THE 2019 edition of the Tobago Heritage Festival kicks off tonight at the Shaw Park cultural complex.
Titled An Authentic Educational Experience, the festival is one of Tobago’s flagship cultural events, showcasing the island’s rich and diverse heritage.
This year’s extravaganza, budgeted at a cost of $7 million, promises to do the same.
Organisers say patrons will be treated to more than their usual fare of song, dance, theatre and tantalising cuisine during the festival’s exhilarating two-week run.
Chairman of the Tobago Festivals Commission (TFC) George Leacock said patrons can again look forward to an exciting experience.
“We tend to present authentic events in Tobago’s history in a fashion that allows participants to experience these events and take away dome information of Tobago history and its traditions.”
Leacock said the commission, in collaboration with the villages and organisations, will strive to promote this experience through content, audience accommodation and ambience.”
The TFC chairman said villages and participants in the Heritage queen competition (July 26), a relatively new feature of the festival, are expected to receive cheques to the tune of $460,000, to cover initial expenses. He added only local food and drinks indigenous to Tobago will be sold throughout the festival.
Unlike years gone by, Leacock said some of the events, including the Folk Fiesta, have been combined with other events to facilitate greater efficiency.
Once a stand alone event, the fiesta will now be merged into several village presentations.
Staged annually between mid-July and August 1 (Emancipation Day), the Tobago Heritage Festival has secured its reputation as the island’s premier cultural show piece.
It began in 1987 as a pilot project, conceptualised by late anthropologist and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) culture secretary JD Elder, to celebrate and preserve Tobago’s cultural traditions.
In its inaugural year, five villages participated: Buccoo; Moriah; Les Coteaux; Roxborough and Charlotteville. Today, the event enjoys participation from most of the island’s 42 villages.
The festival has three objectives: to develop an event in Tobago that distinguished itself locally, regionally, internationally; to assist in the preservation of the island’s indigenous art forms and the heritage; and to sell Tobago as a holiday destination and create an event that would contribute to the island’s social, cultural and economic development.
Specifically, the festival allows villages to showcase their unique traditions and activities. For example, the Moriah Ole Time Wedding, which takes place tomorrow, is synonymous with that area as are folk tales and superstitious beliefs to Les Coteaux.
Tobago’s easternmost village, Charlotteville, is expected to display its natural treasures on Monday (July 15), while Buccoo will showcase its signature goat and crab races at the Buccoo integrated facility on July 25.
Secretary for Culture, Tourism and Transportation Nadine Stewart-Phillips said the festival is the only one of its kind in the region.
She told Newsday Tobago: “It continues to generate interest locally, regionally and internationally.”
Stewart-Phillips said the event and all of its components, aligns perfectly with the island’s culture and experience tourism thrusts.
“We continue to develop the product to ensure that experience is beneficial and memorable for locals and visitors alike.”
Saying this year’s festival has been expanded, Stewart-Phillips said patrons will see representation from communities that have not participated for many years.
“This is a demonstration of the renewed interest of Tobagonians to get involved and embrace the festival as our own.”
Focusing on the theme, Stewart-Phillips expressed hope the presentations will generate renewed interest in Tobago’s authentic cultural heritage and further stimulate greater participation in local festivals.
“Ultimately, I invite everyone to come out and enjoy our unique annual offering,” she said.
The festival, which begins at 8pm, is expected to feature addresses by Stewart-Phillips, Leacock and THA Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles.