No Caribana = Bad Trinidadian?

I find myself conflicted about Caribana/Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival.

Actually, no, I don’t. I’m not conflicted at all. I don’t go to Caribana and I have no desire to go. This is apparently strange because as a Trinidadian living in Toronto, that’s one of the first questions I get asked this time of year. My response to the question is generally, “Nope, I don’t go. That probably makes me a bad Trini.”

But bad Trinidadian or not, the one and only time I went to Caribana I was so disappointed I’ve never been back.

My parents played Carnival. In fact, they participated in all aspects of Carnival in Trinidad – the fetes, J’Ouvert, pretty mas on Monday and Tuesday, Dimarche Gras and Panorama.

My brother, sister and I were left with our grandmother or one of our aunties. Even then we would go look at the parades, jump up, dance with the bands and collect the sparkles and feathers from the costumes.

As for me, I never got to play adult mas. I used to play Kiddies’ Carnival but because I came to Canada when I was 19 and prior to that I was working on my A-levels, there was no opportunity to play.

That’s why I went down to check out Caribana. After all, it was brought up here by Trinidadians and it should be almost as good, right?

I didn’t think so.

It took me a while to figure out why I didn’t automatically gravitate to Caribana. After all, I’m a Trinidadian, I should be wining down the place in my best bikini, feathers and sequins.

I was disappointed in Caribana because I felt that it has lost the original point of the festival. Carnival evolved from a long history of slavery, ownership, protests and censorship, and the point of the festival was that everyone could participate even if you didn’t buy a costume. Putting up fences to keep the masqueraders in and the viewers out seems to negate one of the major points of the celebration.

Part of me also resents the expectation that I have to participate in Caribana just because I’m a Trinidadian.

I asked my dad his thoughts on Caribana. He said, cautioning me that it was just his opinion, “To me Carnival is a time to let go and just enjoy and if that involves having a few drinks and letting down your hair even better. All that leads to Caribana- too structured, can’t really party, everything is so controlled.

“It’s good that we try to retain a part of our culture and when I attended the launching of Caribana at Nathan Phillips square a few times I enjoyed it but still didn’t get the buzz that I used to in Trinidad. I missed a few years and then saw some stuff this year and there was really no change in the costumes. Maybe it is true that, having taken part in the real thing, it’s difficult to get excited over a knock off.”

I do realize that you can’t transplant the exact event from one country to another and this post makes me a whiny bitch but perhaps taking some of the fences down and encouraging a more open atmosphere might freshen up the festival.

My soundtrack when writing this article – some very classic calypso:

“Sugar Bum Bum” Lord Kitchener

“Drunk and Disorderly” Mighty Sparrow

“Maxi Dub” Bally

This post is part of the Ethnic Aisle, a blog about issues of race, ethnicity and culture in the GTA.

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