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Carnival reminiscences


Thanks to Dr Adrian Fraser for his Historical Notes in last Friday’s issue of this paper, recalling some aspects of Carnival 1950, when there was apparently an attempt to revamp the festival. (It is of note that National Hero candidate, George McIntosh, was chairman of the Carnival Committee then established, not a well-known fact about this legend, better known for his trade union and political activities).{{more}}

In a country short on recorded history, such reminders are more than useful; they are necessary in documenting our social progress. Indeed, it would be commendable of the Carnival Development Committee (CDC) if it could commission official research into the origin and historical development of Carnival. Some piecemeal attempts have been made in recent times, but like the rest of our history, Carnival cries out for documented records. Maybe, in the interim, a pageant at Dimanche Gras could point in that direction.

Dr Fraser’s Notes have revived memories of Carnival in the fifties and sixties of my generation. I do not share the view of many of us older folk that “our days” were necessarily the best, though I thoroughly enjoyed them. Each generation has its own experiences and is shaped by different circumstances, many of them beyond our control. It is not easy, then, to make comparisons, since those circumstances may be completely different, thereby evoking different responses.

First, in jogging my memory, it struck me that whereas there is a tendency to view Carnival before the introduction of July Mas in 1977, as just a weekend affair, any careful examination would suggest the contrary. Take the matter of Carnival “tents,” for instance, (not the calypso tents, but the nerve centres of the mas bands). In the fifties, those tents, often temporary constructions made from local materials, were virtual beehives of pre-carnival activity.

With mas in those days divided into specific categories – historical, original, African, Indian, Military etc. – and with Carnival presentations at Victoria Park on Carnival Tuesday being a mixture of pageant and skit, the bands would prepare and rehearse for their presentations. Sometimes they would even have their own songs, and the practice routines would draw spectators. The military bands (“war mas” and sailor bands), would do nightly drills, as if preparing for a military parade. A lot of fun this was.

I still have vivid memories of the “Lazy Town Boys” in the vicinity of the perennial Carnival Bouchers of Paul’s Lot, and the epic construction of the Trojan Horse by the Victor Liverpool band from “Upstreet” in their portrayal of “Helen of Troy”. Then there were the African warriors, though, until Leroy Mulraine and his more enlightened colleagues of the early sixties gave us a real glance of African civilisation, most African bands followed the stereotype of “uncivilised” Africans eating raw meat and drinking blood.

The historical categories broadened the knowledge of a people, only a minority of whom had radios, without television or Internet, of places afar. Thus we got to know of “The Golden Age of India” from Paddy Corea, Moby Dick and the “Boys from the Hill”, the Aztecs and Incas from the “Bridge boys”. In all this, there was the titanic rivalry between between the late Vibert DeShong, of “Moses and the Ten Commandments” fame and Louis Boucher, of “Iron Man” renown, a product of the competition between individuals, which also spawned such carnival characters of blessed memory as “Kaka” Jacobs of Sion Hill, who would sometimes have more than one individual portrayal besides his band, and Frank Sardine, replete with horse and armour in his portrayal of “Ivanhoe”.

All these reflected our colonial legacy and education, given the emphasis in those days. Carnival reflected our schooling, and lack of it, our exposure to the comic books and movies of the day; thus the Cowboys, (a speciality of the people of Dortsetshire Hill), the Indians (Paul’s Lot and Old Montrose communities) and war mas, complete with home- made explosives. The Indian mas, perhaps influenced by Trinidad, was very colourful, sporting beads, glass and tall headpieces, with people like the late “Dougie” Pitt, in prominence.

Continued next week

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.