Brief History About Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago
Being from Trinidad and Tobago I’m very proud of the annual carnival celebrated there. I wanted to share it the rest of the world so I created this post about Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. In it’s original latin form, Carnival literally means “farewell to the flesh” and is celebrated by many cultures world wide. In Trinidad, Carnival came about when the European Catholic rituals fused with African “Mask Rituals” in celebrations symbolizing the giving up of meat for Lent. During the British colonial reign it was unsuccessfully repressed and is now one of the island nations most prized festivals, that bridges all religious and cultural gaps. Carnival is celebrated across the entire island of Trinidad with the largest concentration in Port of Spain, the country’s capitol city, in the north and San Fernando in the south.
Music, Dancing, and Festivities
Carnival is the most significant event for Trinidad and Tobago’s tourism and draws visitors from all around the world. The celebration is made up of many days and different events. One of the most critical portions of celebrating Carnival is the music. There is a blend of Soca, Calypso, Steel Pans, and African drumming. Throughout the entire festival it’s quite common to hear the same songs repeated over and over hypnotically until masqueraders feel the need to relentlessly dance and “whine” their hips. In addition to the music, dance, drinking, and masquerading there are traditional stick fights staged in the streets.
Preparing for Carnival in Trinidad
Carnival preparations start months before the actual event due to all the preparation that goes into an island sized fete. Individuals start hitting the gym to get their “mas figure”, decide on what bands to play in , and attend multiple fittings and events at their “mas-camps”. The bands begin by getting their sponsorships lined up for their music trucks, design and make their costumes for each section, and rally up masqueraders.
The entire Caribbean music industry comes out in full force to prepare for carnival. Musicians spend months putting together “road march” songs that are then judged by popularity and played continuously throughout the event, and for the remainder of the year. After all the preparation is done the entire island shuts down the weekend before lent and Carnival begins.
Three days of Carnival
On the Sunday before Lent, Carnival begins with a relatively recent tradition of Kiddies Carnival. The children all get in their costumes and masquerade through the streets following the music trucks, practicing their moves for the big day and showing off to proud parents in the streets. At the end they wind up in the park where they are judged on their dancing and costumes.
After all the kiddies are put to bed on Sunday night and the Kings and Queens of Carnival have been elected in Dimache Gras the real party begins at 3 AM (that’s not a typo) with J’Ouvert or “dirty-mas”. Everyone meets up before the break of dawn, drinking beer and cask wine, and begins a parade where they act out their political grievances in the form of satire. While this is happening people spray each other with dyes and mud representing our inner evils and temptations. J’Overt is the darker side of the festival and you will see many people dressed as devils and demons walking around on stilts. Of course all of this is immediately followed by the revelers coming together in large city squares dancing as the sun rises. J’Ouvert wraps up about 8AM on carnival Monday as everyone heads home to pretty themselves up for the next parade in 3 hours.
At about 10 AM Monday all the masqueraders meet up at their “mas-camps” and put on their costumes, saving the fragile portions for the final parade on Tuesday, and begin parading through the streets. Carnival Monday is a warm-up event for the real deal on Tuesday and many bands use it as a final dress rehearsal for the big show. Some masqueraders come just as prepared on Monday as the do on Tuesday!
The Big Parade
Carnival Tuesday begins promptly at 8AM with all the masqueraders joining up at their camps and getting into their full regale. The music trucks show up pumping road marches at full volume winding up the masqueraders for the 10-Hour march. Once your whole band is ready, the coolers are filled with Carib and Stags (the local beers of T&T), and the masqueraders fully primed up, the long march begins. Each section of the band heads down the road whining and gyrating to the songs as they join up with the other bands along the main parade route. Throughout the day the bands pass several judging stations where the revelers find extra energy to show off their costumes and best dance moves. After passing several judging points the parade ends at a large park with one final stage and all the bands line-up for their final judging.
The process can take hours and the masqueraders pass the time with street foods, drinks, and dancing with the crowds. As each band finishes their judging the music trucks head out to parks and street corners throughout the island, and the tired masqueraders follow to continue the party until the late hours of the evening. Once all the drinking and dancing is done, the sun rises on Ash Wednesday and the masqueraders having been cleansed and purified, you can hear the faintest whispers beginning the plans for making the next Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago bigger and better.