Carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

Updated January 31, 2014

And dedicated to Norman Girvan who opened our eyes, our hearts and our minds

To the beauty and the power of this display of the collective soul of the Caribbean.

Carnival takes place this year March 3rd and 4th

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Click on photo to enlarge

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A Gift of Understanding

Annually since 2005, I revisit the Port of Spain of my mind as an exercise to fend off the unwelcome age related cynicism and calcification of the mind-set. It was there, in Port of Spain that I felt my mind open without judgement to the vibrant, corrupting, dynamic, sensual, pulsating, life-affirming, beautifully decadent splendour of Carnival.

Considering novelty with the mind open is generally salubrious for the elderly. Stripping away the detritus of ideas fashionable within the cultures of one’s earlier lives can sometimes lead to gifts of deeper understanding and more profound insights as the brain integrates recent events with the networks of older patterns which it has generated over a lifetime.

I returned to Carnival in Port of Spain in 2009 to confirm that the inoculation that I had received in 2005 to combat prejudice and prejudgement had taken root. It had. Here were the results to prove that its effects were long lasting:

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11002-carnival-youngdancer1Young Dancer

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Epicurean Beauty,
Delicate, fragile,
Ephemeral Beauty,
You are perfectly moulded, Soft Mannequin,
Feeling the shape of ecstacy,
Translating through the  alchemy of music
The heavy percussive invitation into ripples of Human flesh,
Expressing the joyous contagion of movement,
Recounting the urgent tyranny of youth:
Today I spend my beauty,
Tomorrow?
Who cares?

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11002-carnival-olddancer1Old Dancer

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Venerable, elegant, durable,
Ancient but unbowed,
Slight and rigid,
Your actions, though frugal,
Present a generous statement of your love of the dance
How many more times will you feel the life force?
How many more times will you dance
Your defiance of time,
Of age?

Of decay?

Of death?

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My trips back to the Caribbean from Canada tend to overwhelm me, although by now I look forward to being overwhelmed, provided that I can grow from the experiences that overwhelm me. In the region of my birth I usually find myself in a state of near constant psychological arousal. I frequently feel a psychic connection, as if I have caught a fleeting glimpse of my eternity. Carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago has, more than anything else, reminded me that despite only spending the first 15 years of my life in that region and even after 55 years in Canada, the ties that have kept me bound to the Caribbean are part of my authentic self. The music of the Caribbean is an essential part of the psychic ties that still keep me bound. Of course the steel drum orchestras are the very heart of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. They give Carnival in these Islands a distinctive and inimitably attractive quality.

“The steel drum or steelpan is the only acoustic musical instrument invented this (19th)century. The steel orchestra is composed of instruments covering the full range of the conventional orchestra. Six categories of drums make up the orchestra: the tenors, the double second, the guitars, the cellos, the quadro and six pan, the bass, plus the rhythm section. These instruments are made from used oil drums and are extremely versatile. Steelpan music includes not only Afro-Caribbean music but extends to jazz, pop and classical with all distinctive rhythms and tonality of the steelpan instrument.”
(from History of the Steelpan)

IMG_20140203_0004***

Homage to the Steel Bands

My first encounter with the steel bands, the Desperadoes Steel Band on Laventille Hill in Port of Spain, will probably remain the single most indelible impression of my two weeks of wide-eyed pleasure in Trinidad and Tobago for Carnival in February 2009. A diamond, it is said is simply a lump of coal which did very well under pressure. That process, the miraculous transformation from a crude substance to its unrecognizable refined end product seems to be an apt metaphor for my introduction to Carnival. That the Desperadoes Steel Band Orchestra had flourished in an economically depressed area presented a surprisingly appropriate context to the beauty and power of the Steel Band.IMG_20140203_0003***

There was an undercurrent of violence in that area of Port of Spain at that time.  We passed a roadblock composed, of Police and Military forces to get to the top of Laventillle Hill where the Desperadoes had their pan yard (club). This evidence of potential violence, of course pales in contrast to the violence in the environments of slavery from which the Steel Pan tradition emerges.

Despite the oppression and brutality of slavery, despite the attempts to suppress and eradicate the creative spirit, in the music of the steel bands, the underdogs have emerged victorious. By a miraculous transformation, industrial detritus, discarded containers for petroleum have been fashioned into instruments that rival the celestial sounds of the harp. A sonorous alchemy has produced a transformation from enslavement to spiritu and brutality of slavery, despite the attempts to suppress and eradicate the creative spirit, in the music of the Steel Bands, the Underdogs have emerged victorious. By a miraculous transformation, industrial dal freedom through creativity, from industrial waste to a symphony. The irritation of a grain of sand causes the oyster to produce a pearl, pressures over time produce a jewel from a lump of coal and oppression, suppression, repression, were the pressures prerequisite to the creation of the hauntingly beautiful, adamantine, lapidary polished, soft, sweet, metallic hardness of the steel band sounds in the concrete canyons between the rundown buildings of the inner city neighbourhoods of Port of Spain.

Double click on photo page to read the history of one Steelband in the text below.

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Two echoes still reverberate from my encounter with Carnival in Port of Spain:

  1. I was content that, now an old man, I have left behind the imperious dictates of libido and the tyranny of the hormones that feed it. I was able to appreciate with a certain dispassion the beauty of the spectacle, especially the part played by the female participants in a truly humanistic way without the scheming of the male ego.
  2. I was grateful that I was able to find new, non-judgmental eyes to view this enchanting display of a people’s history and to witness through the many activities of Carnival, humanity’s revenge against oppression, not through war but by the triumph of the irrepressible human spirit. Old ways of thinking, eyes blinded by preconceived judgments and received ideas of propriety just would not do since a closed mind gathers no insight.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” (Dr. Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intention)

A Gallery of Photos from Carnival 2009 in Port of Spain

Photos from Norman Girvan and David Thom Dewdney

(Click on the Arrow to Move Carousel of Photos)

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4 thoughts on “Carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

  1. Generally I don’t learn post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do it!
    Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, quite great article.

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