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Twenty First Century Carnival In Trinidad Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2046 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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When you think of Trinidad one of the first things that come to mind is carnival. This festival has been an integral part of Trinidadian lifestyle from since 1839 and it is still practiced

throughout the island (Joseph, 2000). Over the past years, the way in which carnival is portrayed has been viewed differently by onlookers and participants; I seek to investigate why some have different views and how their views have impacted the carnival tradition. The festival was introduced to Trinidad by the French during their stay on the island and later practiced by ex-slaves in the 18th century. The original intension of the event was to bring people of different racial and socio-economic backgrounds together annually to have clean fun (Joseph, 2000).

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The ex-slaves took part in a variety of costumed masquerades during the carnival, such as: police and thief, European clowns and dressed up as doctors, nurses and other persons of authority (NALIS, 2004). These performances were all aimed at portraying different people and also making fun of them. However, in recent years people used carnival as an all inclusive party to relieve stress and enjoy soca music on the streets of Trinidad (Gallagher, 2010). Participants have developed a “jump and wave” mentality that caused them to stray from the original tradition of carnival (Cazaboun, 2010). With these traditional themes being put aside, most participants prefer to now wear skimpy clothing and behave in a vulgar manner in public. Soca music also came into play and pushed traditional calypso and steel pan to the side. To the majority this may be pleasing; however, there are the few who find this practice inappropriate and degrading.

There are those persons in society who still stand with the traditional beliefs and practices of carnival. They believe that carnival has become commercialized and its outcomes are having a negative impact on the island (Media and Editorial Projects ltd., 2008). There has also been a decline in need for the “old fashioned” costume designers such as wire benders who make crafty carnival costumes. The introduction of new materials such as fibreglass and cardboard are among one of the causes for the decline, another reason may be because of an increase in the decorated bikini bands instead of framed costumes on display (Holsten, 2000). The newly introduced materials may have the benefit of being easier to flex and may also weigh less, however, using wire is always cost effective (Holsten, 2000). In an interview with a renowned wire- bender Mr. Cito Velasquez by Colin Hosten, Mr. Velasquez referred to present day masquerade as “naked mas” (Hosten,2000). He further stated that there should be a carnival band called “Adam and Eve” because of its equivalence with the portrayal of recent carnival mas. Mr. Velasquez used this new representation of mas as the primary reason for the reduction in need for wire-benders these days (Holsten, 2000).

In an interview with another legendary wire- bender, Mr. Albert Bailey; he claimed that the main reason why young people are staying away from learning the trade is the thought of how much money they would make (Holsten, 2000). Both Velasquez and Bailey had no problem with the change in carnival and the costumes that are used, in fact, Velasquez said he didn’t see anything wrong in looking at half dressed women partying in the streets. The only issue they are worried about is the lack of young people who are interested in learning the skill and the fear that it will disappear when they pass away. It is evident that this is a dying practice in Trinidad; the two men named only three other persons on the island who are capable of wire-bending. All of these persons are over fifty and there are no persons who are seeking to learn the skill.

There are some people who avoid playing “mas” (short for masquerade), primarily for their own safety. They are unable to go where they want or when they want in fear of being robbed or killed. Tourist who visit the island during the carnival season are now being advised not to venture outside wearing jewellery or walking by themselves in the night because of the high crime rate (Ehrenreich, 2009).Also, the large numbers of masked individuals who are masquerading increases the risk of criminal activity and mischief occurring. The time of J’Ouvert (French for day break) has been changed specifically for that reason, moved from 6am back to 4 am. The intention of changing the time was to stop J’Ouvert earlier in hope of fewer incidents occurring.

Security reasons is not the only explanation for avoiding carnival masquerade by some people, several tend to prefer the traditional calypso and steel pan music that was played throughout the streets. Today, there is still a variety of steel pan bands playing, however the big speakers on trucks blasting soca music is now preferred by the majority of participants. The introduction of soca was done in the 1970’s by Lord shorty, who mixed Indian music with calypso creating a more up-tempo music known as solka then later called soca. However, the soca music of the 70’s was much different to what is being played now in carnival mas (Cazaboun, 2010). The 21st century soca was directed towards the younger audience who are able to move with the fast beat for a long period of time. This may not be totally accepted by the older generation who are accustomed listening the sweet sound of steel pan music and the controversial topics in calypso songs. With this in their mind, most of the older generation avoid taking part in present day masquerade and events surrounding it due to the inappropriate music.

