Trini Carnival is powerful


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Category: Trinidad Society 06 Mar 11

Carnival for me this year began with the living legend Len “Boogsie” Sharpe playing the pan for his dead friend Keith Smith, lying in a coffin in front of him at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-of-Spain. I felt like I was in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel; that reality was suspended. The way those sounds of the pan swirled, penetrated and rose high in that Georgian and Gothic edifice. Where you were expecting to see an entire orchestra, pianos, a clear sweet flute, a Spanish guitar, there was only one man, with a single pair of hands that moved so swiftly they appeared invisible...and a steel drum.  Well, I tell you that wine of astonishment went straight to my head. After that I was able to notice the poui, the music trucks, the steady thrum of a Carnival fete, gladden at this season’s slower kaiso, wonder at the timelessness of David Rudder, and whole heartedly admire Kees’ resemblance to Michelangelo’s David—those abs, that face, that could launch a thousand ships. I thought I got away this year. I really wasn’t in the mood. But she got me in the end. That’s the Trini Carnival. This week I offer a paean to Carnival with excerpts from columns written over 13 years.

January 8, 1998

“Bacchus: Origin: Roman: God of wine and intoxication. Bacchus was worshipped extensively and commanded a number of festivals including the Liberalia and Bacchanalia. These possess strongly phallic connotations and on occasion the god was represented by a model phallus. Dear reader, I still haven’t learned how to wine. My first true, true Trini fete was Veni Mange. We were dancing to a great calypso. You know the one. It had the words wine, jump, wave and bum bum in it. There, my escort gravely informed me I couldn’t “wine”.  I was appalled at the prospect of being a social outcast so I looked around me to learn. Slim and tubby women and men had their eyes closed as if they were in a trance. They were dead serious. Their lips were pursed, held inward with the effort of concentration. Occasionally, they would roll their head down and their hips side to side simultaneously. They didn’t move their legs but their hip area moved back and forth, to and fro, to such perfect, intricate timing that the groin area appeared detachable. My head began to spin and all I saw was undulating groins. I wiggled. My escort shook his head. I shook my hips. He laughed. So feeling insecure I drank four rum-and-coke in succession and I waved and jumped, waved and leapt, flung my hands and tossed my head and, when nobody was looking, furtively tried a wine.

Yes, the phallus is a glorious release, an affirmation of life for adults who take it for no more than it is (which is why wining is necessary to the mas and I have to learn it).  But it needs to be put into its place. When the lower regions stop engaging the upper regions then you are simply left with an isolated groin. And groins don’t think. For those people who can return to the upper regions, groin worship is fine, but what about the people who are victims of a failed education system, poverty, unemployment, abandonment?  What do they do with unadulterated groin?  When the party is over all they have is a bottom on the road.  And next time the preacher man comes with some message about respecting women, nurturing children, education or building the country, they steups and wine down the place.  What a waste, turning this glittering Caribbean humanity into a mass of disembodied groins.”

Sunday February 27, 2000

A Carnival Diary

Will never ever drink in life again namely because I had no idea of the one tequila, two tequilas, three tequilas, floor truism.  It’s an ugly vile habit that can kill people.  First, have to get over dislike of people who have beatific smiles on their faces and say they don’t need to drink to have a good time.  How else can you get over the boredom of seeing the same faces over and over and over again, bursting your eardrums with songs about sapodillas and nine-inch bananas?”

Monday February 28, 2000

Asked the mild-mannered baby-faced waiter in a restaurant tonight what he thought of women who got drunk.  His oily face hardened and sounding like a Bin Laden faithful, he says with mindless fervour: “Women who drink are disgusting.  Women should always be pleasant and carry themselves with dignity. They should not cheapen themselves with alcohol or cigarettes.” “What about men who smoke and drink?” I asked. “It’s not so bad,” he replied.

Wednesday March 1, 2000

Nostalgia—Dusty golden twilight. The breeze carries lime and jasmine into the conversation on the porch. The “old man” was saying there are three things he will never change—his religion, his mas (Berkeley) and his steelband (All Stars). “The steelbands were named after the famous movies of our day: Casablanca, Renegades, Desperadoes. Carnival was watching All Stars panmen stack the bottom half of their steelpans with empty bottles and cover it with leaves waiting to block Invaders at Frederick and Oxford streets; listening to the repartee between the “Pierrot Grenades” French puppets, challenging one another on Shakespeare, and historical figures. It was the “swish, swish, swish of the boots of a thousand strong band, seeing them fellers crawl commando style through Independence Square; it was the year pan shook when Despers came out with big guns, giving pans a wider, deeper range; it was chipping to Handels’ Messiah in between kaiso tunes at last lap.”


Sunday March 5, 2006

(On the Carnival Critics)

The critics: They say we are racially divided; that we are lazy; that we are never on time; that half of us are illiterate; that we don’t deliver meetings, goods, calls, letters when we say we will; that we don’t save; that we don’t develop; that we have no moral compass. That we continue to be a transshipment point for drugs whose victims are boys who sell, steal, kill and get shot for it. They say we live one day at a time.
We shrug. Maddeningly. As if we know something they don’t. We do. We don’t know how it happened.  It just did. Blind love? So what? Love is blind.”


February 3, 2008

Where is this violence coming from?

In the crumpled newspaper on the passenger’s seat, I spot the headline of the man who pumped 23 bullets into a woman. The day before, a man pumped 12 into another man. It was not enough to shoot to kill, but someone shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot. I wince writing the word 12 times. I don’t want to write it 23 times. Someone was angry enough to pull the trigger that many times. God knows why in this boom town, people are so angry, honking, screeching tyres, shaking fists. Carnival fires its own momentum. It’s an unstoppable organic thing. Stops for no one. Nobody notices the people who don’t go out. The music has leaked. The pan filters in. An old face cracks into a wide happy smile. A tiny girl jumps up and down in her costume. For now, that’s enough to hold our tattered T&T identity together. ” We’ll meet again when the dust settles.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur