Ah still love me carnival, but…
To this date, beyond my “three score and ten” allocation, and in spite of all the changes, I must confess that “Ah still love me Carnival”. True, I no longer participate actively, viewing and listening from my humble caboose, but I still try to keep in touch with Carnival happenings, here and abroad.
That is perhaps not surprising, since I was introduced to the Festival since the early ’50s when still a tiny minor. I have a faint recollection of playing Children’s Carnival, as it was called then, winning a prize for portraying a Fisherman. Those days, Children’s Carnival took place in the Court House yard, and was vastly different to the Junior Mas of today.
There was no intense competition among the major mas camps for superiority in children’s mas as a prelude to winning the grand prizes on Sunday night and Tuesday. Instead the enjoyment of the young ones was the priority, no matter how simple the mas. That was why I was able to win a prize for portraying a fisherman, since there were a number of different categories then, including Original mas (more on that later).
So, I try to keep in tune with the major Carnival developments, given the importance of the Festival in our cultural, and today, our economic life. The official launching of Vincy Mas 2019 therefore caught my attention. In particular, I was curious to hear of any major innovations or changes for this year’s plans. Changes are always inevitable so it all depends on the nature of those changes, who will benefit from them, and to what degree they not only accommodate modern trends, but also do not lose the essence and character of this important festival.
Carnival has changed drastically in my lifetime, especially since the changeover in 1977 to June/July Mas heralding our post-independence era. There have been numerous positive changes, but there is always the danger of throwing out the proverbial “baby with the bath water”. Commercialisation of the Festival has brought economic benefits to the country as a whole, to Carnival-makers, entrepreneurs and promoters, even though not in proportionate value.
Each year we have the debates and discussions as to the direction in which the Festival is going, or being propelled, and whether the trend fits in with our traditional values or indeed advances the best interests of our people as a whole. Many arguments have been made, proposing that those who make the most money from the Festival should make a greater contribution to its organisation and this debate is still with us.
What is clear is the level of concern about the degeneration in public morality and behaviour associated with the Festival and how this can be addressed. The dress, or lack of it, of our females of all ages in particular, and the explicit display of lewd behaviour in public and on camera, is a source of consternation, not only among religious fundamentalists and prudes, but also of decent-minded Vincentians of all ranks.
This is not unique to our country and is in keeping with modern trends of dress and behaviour. Whether it is Notting Hill in London, Labour Day in Brooklyn, Crop Over in Barbados, or Carnival in Port of Spain, the similarities are the same. Striving to be the “Hottest Carnival” no one is willing to buck the trend. But, moralities aside, what of trying to cater not only for the desires of the ‘party crowds’, but to be inclusive so as to accommodate persons of different persuasions who also love mas?
I spent some time over the past week or two looking at Trinidad mas 2019 and while, the same manifestations were there, the Trinidad Carnival did not exclude those of different taste from the ‘party animals’. lt still caters for a wide range of artistic expression, leaving space for traditional mas, the ‘boozy back’ and monkey mas, the minstrels and robbers, the Indian and African mas, the sailor bands and original presentations.
We have unfortunately dumped all of this, so we have little to offer from our traditional culture when patrons are invited to come to the Park early to watch Tuesday mas. It may almost be too late to stop it, but our mas cannot be just about booze and ooze. Can we spare the time and effort to reflect? How does our mas fit into our development of the arts and culture? Do our Carnival practitioners find space in our out-of-season entertainment and hospitality industry? We could go on, and on.
Ah still love me mas, but is the bacchanal, the degeneration ah worry about.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.