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**

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Carne Vale

I have never been to Carnival in Trinidad or Rio, though I have been to the Notting Hill Carnival in London. I know that there is no comparison between the last and the first two, and many would say that nice though the Trini Carnival is, it's nothing on Rio, which is often about having nothing on. I've been to Crop Over and Kadooment, and I know that these events are not the same as the Trini Carnival.

I imagine that no one plastering themselves with mud and paint, or looking to win' up on someone really cares where the name comes from: it's time for carnival. Webster's dictionary would have us believe that the origin comes from the Italian carne levare, meaning 'to remove meat', since meat is prohibited during Lent, according to several religious customs. Some, however, believe that the origin is from the Greek prefix carn ('meat eater'), referring to a cart in a religious parade, such as a cart in a religious procession at the annual festivities in honour of the god Apollo. It's easy with these roots to move to 'a farewell to the flesh', or things carnal, conclusion. However, when one watches carnival celebrations it's hard to see that anyone is letting go of anything, and some are often trying hard to get their teeth into flesh and more. It's a carefree time.

A Bajan friend, with a strong dramatic background, shared with me her thoughts and a few pictures from the recent celebrations in Port of Spain.

The official 'jump up' days take place on Monday and Tuesday (Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, in the Christian calendar), with Ash Wednesday and the commencement of Lent coming immediately afterwards. People go into these two days as a delightful excuse to engage in all things carnal, meaty and fleshy before praying and fasting or giving up some vice for 40 days and 40 nights - or however long they can last.

She played with a band called 'Africa - Her people, her glory, her tears'. The bandleader and designer, Brian Macfarlane (www.macfarlanecarnival.net) is the official masquerade man (since Peter Minschal retired) who makes artistry out of what is masquerade. The band is full of art aficionados, or more disparagingly, the 'artsy fartsy' crowd, who see masquerade as story-telling en masse. This year, the group told the 'story' of Africa, in 18 sections depicting different tribes from all over the continent.

My friend was supposed to be 'Himba from Namibia', reflecting a real Himba woman she had met on a trip to Namibia. She had taken a trip in 2007 to the north of Namibia to the Himba 'region', where she went to work with an organisation called OYO, which works on social development. For her, then, the masquerade was more realistic; in her mind, she said "I AM HIMBA". In all honesty, the ladies of the band didn’t look anything like those real Himba women, not least because it is still seen as indecent exposure to walk the streets of Trinidad with bare breasts (or at least blatant nipples showing).

The kind of costumes the 'Africa' group wore was in direct contrast to the other more prevalent form of ‘bikini & beads’ mass with which the elite (like my friend) take much umbrage. While for most participants the bikini is de rigeur for playing mas, for the die-hard thespians there is no story behind it.

But, carnival is about so many things--including freedom and celebration--so it would seem true to say that, the closer you are to being naked and free, the closer you are to whatever is the meaning of carnival. I hardly ever see anyone who is vexed by the bikini mass. I suspect that there is more than a little 'I wish I could', that is evident in some commentary on FLOTUS Michelle Obama's arms that show so prominently from her sleeveless outfits.

On Carnival Monday, Macfarlane gave the players three pieces of cloth and sent them along their merry way to ‘get creative’: "You is art, now do some craft." The upside of that is that everyone is supposed to be part of the artistry.The creativity with which people showcased themselves and their ideas was awesome.

On Carnival Tuesday the band decked themselves out in their Himba gear, supposedly depicting a Himba Bride and groom, and hit the streets from 8 in the morning.

Although casual observers may not realise it, Carnival is a competition, so there are about four judging points to pass during the day, culminating with the main one at the Queen’s Park Savannah, which some don't pass until about 7 at night – under the lights. That was 'Africa's' fate – Macfarlane ain’t no fool. It was sheer pageantry.Every time the band crossed a stage, they did a very elaborate dance routine (yet simple enough for the tourists). My friend led the Himba section. No one told her what the band had to do, but as a drama teacher she let ALL the drama come out...within the realms of decency!

At the end of the two days, MacFarlane won band of the year, and my friend won 'best time of my life' award. (Clearly, my party had been a passing fantasy, but I wont be bitter.) She says that it was a 'once in a lifetime bacchanal' – until the next.

My friend parteed with a mixed crowed. A New Yorker who lives in Brooklyn; a Trini-Brit couple--he was on his third carnival and managed very well; and a Bajan sistren who has just moved back home from London. All good things must end and in the end some were flat out on their backs. That's what I call having a good time.

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