You are here
The plot, several characters and many words in this column were lifted, mutatis mutandis, from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Mr Jones De Verteuil, of the Great House, had meant to lock the animals in their pens one Carnival Sunday night, but was too drunk to realise he’d snapped the padlocks on wide-open gates. So, when he drove his old Bentley down the plantation drive to the Country Club fete, the animals walked to the Savannah to listen to Old Major McWilliams, who was already ensconced in the bleachers the French Creole men had built for the costumed band parade.
First came the three dogs—Sparrow, Kitchener and the pup, Shadow. Then came the pigs, all of them black, except for one pinkish one called Colm Humphrey. The two cart-horses, African Boxer & Injun Clover, came in, carefully setting down their great hooves lest there be some small animal concealed in the grass. Then came Muriel Mc-Donawa, leading a brigade of fat asses. Last came the donkey, Benjamin Commentator, the oldest animal in the fete, who seldom talked except to make cynical remarks in his newspaper column, for example saying that God had given Trinidad political parties lots of letters in their acronyms but not one idea in their heads.
“Comrade Sufferers,” bellowed Old Major McWilliams, “Carnival is an aristocratic French Creole Catholic festival. No part comes from the animal-roots, except the songs we sing to help us bear our burden, which they corrupt into their Road March, making merry while we suffer. They actually jump up on us, get up on their high truck, elevating themselves and reducing us to mere admirers of their masquerade. They research their costumes and portrayals carefully, all the better to parade their superiority over us. And what do we get from the Carnival? The chance to stand at the side of the road and sell cold beers to them? Comrade-Sufferers, we must make the Carnival better for all animals!”
Old McWilliams died peacefully in a deep sleep, induced by speeches of Trinidadian nation-building politicians, without himself seeing an animal fete. But, one year—1970—at Carnival, after a particularly vicious whipping, the animals broke from their stalls and took to the streets, and when the French Creoles saw these creatures running wild, they fled their trucks, abandoning the Carnival to the animals.
The first animal carnivals were glorious. Led by a piglet called Snow-Minsh-ball, the animals presented masquerades improving upon the French Creole idea. Animals began to feel paradise had not been lost and they could cleanse themselves of the rat race in the river of possibility of an animal Carnival. The music, lifted to new heights by the pup, Shadow, was given the Rudder it desperately needed, and the animal fete got better and better every year.
Under the slogan “Four chords good, two chords bad,” the animals set out seven commandments to keep the animal fete going strong: 1. Whatever includes all o’ we is good. 2. Whatever keeps out any o’ we is bad. 3. No animal shall copy Carnival costumes. 4. No animal shall repeat the same mas under a different name next Carnival. 5. All costumes must be made by hand in Trinidad. 6. Every animal Carnival band must have a steelband in it. 7. All animals are equal. And then the pigs started to play themselves. Overheating in their jackets, choking on their ties, the pigs began making rules to protect pig interests. They drove Snow-Minsh-ball out of the Carnival and, when they found the mas boring, thought they could make it better by offering what pigs themselves wanted: larger-and-larger cash prizes for bands growing thinner-and-thinner in concept, design and execution, until there was nothing left to animal Carnival costumes but bathing suits covered in glitter, beads and feathers.
With the sheep bleating, “Four chords good, 250 beats-per-minute better,” the pigs kept the first animal fete commandment in name but dishonoured it in practice via the all-inclusive” fete, which really excluded everyone who couldn’t pay $1,000 for doubles and Cristal. No design whatever went into costumes so that the whole new profession of repeat-costume spotter grew up. (“You cyar have that green-and-white bikini section you calling Magic Island in Tribe, becaw Harts play that last year, excepting they call it Eco System.”) The animal Carnival began to be made entirely in China and shipped to Trinidad in cardboard boxes. The more ridiculous the animal Carnival became, and the more repetitive and inane the soca grew, the more determined African Boxer and Injun Clover were to have a good time and keep the animal fete going by any means necessary. “I will jump higher,” said Boxer, and he began going to three all-inclusive fetes he couldn’t afford instead of two; and, in those fetes, African Boxer and Injun Clover got on wilder and wilder, waving their forelegs in the air and jumping up like they just didn’t care if their hooves crushed smaller animals.
And the pigs in their jackets-and-ties (and, occasionally, US$1,000-gym boots) threw money about more wildly, and everyone stopped drinking rum and started calling for champagne. And the animal-sufferers looked from the French Creole Carnival to the animal fete, and it would have been impossible to say which was which except that, in the animal fete, they could no longer stand at the side of the road and sell cold beers to masqueraders.
BC Pires is not jumping and waving but waving and drowning. E-mail your Chinese steelpans to him at [email protected].
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.