I am no longer a fan of Carnival. I had never really been one, actually – just used to “spectate”. Nonetheless, I am disturbed by the high level of vulgar and promiscuous behaviour engaged in by many women around this time. Why do some women have to conduct themselves like “jaggabats” or “jammettes” at Carnival time?
Behaviour like this causes me to stop and wonder, what, really, is the nature of Carnival? What is it about? Is it a “sex-fest” or a display of creativity? (excerpt) Akilah Holder when she wtote this article she took a perspective of Bakhtin.
Traditional Carnival theory (Bakhtin) defines Carnival as inversion, as subversive, as the temporal displacement of hierarchy, order and everyday semblance, a “momentary degradation of values” (Bakhtin 1984:80-84).
A small body of literature (Hill 1971, Lovelace 1978, Benitez-Rojo 1997, Constant-Martin 1999, Schechner 2004) presents Trinidad Carnival today as a redefinition of traditional Carnival theory, which instead of solely disrupting hierarchies in a Bakhtinian sense, reflects and preserves the values and sense of community Carnival creates across class, race and ethnicity in Trinidad.
Scholar Richard Schechner’s paper, Carnival (theory), after Bakhtin is a good synopsis of why Bakhtin’s and Ms Holders notions of Carnival and the Carnivalesque don’t fit countries like Trinidad and Brazil (2004:3).
What pissed me off was the moralistic, judgemental tone of Ms Holder’s article as she directed most of her disgust towards the dancing and antics of many women on the streets during Carnival time. It pissed me off because although I am certain her intentions were honourable and there is some merit to what she said, because of the ill-researched, dated arguments she made, she came off sounding like just another religious elitist charlatan of whom we already have oh so many.
In fact if she washed her mouth on the thing anymore she’d make Pastor Cuffie or some of the other legal bandits and conmen with bibles completely irrelevant. (excerpt from Corey Gilkes) From the obvious point that Bakhtin’s Carnival was a “spectacular” metaphor for understanding and celebrating the novel to the contrast between a autocratic regime and 19th century Trinidad, Schechner (2004) critiques “the sometimes strange, perplexing world of the academy” for its use of Bakhtin in the analysis of new world Carnivals.
Trinidad Carnival is not solely a European inspired one, but rather a “spectacle” ( MacAloon 1984, Turner 1986) translated by local circumstances and processes with influences that include the introduction of peoples and culture from many different parts of the world including various masquerade cultures of Africa. For Guy Debord “spectacle” was the public display and manifestation of a particular economic and socio-cultural formation (Debord 1967:15).
He described spectacle as a form of false consciousness, an ideological smokescreen to hide the “autocratic reign of the market economy” (1988:2). His “Society of the Spectacle,” its artifacts and processes, forms and shapes, production and sales was a mask hiding violent and oppressive social control and a mechanism of the expanding capitalist ideology remaking the world. In this sense Trinidad Carnival is a way to shine light on social change within Trinidad society (Constant-Martin 1999).
C. L. R. James – the profound analyst of mechanisms of solidarity (1947, 1963, 1989) – used the sport of cricket as a similar shining light. He saw cricket as “a reservoir of shared cultural knowledge across class, race and colonialism” (1963) and used the sport in the West Indies to examine the relationship between structure and everyday social change. He described cricket eloquently as a sporting spectacle and analysed the sport as a way into issues of social justice.
Rex Nettleford (1988) in Caribbean Festival Arts noted, the Caribbean, the idea of the festival remains a vehicle for communicating and affirming values and for strengthening the bonds in the new society, but it has changed somewhat through a protracted transformation from colonial fife to independent modern politics. The task of nation-building looms large, and the manipulation of symbols, festivals included, has become part of the action. Birth (1994) is another author who localises Carnival theory within the experiences of Trinidad society.
In Bakrnal: Coup, Carnival, And Calypso in Trinidad he examines how a violent and attempted coup d’etat seen as a threat to the nation in 1990 became one of the dominant themes of Carnival. In this capacity Trinidad Carnival is reflective of how humour can triumph over political repression and fear. His subject matter emphasises general, abstract aspects of social structure, and how a sense-of-self as a Trinidadian is influenced and transformed by participation in Carnival.
