Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
Members of a Costume band parade on the streets of Port of Spain
|Observed by||Trinidad and Tobago|
|Type||Cultural, Roman Catholic|
|Significance||Week before Lent|
|Celebrations||processions, music, dancing, and the use of masquerade|
|Date||Monday and Tuesday before Lent|
|2012 date||February 20 & 21|
|2013 date||February 11 & 12|
|2014 date||March 3 & 4|
|2015 date||February 16 & 17|
|Related to||Caribbean Carnival, Mardi Gras, Carnival, Shrove Monday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Maslenitsa|
The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is an annual event held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in Trinidad and Tobago. The event is well known for participants' colorful costumes and exuberant celebrations.
Carnival is the most significant event on the islands' cultural and tourism calendar, with numerous cultural events running in the lead up to the street parade on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. It is said that if the islanders are not celebrating it, then they are preparing for it, while reminiscing about the past year's festival. Traditionally, the festival is associated with calypso music; however, recently soca has replaced calypso as the most celebrated type of music. Costumes, stick-fighting and limbo competitions are also important components of the festival.
Carnival as it is celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago is also celebrated in cities worldwide. These including Toronto's Caribana, Miami's Miami Carnival, Houston Carifest, London's Notting Hill Carnival as well as New York City's Labor Day Carnival to name a few.
The Cedula of Population of 1783 laid the foundation and growth of the population of Trinidad. The Spanish who were in possession of the island, contributed little towards advancements, with El Dorado the focus, Trinidad was perfect due to its geographical location. French planters with their slaves, free coloreds and mulattos from neighboring islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia, Martinque and Dominica migrated to the Trinidad during the French Revolution. Trinidadians aren't only from African heritage. There were also indentured laborers from India who were paid for working the land. They eventually became land owners unlike their enslaved counterparts. The Spanish also gave many incentives to lure settlers to the island, including exemption from taxes for ten years and land grants in accordance to the terms set out in the Cedula. This exodus was encouraged due to the French Revolution. These new immigrants establishing local communities of Blanchisseuse, Champs Fleurs, Cascade, Carenage and Laventille. Trinidad's population jumped to over 15,000 by the end of 1789, from just under 1,400 in 1777.
The Mas tradition started in the late 18th century with French plantation owners from Martinique organizing masquerades (mas) and balls before enduring the fasting of Lent. Indentured laborers and slaves copied and lampooned their masters, and once set free from forced labor, their frustrations found a platform in clever calypso lyrics mocking their former masters, and then their political leaders. Carnival had arrived with the French, indentured laborers and the slaves, who could not take part in Carnival, formed their own, parallel celebration called Canboulay. Canboulay (from the French cannes brulées, meaning burnt cane) is a precursor to Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and had played an important role in the development of the music of Trinidad and Tobago. The festival is also where calypso music through chantwells had taken its roots. In 1797, Trinidad became a British crown colony, with a French-speaking population.
Stick fighting and West African percussion music were banned in 1880, in response to the Canboulay Riots and British laws at the time. They were replaced by bamboo sticks beaten together, which were themselves banned in turn. In 1937 they reappeared, transformed as an orchestra of frying pans, dustbin lids and oil drums. These steelpans are now a major part of the Trinidadian music scene and are a popular section of the Canboulay music contests. In 1941, the United States Navy arrived on Trinidad, and the panmen, who were associated with lawlessness and violence, helped to popularize steel pan music among soldiers, which began its international popularization.
The table shows a list of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival dates from 2009 to 2020.
|Calendar Year||Carnival Monday||Carnival Tuesday|
|2009||February 23||February 24|
|2010||February 15||February 16|
|2011||March 7||March 8|
|2012||February 20||February 21|
|2013||February 11||February 12|
|2014||March 3||March 4|
|2015||February 16||February 17|
|2016||February 8||February 9|
|2017||February 27||February 28|
|2018||February 12||February 13|
|2019||March 4||March 5|
|2020||February 24||February 25|
Today musical competitions make up a large part of formal Carnival; groups and individuals compete hard to win. To be named Calypso Monarch is one of the country's greatest honours, and the competition is aired on television. Along with the honour comes an enormous trophy, a car, TT $2,000,000 (approx.) and possible endorsements and other contracts. Other prestigious titles are the King and Queen of the Bands (; the International Soca Monarch (both Groovy and Power); the Carnival Road March; and Panorama (for steelpan). For the latter, the 2011 prize was TT$2 million. There are also limbo, stickfighting, and other competitions.
