Like other aspects of
Trinidad Carnival, the political and social circumstances of the times
played a role in influencing the Carnival.
In more recent times in the 20th century, the Carnival has continued
to play its role as a social and political commentator. In World War I and
Ward War II Carnival was suspended, yet it did not stop the calypsonians
from singing against whites or the upper classes (Gilkes 2003). Even
today, "ol mas" played during Jour Ouvert morning, allows the writer to "to
parody negroes who have this sickening obsession with aping everything
White" (Gilkes 2003). This means that despite the entertainment value and
international acclaim of Carnival, there still remains social and political
commentary that has been a tradition of Carnival since its inception. In
the 1960s and 1970s, for example, there was great pride in Africa expressed
through images of Black Power and African Glory, by George Bailey, which
connects Trinidad and Tobago to its historic roots in Africa as slaves were
a large portion of its population historically (Gilkes 2003). The purpose
of Carnival has not changed over the years, and because of this, Carnival
can be seen as deep rooted cultural institution that indicates the current
of political, social, and economic sentiment of its day.
A recent development of Carnival in Trinidad can be seen in Peter
Minshall's development of "dancing mobiles." Minshall considers these to
be "living art that we make fresh every year" (Minshall Official Website
2007). A trained designer, he was responsible for presenting a 'mas at each
Carnival from 1978 to 1990 and again in 1993, 1994, and 1995 as he would
costume two thousand people "in anywhere from thirty to one hundred
different designs, complemented by monumental individual dancing mobiles"
(Minshall Official Website 2007). A spectacular and honored designer,
Minshall, from Trinidad and Tobago, has not shied away from the traditional
controversial nature of the Carnival. In 1995, for example, church
authorities were upset at his "Hallelujah, Part I of the Trilogy" in which
he connected the secular Carnival with a spiritual story of an Angel losing
its righteousness before being reborn (Minshall Official Website 2007). In
this way, Minshall has continued the spirit of Carnival from the past, both
for his spectacular entertainment and artistic ability, and his expression
through his art. A common theme also found in his art is the
"interconnectedness of all things" in which is spiritual in nature, but
also can be seen to reflect Trinidad's varied history which saw its people
influenced by numerous cultures to create an original culture and a truly
spectacular Carnival (Minshall Official Website 2007).
The provocative nature of the Carnival continues to this vary day,
and although the particular details of the Carnival have evolved over the
years, the nature of the Carnival remains unchanged. An example of this is
one recent argument that the Carnival has become too vulgar. A BBC
reporter, Tony Fraser, comments that the Carnival should be about the
"gaining of freedom by the African slave and his desire to make a statement
about it" (Fraser 2006). He maintains in his BBC report that women dress
inappropriately without enough clothes, thus reflecting the
commercialization and evolution of Carnival (Fraser 2006). Religious
organizations are working with the Prime Minister to curtail vulgar aspects
of the Carnival, however, it is the bandleaders who truly maintain the
influence over the aspects of Carnival. This means that the public demands
will be satisfied, as will the continuation of sexual exploration among
women in the masquerades. Alcohol is a bigger problem bandleaders
maintain; self-expression is not something that should be considered a
problem. Ultimately, this means that the controversial nature of the
Carnival, which has been preserved since its origins, will remain an aspect
well into the future.
The historical development of Carnival as an integral part of
Trinidad and Tobago's history has led to its authenticity and its deserving
title as "the greatest show on earth" (Trinidad & Tobago Official Website).
Today there are numerous competitions, commercial recordings, artists who
dedicate their lives to their expression as the scope and impact of the
Carnival has only grown over the years. "It is has given birth to new
music and song, to language and dance, to costumes and masks," and thus is
an incredible artistic achievement (Hill 119). More important, however, is
that the Carnival has developed from the forces that have influenced
Trinidad and Tobago such as slavery, emancipation, repression, immigration,
among many others. This means that the Carnival, despites its evolution,
is a window to the history of the island nation. Very important to all
those involved, increased effort is put into the event each year, and
although many try to duplicate it, that is not possible. The Trinidad
Carnival, because of its rich and varied history truly is "the outstanding
folk festival of the Western World" (Crowley 1954).
The Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago has a history that culminates in
an epic celebration combining the various forces that have influenced the
two islands- beginning with its earliest discovery to the present day. The
notion that Columbus' discovery has an influence on Carnival, as had years
of tension and even positive celebration, indicates the importance of this
event. The official Trinidad and Tobago website calls Carnival the time
...something extraordinary occurs in this nation. Barriers fall. Rank
ceases to matter. Something more fundamental and important suffuses
the air. It is a recognition of the human need to recreate. To play.
To suspend the superficial world of commerce, gossip and politics for
a time, and let deeper values predominate.
This however, is not true, as Carnival is a time that, historically, has
been influenced greatly by the processes of history. Carnival's
development has coincided with Trinidad and Tobago's history. That is why
the Carnival is often the subject of duplication, yet the original cannot
be matched. Strong and varied influences, such as French and African
traditions, as well as colonization, slavery, and political repression have
meshed to create a unique annual celebration. It has been noted that,
"...the function and structure... varied from year to year depending on
the social conditions appertaining," meaning that the Carnival does is in
fact a reflection of the conditions effecting Trinidad and Tobago, and it
has through its history beginning in the late 18th century (Cowley 1985).
Even today, it is a subject of controversy, and that will not change in the
future, as by its inception Carnival celebrates freedom, while challenging
the norms of its day. It is a celebration of freedom, but it also is an
outlet for expression, albeit expression in its highest artistic form.
"Carnival: The Greatest Show on Earth." Trinidad & Tobago Official Website.
Feb 2007. <
http://www.visittnt.com/ToDo/Events/Carnival/background/default.html > .
Cowley, John. "Carnival in Trinidad" The Magazine for Traditional Music
throughout the world.
1995. 27 Feb 2007. < http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/trinidad.htm >
Cowley, John. Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge
Crowley, Daniel J. "The Meanings of Carnival." The Clarion. 27 Feb 1954.
Darway, Norma. "De things dat changed de stigma." The Story of the
Steelpan. 1 March 2005. 25 Feb 2007. <
http://www.trinbagopan.com/darway/01030513.htm > .