one local poll where the majority of respondents felt that he should resign and our Prime Minister also sanctioned his decision. For some reason this official was considered a political write-off although I can think of at least a dozen undeniably outrageous and insulting remarks that have been made by public officials in the recent past which did not result in termination of jobs....and I am finding myself revisiting the experiences of Fazeer and Nizam Mohammed.

Back in Cologne however, the Mayor Henriette Reker is still the mayor. Like Mayor Tim Kee, she was lambasted on social media for her remarks. Like Mayor Tim Kee, she later apologised, and like Mayor Tim Kee, she said that her comments had not been reported in their full context. But the similarities end there. Her office is still hers tonight. Maybe that city understands that there is a whole lot more to be judged about a mayor's suitability than just his or her ability to rattle off at a moment's notice, flawless and politically correct statements. Maybe the culture is more about improving through dialogue what you already have in place rather than terminating dialogue and scrapping an official without allowing a second chance. 

Mayor Tim Kee could not change overnight a society created by decades of dysfunction including abdication of parental responsibility. The most he could have done as a short-term fix was to warn some of the most vulnerable ahead of a season when they do become fair game for aggressors. Ralf Jäger, North Rhine-Westphalia’s interior minister made an interesting comment about the marauders in Cologne. He said that "inhibition thresholds, in combination with alcohol and criminal energy from some of them, fell away." SOURCE

Inhibition thresholds fell away. No amount of political correctness can dress up dysfunction whether inculcated through nurture or brought on by mind altering substances. Even if we are not career criminals, we can still be inflamed by passions.

Would our Mayor have been open to constructive criticism after his remarks instead of the sustained condemnation that hounded him out of office? Would he have welcomed a delegation of concerned citizens approaching him with ideas about how to begin a discussion/programme about violence against women? I don't know. Was he ever asked? 


"I wish to confirm that I have tendered my resignation to the Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Spain Corporation. When I was called to serve Trinidad and Tobago as Mayor of Port of Spain, it was not a decision that I took lightly given the great responsibility of the office to the Capital City.

"Public Officials must be held to a high standard of transparency, good governance, and accountability and I accept full responsibility for making the reference that cast a shadow on the death of Japanese National and pannist, Asami Nagakiya.

"I once again extend my sincerest condolences to her family, friends and countrymen, and wish that they be comforted by the outpouring of love which has been demonstrated by so many. Her loss is keenly felt as if she were one of our own, as over the years she has shown a deep love for the culture of this country and the national instrument in particular.

"Port of Spain is the Nation’s Capital, and the Office of Mayor has a vital role to play in establishing it as a city we can all be proud to reside in, visit for business, work or recreation. Although my time in office has been short, I have tried to lay the groundwork that will allow my successor to address some of the key challenges facing the city.

"These include the issues of street dwelling, parking, poor drainage and vending. It is my hope that my successor will continue to build relationships with all stakeholders, in spite of their diverse views, in an effort to solve these challenges.

"My patriotism and commitment to making a difference and contributing positively to my beloved country is not diminished by recent events. I express my sincere gratitude to those who trusted me to lead this city. I did my best, and I accept full responsibility for my actions and utterances. To the people of this country who feel they have been let down, I unreservedly apologize.

"As I demit office, I wish to encourage all of us as citizens and leaders to act in a manner that would best serve Trinidad and Tobago. To the residents of Port of Spain, I am indeed grateful for the opportunity to have served you.

"I especially extend my sincere appreciation to all Members of Council for their hard work and commitment to duty even under the most trying circumstances. I wish them the very best for the future and encourage them to work with greater determination to provide improved services to the benefit of all residents and citizens of our Capital City."
Raymond Tim Kee SOURCE

Finally, without a trace of facetiousness, a question keeps coming to my mind and I feel that it is an important question. Which parents tonight in Trinidad and Tobago are putting their young girl children through their paces as they train them for their Carnival debuts when they will be unleashed to expertly Bounce on it with friend or stranger, because it is their body and their choice? Which mothers exactly? Hypocrisy is king and queen in this land.

And now, I conclude by introducing you to a skill that is essential for all public figures - overtone singing, where your fundamental and selected overtones are hidden in plain hearing and may often leave your audience baffled but always pleasantly and politically correctly so.

Uploaded by Anna-Maria Hefele


"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!