Traditionally, musicians use drums, claves, and the steelpan, created in Trinidad and reported to be the only non-electrical instrument invented in the 20th century, that has been hammered down in different areas to create a wide range of different notes. A group of performers practise weeks in advance on these pans to compete.
Trinidad and Tobago is multicultural (Amerindian, European, African, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern), and all of its groups have contributed musical influences to the sounds of Carnival. These cultures have combined to create a music vastly different from that of Carnival in Spain, Venice, or New Orleans.
As with other Carnivals, many participants wear elaborate costumes, often decorated with feathers and sequins. Carnival bands are organized groups made up of participants who pay for costumes fashioned by a designer and assembled by teams of volunteers. The costumed participants dance through the streets to the sounds of a steel band, a soca band or a d.j. – this is called "playing mas'". A unique feature of this parade is that locals and tourists alike participate in the parade of bands. Each band is led by a King and Queen, who wear extremely large costumes, often requiring extensions and wheels to assist the masquerader to carry it through the streets. Each year on Dimanche Gras (Carnival Sunday), a competition is held to award the King and Queen of Carnival title to two of these masqueraders.
On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, the bands are in competition to win the Band of the Year title. Small monetary prizes are associated with these titles, though they do not cover the full amount of producing the band's music or the King's or Queen's costumes. Participation occurs at all levels of society; three-time calypso monarch David Rudder described it as "from bourgeois to grassroots." Children participate from as early as parents can get them into costume; sometime even strollers are decorated.
Children can extend their fun by participating in smaller "Kiddies' Carnival" shows, competitions and parades as early as 4 weeks before the culmination of the festival. For weeks ahead, several preliminary rounds of competitions and parties (or fêtes) take place. As Carnival is part of the national curriculum, several programmes take place at schools across the country. Regional authorities handle smaller Carnival celebrations in smaller towns and villages.
Band leaders and designers begin working on their presentations months in advance of Carnival Monday and Tuesday. They usually hold a launch party up to 8 months before Carnival to showcase their costumes. Costumes are available for purchase at the mas camp. Some camps offer costumes for sale online as well.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2010)|
Some popular Carnival bands include:
- Fireworks Promotions(South Premier Carnival Band)
- Gerald Achee and Village Drums of Freedom
- Rosalind Gabriel
- Harts Carnival (also known as Young Harts)
- Peter Minshall's Callaloo Company
- Island People
- Trevor Wallace
- Trini Revellers
- Glenn Carvalho
- Paparazzi (formerly Pulse 8)
- Dream Team
- Mas Jumbies
- Brian McFarlane
- Trini Fever Crew
- Lee Heung
- Ivan Kalicharan: www.kalicharancarnival.com
- Wayne Berkeley
- Fantasy Carnival: http://www.mycarnivalfantasy.com/
- Ronnie and Caro
- D Krewe
- One Island
- The Word & Associates (Catholic Band)
A few specific characters have evolved during the history of Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival. Among these characters are:
Pierrot Grenade – he gives speeches on issues of the day, all in rhyme
Minstrels – musicians acting as wandering minstrels, wearing white facepaint
Midnight Robber – his grandiose bragging is known as "robber talk," a style which evolved from African Griot storytellers
Jab Jab -
Jab is the French Patois for "Diable" (Devil), and Molassie is the French Patois for Mélasse (Molasses). The Jab Molassie is one of several varieties of devil mas played in Trinidad and Tobago carnival. The costume consists of short pants or pants cut off at the knee, and a mask and horns. The jab molassie would carry chains, and wear locks and keys around his waist, and carry a pitch fork. He may smear his body with grease, tar, mud or coloured dyes (red, green or blue). The jab molassie "wines" or gyrates to a rhythmic beat that is played on tins or pans by his imps. While some of his imps supply the music, others hold his chain, seemingly restraining him as he pulls against them in his wild dance.
The differences among the various forms of devil mas were once distinct, but have become blurred over time.
Dame Lorraine – an amply blessed woman – stuffed in the appropriate areas – dressed as an 18th-century French aristocrat
- Official Trinidad and Tobago Tourism Site – www.gotrinidadandtobago.com
- Calendar of Events at the Trinidad Tourism Site
- National Carnival Commission Official Website
- History and Carnival Information at the National Library
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival at the Open Directory Project