From two world conferences on Carnival held in the 1990s organised by Milla Riggio, emerged a special issue of The Drama Review (1998) dedicated solely to the masquerade specifics of Trinidad Carnival. The material covered is vast and includes the dissection of the movement of traditional Carnival characters like the bat, the influences of various central Carnival figures and the post-colonial theatre tradition in Trinidad. Another collection of articles edited by Harney (1996) takes discussion of Trinidad Carnival in a more literary and Cultural Studies direction integrating work by C.
L. R. James, V. S. Naipaul and Samuel Selvon in an historical framework that studies the forces and ideologies behind nationalism through a comparison of ethnic conceptions of Carnival as portrayed in literary classics For Aching, in the late 20th century there has been a political-ideological manipulation of this nationalistic theatre and “spectacle” designed to “mask” and hide the privatisation of public space and other forms of economic stratification, a situation that bears a remarkable similarity to theories on neoliberalism and Debordian ideas on spectacle. Ho & Nurse 2005) take this privatisation of public space in another direction and analyse the implications of the neoliberal commodification of various forms of Caribbean popular culture. Their central focus is on globalisation – the new imperialism – and its intersection with various Caribbean forms. These include Carnival, calypso music, steelpan, film and identity. Sampath meanwhile sees Carnival as a battle between local festival and tourist development.
With tourism winning at the expense of local subject matter and local participation at all stages of Carnival – production, design, and management. (Peter Minshall, Mac Farlane used the streets as his canvass to express their philosophy in the traditions of Bailey, Saldenah and the legions of largely (tragically) nameless persons who used the Midnight Robber, the Minstrel, the Baby Doll, the Dame Lorraine, the Burrokeet, the Jab Molassie to hold up the mirror of society and all its hypocrisy and excesses to show us what many of us really are.
That aspect of our Mas, the use of the open space as a gigantic participatory (before the advent of security, ropes and the word “exclusive”) political and social theatre, is perhaps the most important message that needs to be kept firmly in the minds of those who wish to take over the Mas – specifically those who have reduced it to empty, expressionless displays of bikinis, bras and feathers as if here is Las Vegas. He writes about how much of the traditional downstream industries connected with Trinidad Carnival have been outsourced to China and local participation is overlooked by the government urge for international currency that comes with foreign tourists on travel packages to play in Las Vegas-themed masquerade bands in Trinidad.
Benitez-Rojo’s alternative sense of Carnival as a metaphor in process – a window on Trinidad society that changes over time as the society does – permits avoidance of narratives of holism where distinct gender, race and ethnic groups shape the stories of Trinidad Carnival into different and simplistic periods where singular groups dominate each era.
It also permits an opportunity to stretch the traditional origin myth of Carnival in Trinidad by suggesting through narrative and archaeological evidence a tradition of masking reaching back beyond the now neat tale of European arrival and its role in the dissemination of Carnival to the island where after Emancipation, in an act of social resistance, the male, Afro-Trinidadian population appropriated it. This is a good place to enter such an anecdote told to me by John Cupid, the head historian and official anthropologist of the National Carnival Commission (NCC).
For Cupid there was “a tradition of celebration” on the island long before the French arrived, and before that, long before the Spanish came too. A “tradition of celebration going back to the Warrahoon. ” The Warrahoon (also spelt Guarrahoon) were and are a group of Amerindians from the Orinoco delta who the archaeological record states were certainly in the island in the five hundred year period before European arrival.
They were also clearly involved in the Trinidad Carnival of 1848 documented by Charles Day (1852) who when discussing the initial period of Carnival in the island after the beginning of French immigration during the mid 1800s recorded his observations of a Warrahoon masquerade played by half-Indian peons and Africans on the streets of Port of Spain that appeared well established. Today the word “Warrahoon” is often heard in Trinidad as a reprimand when persons, usually men, are behaving wild and uncouth. According to Cupid, “there were always celebrations on the island.
Where we are here on these hills and high valleys of Lopinot there were people…long before the Catholics came, there were celebrations on the island of Kairi” What first grabbed me about Cupid’s version of events is that it does not erase the presence of the Amerindian population, its culture and genetics on the island, which we know existed in plain sight into the early 19th century. Nor does it erase their cultural influence and how a tradition of celebration may have existed there long before Europeans began their colonial conquest of the Caribbean.
