WELCOME TO Carnival where bats, blue devils, sailors and masqueraders in fancy costumes rule the road for the next two days. This is no ordinary celebration. This is a special celebration that includes visitors from around the world who will witness masqueraders demonstrate the unofficial slogan of Trinidad and Tobago – “All o’ we is one.” We live our national anthem – “every creed and race finds an equal place” – better than any other time of year, and we welcome people from everywhere to experience the freedom that many of us take for granted.
We move as one; we dance as one; we think as one on these two days as everyone heads in the same direction towards the Savannah grass. As Kees Dieffenthaller sings, “everybody revelling on the Savannah grass.” Decades of memories have been stamped into that grass, and this Carnival we make more memories to add to our Carnival legacy.
For many people, Carnival is a carefree time – a time to put aside money problems and personal troubles. It’s a time to “free-up” and think of the world as a happy, carefree place. Even though we know that this is not really true, we pretend that it is.
There’s nothing wrong with pretending. Our imaginations have led us here to the costumes we wear, the songs we sing and the music we dance to. Imaginations are powerful because they allow us to visualise a better place – a crime-free place – where everyone is equal and happy.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bottle up that spirit of Carnival to use for the rest of the year when Ash Wednesday comes? For those who say that the world – or even this country for that matter – cannot be a lighter, happier and more fulfilling place, just look to Carnival for inspiration where we do bottle up creativity and energy to let go like we’re opening a genie’s bottle.
When we chip down the road and jump up on the Savannah stage, we create that energy that propels us forward across a stage and across a city. We blend with the spirit of Carnival past, and we remember the good times and the icons of calypso who are no longer with us: Lord Kitchener, who ruled the road; Mighty Shadow, who threatened to “go plant peas in Tobago” but stayed instead to unleash the bassman in all of our heads; Penguin, the master of lyrics who gave us the prophetic Living in Jail; The Original De Fosto Himself, who loved and lived calypso music every day of his life.
Our imaginations can stretch back further to Roaring Lion, a master of recycling hits; Growling Tiger, the first official calypso monarch of Trinidad, and all the calypsonians who have laid down the musical tracks that are part of our memories and part of our heritage. A long list of calypsonians connect us to the griots of the past who offered stories to inspire and sustain us.
We have a glorious cultural history that we need to protect, cherish and preserve – not only in our music and our celebration, but in our literature and architecture. We are much too casual when it comes to paying attention to history and preserving it.
Perhaps, come Ash Wednesday, we can think about ways to live our history better all year round. We are masters of this during Carnival. Why can’t that reverence translate into the rest of the year? Just think what we could do with this country if we could harness the energy and love of Carnival.
And what are the other lessons we can learn from Carnival that can nourish and sustain us through the entire year? We can learn to respect each other and think of each other as equals. We can learn to move as one and not judge each other, and we can even learn to harness the productivity that goes into Carnival and disperse it through other businesses. Carnival is a business, and it seems to be running reasonably well.
As you make your way through the streets today, think of all the lessons that Carnival offers and think of ways in which we can use Carnival to inspire us to build a better future in this country. What do you want to take away from this Carnival? What do you want your children to know about Carnival? What does this experience really mean to you, and how will you remember it? Think about it.
Happy Carnival. Be safe. Be happy.