Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, August 06, 2007

Crop over

Today, we went to our first Kadooment Day celebration (see link for a good history and pictures). Kadooment marks the end of the Crop Over season, which in its origins was all about celebrating the end of the sugar cane season. Crop Over's origins are far in the background for most people, who use the weeks of Crop Over to fete big time (ie, make party) and then play mas' (ie jump up, wind up, and wuk up to the beat of the Soca music that has been released for the season). Rain started in the middle of the morning, and made for a much cooler day for everyone. The rain did not dampen the spirits of the mascaraders. If anything, it gave them reason to put out even more energy.

Kadooment is a full day affair and the start at the National Stadium in the morning is good to see all the bands, but it's tame compared to going on the street or jumping behind a truck into the night. There is plenty of colour to see in the stadium but much less atmosphere and energy. Also, the descriptions of the costumes start to wear thin after the first few bands have passed.

We went to various parties, and pre-parties, over the weekend, having a good time and seeing the different ways that people lime during the Crop Over season. Luckily, we have made friends with Bajans and people who have lived here a long time and are ready to include us in some of these social events. Our visitors from The Bahamas and Belgium get to taste some of this too.

We spent some time over the weekend arguing about the cultural content of Kadooment compared to Junkanoo (see link), which is a similar street event that takes place in The Bahamas (principally, in Nassau) over the Christmas and New Year period. I think every one of the Caribbean countries has strong feelings about its main people-in-the-streets event, whether Carnival, Kadooment, or Junaknoo or whatever. A lot of effort and energy is put in by all involved. In Barbados and Trinidad, for instance, costumes are mainly made for the performers to buy and wear. In The Bahamas, most performers spend a good amount of time making their own costumes (see picture of performer in Nassau).Each event has its own cultural richness, which comes from what people put into their part of the event (participating on the street or supporting from the side). It's funny, though, that the events seem to be mired in some sort of controvery each year, wherver they are held. In Nassau, one of the major controversies each year is about the judging. The festivals are also developing. Junkanoo costumes are essentially paper (now crepe) and card. Traditionalists may still feel that the event has good very far from its origins by moving from fringed newspaper, to now include beads, glitter, and feathers. If the style is to have costumes made for sale, so be it; this may give more people a chance to do what they want rather than finding scarce time to do another activity. It also creates another industry and that could be a benefit down the road (so to speak) when one thinks about ways of marketing the region's culture. Both events are now very colourful and energetic, and still manage to get a lot of people out of their homes to watch or jump each year. Junkanoo is also different in that the bands have their own music (with drums, horns and cow bells, which give the parade a very different kind of energy as the bands pass the crowds).

One thing that surprised me was seeing the Blue Box Cart band. This band was made up predominantly of over 1,000 white people (see clip below from a 2006 video); the band has been around for some 35 years. It put in front of the audience again one of those realities of Barbados, which is separation of the races. Given that Barbados' population is between 90-95 percent black, seeing predominantly black groups would not be a surprise.

This year 23 bands took part in Kadooment (29 last year), with an estimated 12,000 people. Blue Box Cart is one of several very large bands, with some 1,200 members. The largest band was reportedly Baje International, with 1,600, followed by Power By 4, with 1,500. All bands are being hit by soaring costs. Kadooment costume sales are estimated to be B$ 3.6 billion. It costs about B$ 300-390 for a costume; then a music truck reportedly costs B$ 10,000 (a lot of non-performers are needed to make the show run well). About 200 members are needed to make a good band, but 300-400 is probably better. However, the high costs have apparently put some long-standing veteran organizers on the brink of quitting (see report in The Nation, July 29).

Crop Over is a major event for Barbados and from a short time here it's clear that it brings in lots of visitors from elsewhere in the Caribbean, with or without Bajan roots. Some make the visit a ritual and no amount of inconvenience seems to deter them, as one Trini man told me after he had to island hop because he could get no direct flight. The music and events generate lots of fun, and visitors seem to be very glad to be part of these festivities. Only ten months to go till next year's events!


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed your kadooment experience.

However I think you have mistaken the Blue Box Cart band as an eliteist notion. It is a mixed band, however it comes from Harbour Lights which is where a lot of tourists and visitors from overseas go to lime. As such it has a bigger influx of tourists, but it is a completely mixed band.

Anonymous said...

I disagree strongly. I am a Bajan and it disgusts me to see the predominantly white Blue Box Cart band allowed to go first every year so they don't have to mix with non-white Bajans. The few brown and black people in the band are the token ones! Barbadian society continues to be stratified on the basis of race and class and its very evident to those who are brave enough to acknowledge it.

Dennis Jones said...

If you have not seen it there is an interesting twist on this discussion on the Notes from the Margin blog (http://notesfromthemargin.wordpress.com).