Carnival in Trinidad &Tobago is the world’s greatest spectacle of colour, creativity, enjoyment and theatre. The islands are currently in the throes of preparation for this annual world calendar event which in 2014, will culminate on Tuesday 4th March. A major feature of Carnival in the twin island republic is its ability to foster a cohesiveness born out of its unifying revelry which cuts across economic, ethnic and social divides. Historically however, this was not always the case.
The activity and influence of Catholicism in Trinidad, with its tradition of feasting and merrymaking by its elite followers in the weeks leading up to the austere season of Lent, helped shape carnival on the island. Carnival in Tobago has traditionally been different from that in Trinidad in part because of the former’s history of colonization. Tobago was unified with Trinidad in 1889 by which time both islands had their own identities, with the latter’s Cannes Brulées or Burning Canes (later known as Canboulay) street festival already having become the genesis of the Africans’ Carnival some fifty years earlier as an unabashed expression of their emancipation in August 1838.
In Tobago, the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, including Carnival, were significantly absent until the early 20th century. The white and coloured elite in both islands had traditionally kept their own Cannes Brulées celebrations quite separate during the period prior to Lent. The August celebrations by the Africans continued for about ten years until it was transferred to the Catholic pre-Lenten season. It was at this time that the ruling classes’ participation in the street festival ceased.
Dancing, masking, mocking the ruling establishment and stick fighting were later joined by the organization of calypso tents and the music of steelbands; all of these elements remain part of the whole in varying degrees, making up Trinbago’s Carnival in the 21st century. Calypso and its younger but well established sibling, Soca are the driving sounds during this time with popular performers like Chalkdust, Karene Asche, Machel Montano and Super Blue vying alongside others to scoop the eminent titles of Calypso Monarch and/or Power Soca Monarch . The latter event now has a new management team in place. The Carnival season is usually well underway at least two months before, with masquerade band launch parties, calypso tents, preliminary steelband competitions and numerous other carnival related events all leading up to the last heady, frenetic week climaxing in the final two days.
J’ouvert/Jouvay Monday (taken from the French ‘jour ouvert’ which means daybreak/the day opens) is when the real takeover of the street begins, with revellers covering themselves with mud, paint and powder as they “chip” in the cool, darkness of the early morning in their respective Jouvay bands including Silver Mudders, Whyte Angels and Yellow Devils. The kaleidoscope of colour and music on Carnival Tuesday will see new bands like De Core and Flirt Carnival joining the more established bands, including Island People, Paparazzi, Tribe, Trini Revellers and YUMA to take the artistry, beauty, drama and energy of Carnival 2014 to the streets.
See the following official websites for more information:
National Carnival Commission: www.ncctt.org/home or onecarnivalpeople.com
Trinidad and Tobago: the true Caribbean: gotrinidadandtobago.com/trinidad/carnival