Activist Pearl Eintou Springer lamented the “African was being pushed out of the Carnival.” She was speaking at a panel discussion themed Reclaiming. The Carnival: History of Resilience and Resistance, at the National Library, Port-of-Spain. She was joined by spoken-word poet Muhammed Muwakil. It formed part of the Kwame Ture Memorial Lecture Series 2012 hosted by the Emancipation Support Committee. Among those present were its chairman, Khafra Kambon and his spouse Asha. Springer said: “The people don’t have any knowledge of the importance of Carnival and of its roots historically, and its role as an instrument of social expression and social cohesion, and its possibility for transformation and regeneration. The people don’t have knowledge of a people’s ability to survive.
There is critical need for the knowledge of the African to be spread in the communities, she said. “The knowledge is not only about Carnival. It is not only about critical resistance and retention. It is about a people’s ability to survive after all the challenges...after suffering the worst holocaust. The same people who cursed it and lambasted before are the same people who are embracing it. “The Carnival is being taken away from us. The African is being robbed of this Carnival. It is being taken away from us.” “The Carnival is now being taken away because they (the business sector) are now seeing it as economically relevant. It is now good for them. The people in east Port-of-Spain can’t sell a snocone. Nobody looks at the Hill...the barrack yards of Port-of-Spain.” She also felt the skills of seamstresses and wirebenders should be utilised more for sewing costumes and designing mas. “We have a whole industry waiting to be tapped into. We can make use of skilled seamstresses. We have to make use of brothers and sisters who have the skills. We need to make more use of wirebenders,” added Springer. Waxing passionate about the paltry remuneration for boismen, who feature prominently in the re-enactment of the Canboulay Riots, Springer said: “Boismen are being paid about $200. They can get their head bust or their eye gouged out for $200.”
Need for education
Despite repeated attempts by the colonial authorities to stamp out Carnivalesque celebrations, the festival has emerged into what historian Donald Wood describes as the “most magnificent expression of Trinidadian culture.” It survived because of the resistance from the lower classes, who were adamant about preserving their values, mores, traditions and patterns of life. Yet, Springer felt there was the need for increased cultural education to ensure the transmission of knowledge to future generations. While working with children at Rose Hill and Piccadilly Streets, she was shocked that few children had ever heard about the Canboulay Riots. Before Emancipation (August 1, 1834), the slaves celebrated Canboulay to commemorate one of the few excitements on the plantations, a fire in the canefields. Around the 1840s Canboulay, with its torches and stickfights, merged into the Carnival. “We gave them hoops to play douen (a folkloric character) and they could not do it.” Springer said: “The challenge is defending our culture because if our cultural institutions are dead...we are dead.” She lauded the mas for its spirituality. The tradition of masqueraders caking themselves with mud for J’Ouvert celebrations was rooted to the Yoruba myth in which “man was created with a special kind of mud, fire and water.” The late great bard, Mighty Duke (Kelvin Pope) came in for kudos. His classic Black Is Beautiful headlined numerous J’Ouvert portrayals.
Working our issues through theatre
In his contribution, Muwakil, shared some of his experiences as a student at St Mary’s College and his theatrical expertise. While working with the youth, he found a lot of the young men could identify with the dance of the Midnight Robber, and that a lot of the young women could work out the Baby Doll character. They could work out some of their issues through theatre. Theatre allowed them to be any person they wanted to be in a moment.” But the more poignant message he wanted to get out to the society was the need “to bridge the generational gap.” He added: “It sounds like a cliche. But it is real.” While any solid society reveres the elderly and their wisdom, he felt it was mandatory to not “discount young people and their ability to build.” He felt the younger generation had an additional strength since they could separate themselves. “We are able to embody ourselves from the first instance.” He was disheartened “society had failed to recognise people of multiple and different intelligences.” He paid tribute to icons like Stalin, Valentino and Shadow, who worked hard to achieve iconic status. Summing up his sentiments, he said: “Carnival is a womb. A womb is a factory.”