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Carnival 2017: What message were we sending?

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When someone from overseas emailed me, telling me that he didn’t realize we have only been celebrating Carnival for 40 years, I wondered what message we had been sending out. The Carnival authorities had, in fact, been referring to the occasion as a celebration of the June/July Mas. But this message had not been very consistent and clear. Often, the focus was on celebrating 40 years of ‘Vincy Mas’. ‘Vincy Mas’ refers to the June/July Mas, but for those who only know about Carnival after 1977, ‘Vincy Mas’ was simply Vincy Carnival. In 1987, the theme of the celebration was “Ten Years of Mas and Fun in the July Sun” and the CDC chair emphasized the fact that the cultural event has beenchanged from the traditional pre-Lenten season to the first week in July. The present chair, no doubt, might have said the same, but generally there was little reference, with few exceptions, to the festival that preceded it.

How do we now make the link with our long tradition of Carnival? For I suspect that in 2027, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of ‘Vincy Mas’ and if we are not careful we could easily forget the rich history of Carnival before 1977 and the contributions of many masqueraders, calypsonians, steel band players and officials. Let me acknowledge the fact that over the years persons have been honoured for their contribution to the pre-Lenten festival. We always like, however, to have something to celebrate. Remember when we fabricated a date for the 100th anniversary of Nine Mornings so that we could celebrate. Perhaps we could restore the link with the past by celebrating in 2019, 140 years of the restoration of Carnival after its banning in 1872.  Great effort was put into promotion this year, because we were celebrating something.  Would we see the same level of promotion next year? 

Carnival is not only about having a nice time. It is propelled and influenced by the nature of the society and developments within. So, there is a context within which we must look at Carnival. This forces me to make a point about this year’s calypsos. For me, calypsos set the tone and mood for carnival.  Traditionally, the calypsonian was regarded as the people’s spokesman, expressing views about oppression and injustice in society. It was through that medium that the lower classes spoke truth to power. Social and political commentary have been central to calypso and calypso central to Carnival. This year we fell short. Even when social and political commentary existed, they did not particularly impress.

I must compliment CDC under its new chair for introducing some changes. One hopes that time will be spent evaluating what worked and what didn’t. Look again, for instance, at the use of Little Tokyo over Victoria Park, considering the possibility always of rain. If the problem with Victoria Park was that it was not well patronized at Mardi Gras, why not make Victoria Park free. Do not put on a programme and let people know that they were coming simply to see the bands parading on stage. Some elderly people, visitors and others, particularly those with children, might welcome going to the park, rather than battling the sun around Kingstown. They would also be spared the cost of having to set up the facilities needed, but which are always present at the park. A decision about Miss Carival must be made soon. Would it be permanently put away, or reintroduced in a different format? 

Above all, let us continue to emphasize the point that we have a rich Carnival history that goes beyond 40 years.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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