FOR many, the dust has settled on Carnival 2019. But for at least one advocacy group in Tobago, the national festival must be revisited with a view to having the island host a separate Carnival from Trinidad.
Kelvon Morris, spokesman for Citizens In Support of Tobago Development, said the group is planning to host a stakeholders’ conversation this week to thrash out the issue, which has been a long-standing debate on the island.
Saying Carnival has become more than culture, Morris believes the festival must be used to boost tourism in Tobago.
Morris said, “Every year, it pains me to see millions wasted without any real returns, yet we fuss about the Jazz festival which has a track record of actually bringing both international and domestic tourists to the island, with a proven spend by the visitors that outweighs the investment of the THA.”
He added, “This weekend while I was in Trinidad, I observed Barbados was there promoting Crop Over, Grenada promoting Spice mas among all the other islands. Yet, little Tobago was busy spending $7 million dollars for locals to enjoy a 'blocko.'
"I will never understand nor subscribe to this thinking. It pains me that no one has not yet found the testicular fortitude to say enough is enough and make a serious intervention to make our Carnival competitive and a serious tourist attraction we can leverage to both Trinidad and the rest of the world at an alternative date and time.”
Carnival events in Tobago have been experiencing poor turnouts, especially in Scarborough, with few J'Ouvert revellers and pretty mas spectators. While Morris believes Tobago is wasting time and money competing with Trinidad Carnival, he said he does not propose stopping the event.
“Perhaps we allow this Carnival – the national festival – to be managed by the National Commission and we put on a second Carnival at a different date, whether it be an extension of this one or run by the Tobago Festival Commission.
“I do not have all the answers, nor do I profess that I do, hence why I am calling for a stakeholders conversation, where an intervention can be had on behalf of creating a more successful product that is viable and beneficial to the people of Tobago – both from a socio-economic and cultural point of view,” he said.
“I just wanted to be the vehicle to bring people together and let us hear from those who really love the artform, know about the artform and want to see a real change. I do not profess to be an expert in what Carnival is or what Carnival should be but I am a Tobagonian that knows that things need to be done differently,” he said.
The issue of a separate Carnival for Tobago has been a long-standing discussion, with former culture minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters previously saying that having a separate Carnival in Tobago at another time of year is a viable proposition.
The idea was supported by soca superstar and 2019 Road March winner Machel Montano.
Morris said: “I’ve witnessed a continuous decline of the participation in Tobago Carnival in terms of the general quality of the production and, for me as a Tobagonian watching this, it pains me to the core.
“I honestly and passionately believe there needs to be some kind of intervention. I have spoken to persons at the level of the Assembly and the Festivals Commission and there is no kind of inclination to make any real change to what is happening at this time,” he added.
On Carnival Tuesday, disgruntled by the viewer participation on the streets, Morris took to Facebook to vent his concerns and he received an outpouring of support.
“People just waiting to hear when we would have these conversations, and there are so many people that want to be a part; so many people want to be on-board and so many people want to see this happen. I am really enthused and excited at the responses thus far,” he said.
He said some Tobagonians are still on the fence about the issue and some are unwilling to shake things up.
“I think, as usual, Tobagonians just simply feel that if they speak out against status quo they would be victimised. So, people stay in their own space and they have their own opinions that might be different from what the status quo is, but continue to allow things to happen,” he said.
A date for the meeting is yet to be set.