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Monday 27 January 2020
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Ancestral spirits invoked at Carifesta Salaaka Feast

Haitian performers participate in the Pembroke Carifesta Salaaka Festival on Monday at Pembroke Heritage Park, Goldsborough.
Haitian performers participate in the Pembroke Carifesta Salaaka Festival on Monday at Pembroke Heritage Park, Goldsborough.

Weeks after hosting its signature presentation, Salaaka Feast, at the Tobago Heritage Festival, Pembroke was again the focus of attention on Monday night as the village delivered a revised version of the production, as part of Carifesta XIV at the Pembroke Heritage Park, Goldsborough.

On this occasion, though, the Pembroke Heritage Folk Performers shared the spotlight with dance troupes from St Vincent and the Grenadines and Haiti in a captivating display of culture, colour, creativity and regional unity.

Titled Welcome In A D Yard, the presentation, led by artistic director Jesse Taylor and cultural activist Wendell Berkeley, paid tribute to Pembroke's African ancestors and those from throughout the Caribbean.

Although the village's Salaaka Feast was up to its usual high standard, having gained a reputation as being one of the more eagerly-anticipated performances of the heritage festival, to the uninformed, it provided much insight into the traditions, beliefs and customs practiced by African descendants over the generations.

Taylor, one of Tobago's well-known cultural advocates, told Newsday Tobago Welcome In A D Yard is basically the feast of the ancestors.

"This is what the Salaaka Feast is. So, we will showcase the invocations and practices, the rituals and customs that have been associated with it and manifests itself in drumming, dance, singing and inviting the ancestors. So, it is a celebration of the ancestors," he said.

Berkeley narrated the start of the presentation, telling the audience of the symbolism of the invocations, especially in the heritage park.

To the tune of Children, Come Go To Zion With Me, a group of young women, dressed in flowing white dresses and elaborate colourful headwraps, danced through the audience and onto the stage. This signalled the official start of the presentation.

Taylor, dressed in ceremonial wear, then performed a series of libations to the ancestors. Berkeley later joined him, urging the spirits of the ancestors to preside over the proceedings.

He also prayed for the leaders in attendance, who included Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, Secretary for Tourism, Culture and Transportation Nadine Stewart-Phillips, Tobago House of Assembly presiding officer Dr Denise Tsoiafatt Angus and Minority councillor Dr Faith BYisrael. This was followed by the song, I See The Lighthouse.

Saying Pembroke continues to play a significant role in Tobago's cultural landscape, Berkeley said the village maintains pride of place on the island's east side.

Pembroke Folk Performers do a procession for an old time wake at the Carifesta Salaaka Feast on Monday. PHOTO BY DAVID REID

He recalled one of the village's early descendants was fortunate enough to have purchased the Pembroke Estate.

"Pembroke, being the smallest of all of the estates, most of the people who came to work on the estates in Tobago settled and lived in Pembroke."

These included African descendants from St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua and other parts of the Caribbean.

Berkeley said those who settled in Pembroke established their own yards in which there were spaces for drum dances and other forms of cultural expression.

He told the audience Pembroke had six yards, all of which were once very active in the lead up to Emancipation Day in August.

Saying many of the villagers in Pembroke are descendants of those yards, Berkeley said the establishment of the Pembroke Heritage Park merged all of the yards into one cultural space.

After Berkeley's brief talk, he officially welcomed the members of the Vincy Dance Ensemble to the park and invited them to take the stage.

Dressed in blue and yellow, the group, which began their presentation with an ancestral celebration, later delivered several high-energy performances to the delight of the audience.

This also was the case with the group from Haiti, whose jaw-dropping set ranged from haunting and sultry routines to spicy, uptempo dances.

The Haitians fed off the audience's enthusiasm and invited some members of the audience to join them. Some obliged but others shied away.

The Pembroke Heritage Folk Performers, who had paid tribute to the dances of the various African tribes, later joined their regional counterparts in an impromptu celebration on stage.

Carifesta's XIV's Tobago co-ordinator Elvis Radgman told Newsday Tobago Pembroke's presentation embodied Carifesta.

"It was about bringing artistes throughout the region together in one common place where they could showcase their artforms and their talent in a way that is very grounded, very rustic and very rooted in the traditions of each country," he said.

"So, I think it was a resounding success and I am very pleased and very proud of the host village, which is Pembroke and the Pembroke Salaaka organisers."

He said the guests from the visiting islands also were very pleased with the Pembroke Salaaka experience.

"They were not just pleased with the energy that was generated in the space but people came out and people were just quite comfortable standing and just taking in all that was being offered by Pembroke, St Vincent and the Grenadines and of course, by our Haitians."

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