It was interesting to read comments by Jemma Bedlow, Chair of the Tobago Carnival Bandleaders Association, herself a veteran bandleader, on the upcoming event labelled “Tobago Carnival”.
Here is what she said, “Tobago Carnival is about feting. That is what it is all about. This was a rush. It was not sorted out properly. Is like a fete, because if you are telling us that you don’t want a repeat of Trinidad Carnival in Tobago and to develop our own brand – it is not happening.
“It is a repeat of Trinidad Carnival with bathsuit and beads and thongs and all dem nonsense. This is not how I thought our Carnival was to be. We should have had our own style of carnival here”.
I have refrained from commenting on the announced Tobago Carnival and wanted to hear what Tobagonians had to say.
The Tobago Bandleaders Association’s comments point to what I consider the fundamental point about this Carnival in October, a standing suggestion of the Chairman of the National Carnival Committee.
Ms Bedlow’s suggestion that it was rushed cannot explain the fundamental problem with this event which it is hoped will bring in tourist dollars for the Tobago economy.
Unlike Grenada’s or Barbados’s Spice Mas or Crop Over, this so-called Tobago Carnival has no roots in the history of Tobago. It is a tourist event.
If there was a longer time for preparation, the fundamental fact that this is an event without roots in history or the People’s culture of Tobago. It is as lacking indigenous foundation as the Jamaican “Trinidad-style” carnival.
The Trinidad Carnival has deep roots in the history and culture of the people from the fight for Emancipation as a festival of Rituals of Power and Rebellion as Prof Hollis Liverpool describes it tracing its history from 1763.
There has always been two trends in the Trinidad Carnival – that of Canboulay and that of the Mardi Gras.
“This Carnival was born of a clash of two cultures in the firmament of the reclamation of their humanity in the culture of the ex-slaves at Emancipation and the cultural influence of the plantocracy.” This is how I describe the two-line struggle of the Trinidad Carnival in my book titled, The Trinidad Carnival: Not Just Carnival in Trinidad .
What is now being rebranded as the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is a far cry from the Carnival of its historical roots.
One commentator recently said our Carnival is unique because “it is not about the two days anymore; it is about a season of parties, an experience for the visitors”. One NCC member describes Carnival as a fete experience from Boxing Day to Ash Wednesday.
The carnival of bathsuit and beads and thongs, as the Tobago bandleader describes it, is not the Trinidad Carnival of its Canboulay roots, it is the modern commercialised tourism product which some would have us believe is what the Trinidad Carnival.
There are many examples of the advertisement-driven consumerism that we all have experienced by which a commodity is presented repeatedly as “something we want” in order to condition us to consume that commodity which is not a need for the benefit of its producer’s profits.
When Ms Bedlow says, “the mas fraternity cannot get away from the swimsuits and beads … because that is what the young people like” she is describing this “like” driven by consumerist advertising propaganda.
It is the Mardi Gras trend in the Carnival which is fighting to extinguish the Canboulay roots.
Ms Bedlow also complained about the absence of a competitive element to the mas. She said Trinidad bands are no longer coming to this “Tobago Carnival” because there is no competition
This is yet another aspect of “the superficial, commercialised, over-competitive direction that is being promoted is the direction of converting The Trinidad Carnival into just another carnival in Trinidad”.
I join with the Chair of the Tobago Bandleaders Association when she asks, “Where is the brand?”
As another product of the fete experience culture that is being pushed as the culture of this country for attracting tourists, this carnival in Tobago in October may attract some participants and even make some dollars.
Similarly, the rebranding of the Avenue in Port of Spain as a venue for tourists to have the “liming experience” may also attract some participants and make some dollars.
But, neither is the real culture of the people of this country.
As I have said in the introduction to The Trinidad Carnival: Not Just Carnival in Trinidad, “The defence of The Trinidad Carnival demands that its history be understood and preserved.
“It demands that unique and indigenous qualities of the Canboulay root of the Carnival must be preserved and given modern form and expression.
“The preservation of The Trinidad Carnival is part of the resistance to the indistinguishable culture that denies national character that is called ‘world’ culture or global culture that threatens national identity in the service of a world resembling the old order at the time of the Emancipation” .
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