Trinidad and Tobago Carnival in Danger?


Here are excerpts of Janine Mendes-Franco’s article “Trinidad & Tobago Carnival in Danger?” (Global Voices). [Many thanks to Jo Spalburg for bringing this item to our attention.]

This year’s Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is practically over, but it has inspired a slew of blog posts – some explaining various aspects of the celebrations, but others lamenting the state of the festival.

Tony Deyal, writing at Abeng News Magazine, described it like this: “I am in Trinidad. It is hot and dry. The roads are crowded. The murder rate is high. The nights are noisy. It is a silly season beyond reason, adequate description and financial sanity. It is Carnival time.” The rest of his post was mostly a recollection of the “Old Time Carnival” of his childhood, but even amidst the revelry, he noted: “What struck me was that there was always an undercurrent of violence- perhaps because the majority of the people worked in the cane-fields, made their living with cutlasses and spent most of their recreation time in the rum shops. It was the way disputes were settled and started.”

Back in the present day, Mark Lyndersay, via a series of thoughtful posts, contemplated the challenges facing “Carnival’s leadership”. Naturally, he consulted “people whose work [he] enjoy[s] and who also have both opinions on and skin in the festival”. His experts included Leslie-Ann Boisselle, a ten-time queen of Carnival contestant who suggested that calypso should be taken out of Dimanche Gras: “Leave the kings and queens for Dimanche Gras because tourists don’t understand the calypso but the visual medium of the mas resonates with them.” She believes that both shows, a calypso final and a costume based Dimanche Gras could be “tight, well coordinated productions, professionally produced…make it something that could be filmed and marketed for sale, something that could be run on international tv as a two-hour special.”

Kenwyn Murray, part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies Carnival Studies Unit, thought that there should be more training in the Carnival arts: “What we admire about the mas of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is what we forget about it. They came out of yards, where there was informal training going on. The event has moved out of ritualistic expression to a larger commercial activity. There has been unchecked growth and people have been participating in an ad hoc way, based on what they know and what they can rely on. Training in the industry needs to be looked at deliberately.” [. . .]

[Mark Lyndersay] summarized the state of Carnival by saying: “Tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, there will be much celebratory backpatting on the success of another edition of the festival. This will happen regardless of the conspicuous failures of so many State sponsored events to galvanise public interest or to contribute to the formation of anything that might resemble a sustainable Carnival economy. Next up is Lent, when the literal eating of fish will accelerate, despite another year’s lost opportunity during Carnival to meaningfully engage the metaphor of making fishers of men.” [. . .]

Janine Mendes-Franco is a media producer based in Trinidad and Tobago and a blogger at WIM.

For full article, see

Image above: “Jab Molassie” by Quinten Questel; see and

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s