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Monday 9 December 2019
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Wake and Bongo night at Heritage Festival

An emotional scene from the Canaan/Bon Accord/Crown Point Wake and Bongo which is part of the Tobago Heritage Festival held on Wednesda.
An emotional scene from the Canaan/Bon Accord/Crown Point Wake and Bongo which is part of the Tobago Heritage Festival held on Wednesda.

COMPELLING performances dominated Canaan/Bon Accord/Crown Point's presentation of Wake and Bongo at the Tobago Heritage Festival on Wednesday night.

Held at the Store Bay Heritage Park, Crown Point, the presentation, which explored the violent death of a young fisherman, Johnny, allowed the audience to navigate between laughter, sadness, empathy and contemplation.

There also were some tense periods as in the scene where a policeman visited Johnny's mother, Mary, to give her the news that he had died. Such was the calibre of the performances.

The production, which included performances by the Charlotteville Folk Performers, used Johnny's passing to revisit the tradition of wake and bongo after a death in Tobago, specifically Canaan/Bon Accord.

It highlighted the dances, song, rituals and camaraderie commonly associated with the activity over the generations, particularly in cases where a loved one has died as a result of crime.

"The wake and bongo is one such community response that had been a tenet of our forefather's social lives," the village said in a written overview of the production.

"The activity both galvanised community relationships and acted as a release for the tension of emotions built up in the wake of tragic loss."

Set in the year 2000, the presentation drew light to the scourge of crime and its impact on family life in the village.

Johnny, a seemingly ambitious young man, was excited about the prospect of owning his own fishing boat but was short of $10,000.

He asked Mary to persuade his father to lend him the money but is killed in Trinidad while purchasing the pirogue.

On hearing her beloved son has been killed, Mary wailed in disbelief and collapsed to the floor.

Her anguish persisted for much of the production, the only bright spot being her visit from Emma, a college-educated young woman with an accent, who she wanted to marry her son.

During her visit for the wake, Emma clashed repeatedly with Tessa, a feisty and disrespectful young woman, who claimed she was carrying Johnny's baby. Their scenes left the audience in stitches as did the occasions when Mary's husband appeared to be cosying up to one of their female neighbours.

Wake and Bongo's overriding message, though, was the importance of community in supporting its own.

"Wake and Bongo will take the audience on a journey into the type of family love, support from the community and, of course, a bit of bacchanal that make for a heart-warming traditional community response to the effects of the loss of a loved one," the village said in its overview of the presentation.

In his address at the start of the show, Tobago Festivals Commission executive chairman George Leacock said the wake and bongo tradition is very evident in contemporary society.

"You're learning tonight (Wednesday) will be that the community in Tobago, reverts to its traditional form of mourning on the passing of a family member," he told the audience.

He said Canaan/Bon Accord, which has experienced difficulties in organising its programme over the years, wins the prize for the "best turnaround village" in the heritage festival.

On a serious note, Leacock said communities must become innovative in staging their productions.

"We cannot continue, on a yearly basis, continue to re-prosecute the same case of the heritage festival, of how many tents and how much money the village going to get and what time the show going to start. We have to move on to the next level.

"I am confident that the basic things about logistics and tents has become a fixed science but we have to innovate, create and find ways to ensure that the festival truly becomes synergistic between preserving our culture and promoting and exposing our culture. It is a challenge to all of us stakeholders going forward," he added.

During the production, stalwarts Veronica Cadiz and Glenda Roberts-Henry were honoured for their contribution to the development of the community.

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