This observation did not strike me as particularly hard to believe either because anthropologists and historians have demonstrated the world over the long-established human capacity for celebration. Furthermore, that Wild Indian masquerades are a recorded sight throughout the 19th and 20th centuries at Carnival time and are still seen on the outskirts of today’s “bikini and beads” Trinidad Carnival is evidence an Amerindian strand, and connection to the 19th-century masquerade did exist.
Trinidad Carnival is not a fixed event, it is not a story that has been told forever, and has been evolving with generation. It is a device that can function as an “assemblage, or specific cultural conjunction (Gilroy 1993, Hall 1996) capable of revealing, in an symbolic fashion, the multiple intersections and intensifications of class, race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion and more, that are particular to Trinidad at any moment in time, but have varied, blended and continue to vary at different points in its history.
And this is how Trinidad Carnival, its masquerades and other festival events are used in this project – as cultural products and intersections through which various lines of meaning, power, resistance, discourse, capitalist expansion and more, combine and are revealed at different moments in local social history.
Peter Burke’s (2009:271) work where he points out, “What is clear is that Carnival was polysemous, meaning different things to different people,” it is possible to intimate like Lloyd Best did that Trinidad’s population over time has learned a sense of themselves and their potential for solidarity through participation in, and the allegory of masquerade or “playing mas”.
The plurality of Carnival is particularly significant to Trinidad since the beginning of Carnival in the island – the colonial introduction of Carnival to Trinidad by the French planter class in the late-1700s Carnival here has annually (except for a brief hiatus for WWII) intersected with many of the elements of social structure and system that local scholars work with, such as politics, ethnicity, class, colonialism, race, gender, capital accumulation and globalization. As Errol Hill once noted: The Trinidad Carnival is not simply retention of a European inspired festival.
It may resemble in many characteristic ways the Carnivals of many countries, but its ancestry is different; in Trinidad the Carnival underwent a complete metamorphosis, a rebirth, resulting from peculiar historical and social pressures of the early 19th century. The effect of this metamorphosis was to make the Trinidad Carnival essentially a local product in form, content, and inner significance (Hill). At the beginning of the 20th century and with commercialization of the masquerade offering prizes for the best bands, the formally ‘dangerous’ creatures of the devil band gave birth to a new breed of mas.
James saw a spectacle in the Debordian sense (1990) but with specific post-colonial salience. He peeled back the layers of what seemed a mere sporting encounter to reveal, that on the field, the symbolic violence perpetuated by the social system was being tackled without disrupting the social fabric, something I understand Carnival doing throughout Trinidad’s colonial history allowing individuals to confront structural violence without using actual and regular physical violence. Most bandleaders are no longer portraying mas to the nation or the world, their focus is now on making a profit.
But they aren’t to be blamed because with technology now being the order of the day and nakedness being depicted as societal acceptance on every form of mass communication. Anyone would have seen that over the years, little by little Carnival was changing, evolving to meet the needs of the majority of society. Although the depiction of traditional mas has become limited, Carnival is still a form of expression, both social, cultural and political, whether or not lewd behavior is expressed.
In our constitution, we were granted the right to freedom of expression. Summary In sum, the various discourses and accounts surrounding Trinidad Carnival over time not only provide a narrative thread to tell a story about socio-economic and cultural transformations on the island over the last two centuries and the patterns they have produced, but also what such discourses and narratives hide, support and reconstruct in any articulation of Trinidadian modernity.
Furthermore, in recognition of Gilroy’s modernist “Black Atlantic” thesis (1993) and its resistance that writes the history of slavery, plantation economy and racial genocide back into the picture of Euro-American modernity and progress, the history of Trinidad Carnival and what it is today can help us view and understand the shifting racial-ethnic and class hierarchy of T&T, highlighting how at various times the local population has been made, fragmented and subject to the various accommodations and exploitations of global capitalist expansion.
In this sense my use of Trinidad Carnival, in this dissertation illustrates how the local, nationalist and post-colonial politics of the 20th century Trinidad were negotiated and how this construction failed to redress the violent legacies, both symbolic and real of colonialism, inscribing within the foundations of post-colonialism a cultural logic of racism – the divide and conquer ethos laid by colonialism – tied to transnational forms of wealth creation and economic inequality.
Cite this Carnival Cultural Study
Carnival Cultural Study. (2016, Oct 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/carnival-cultural-study/