Of all the reasons for the shift in the carnival tradition, the most significant would have to be the change in costume style and how carnival is depicted on a whole. The design of costumes has changed significantly compared to traditional figures where persons of the upper class dressed like those of the lower class and the lower class mimicked the upper class whites (Roberts, 2010). A traditional character that was prevalent in Trinidad was the “Pierrot,” a costume that looked somewhat like a clown’s suit mixed with the “diablito” or devil costume from Cuba (Roberts, 2010). There was also Stick fighting competitions, which dates back to the days of slavery where you had men fighting in rings or “gayelles” with sticks (Thompson, 2010). Another festival that was a common part of mas was the canboulay; it occurred early in the morning and represented a slave custom of the burning of sugar cane (Thompson, 2010).

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The characteristic feature of the traditional mas was that the participants were all dressed in full body clothing. Today, most women who play mas in Trinidad on a Tuesday prefer to wear bikinis that are colourfully decorated. This new phenomenon of carnival has created a sense of freedom and unity among the carnival goers. They are able to put aside all their stress of life and enjoy mas for two days without being restricted (Amazing-Trinidad-Vacation, 2009). Spectators argue that the traditional full bodied costume can display more design, however, the majority of participants are not interested in dressing for costume art, but more for the party aspect of it. There has also been a shift in gender ratio within carnival mas in Trinidad; before, men prevailed in carnival, however with the newly introduced style of costumes, women are becoming more and more interested. Because of its increasing popularity, Trinidad’s carnival has also been referred to as the world’s greatest street party (Amazing-Trinidad-Vacation, 2009).

The new “style” of carnival is nonetheless promoted as a result of the amount of tourist that flock the island during the carnival season and the economic benefits it has provided to the country. This is the reason why the “beads and bikini” mas is developing and more people are playing that mas every year. The people of Trinidad have adapted to this form of mas and some claim they cannot do without it. In his words, Assad-Perry (2005) states that “I’ve resigned from jobs if I couldn’t get the time of to go;” this demonstrates the dependence of a festival on some people to get away from the everyday stress of life (Fraser, 2005). Trinidadian carnival has exchanged the traditional spirit in preference of a tourist attraction and party purposes. The tourists see it as a vacation from their everyday lives, hence the reason so much of them travel every year to experience the festival in Trinidad.

Behind all the partying and festivities of carnival masquerade, there is also the business side of it. Carnival mas camps see the opportunity to take advantage of the growing attraction and therefore raise their prices for a costume. It is estimated that the price of a package for a carnival mas can reach over seven hundred US dollars, almost doubling how much a traditional costume would cost (Gallagher, 2010). This package is inclusive of food, costume, drinks and personal security. This increase in price for a costume is posed as a problem to participants who are not financially able to afford a modern costume. It has allowed individuals who are privileged to partake and somewhat limit the amount of lower class representatives of society from the mas (Ehrenreich, 2009). These persons who are not able to pay for the package ultimately resort to forcing their way into the band, hence the need for security personnel surround the bands. The owners of the bands specifically try to keep out people who don’t belong in the band mainly because of the risk they may pose to loosing the competition. These are all issues which were not present in traditional Trinidad mas, issues that now seem to play a big role in the success of carnival.

With all of these attributes that carnival has developed over the years it is still proudly celebrated by the people of Trinidad and tourists alike. People play carnival in Trinidad now more than ever and it has proven itself in benefiting the country economically. However, it is argued that carnival has become a commercialized festival, in that people are now looking at how much money they can make and ignoring the essence of carnival. Some individuals believe that Trinidadian people have lost the true meaning of carnival in exchange for a practice that is indecent and vulgar in some areas. Traditional skills that were associated with costumes have become diluted and would soon be lost if there is no one interested in learning them. Most of the older generation who were exposed to the “old time” carnival now avoid carnival mainly because of how it is celebrated today. Then you have individuals who stay away from carnival for their personal safety, they claim because of this “new” type of mas carnival has become more dangerous and it is too risky to play anymore.

The younger generation see carnival at a different point of view; they believe it is a time that they have their freedom to do what they want without being judged for their actions. For some women this has been an occasion where they can look their best and expose as much of their body parts as possible. In months leading up to the carnival season, gyms have become crowed as a result of persons who wish to tone their bodies for the carnival festival. All of these are motives which result in people spending more money and businesses are benefiting from this expenditure. The mas camps have claimed to make close to ten million TT dollars every year as a result of the amount of costumes they sell during the carnival season (Ehrenreich,2009). It is true that the traditional carnival is being sacrificed for commercial purposes; however there should be some part of the festival that seeks to maintain the true meaning of carnival therefore attracting those who prefer “old time” mas and at the same time promoting “pretty mas” for those who enjoy and participate in it.


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