Making mas with local content

Yuma masqueraders enjoy the revelry at Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain on Carnival Tuesday, February 21. - ROGER JACOB
Yuma masqueraders enjoy the revelry at Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain on Carnival Tuesday, February 21. - ROGER JACOB

CARNIVAL, some say, is this country’s greatest export. Yet right now it seems too much of the festival is imported.

We support the call by Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon this month for a local-content policy on the manufacture of Carnival costumes.

Speaking at a patternmaking workshop held at the Jimmy Aboud store in Port of Spain, Ms Gopee-Scoon lamented that the fabrication of costumes was a last-minute affair this year, owing to reliance on imports from far away.

“We didn’t have faith in ourselves to develop the local industry,” she said. “We must think of developing a local-content policy for Carnival so we can do much more of what is done in China in Trinidad. I understand that people went to Pakistan as well to make costumes.”

There’s been a lot of discussion about the quality of the designs in this year’s festival, but the minister’s intervention points to an equally important, and ultimately related, aspect of the mas.

The simple issue of cost has, for decades now, resulted in a system in which outsourcing is the norm and local content something of the exception.

If Carnival is to be sustainable, it must to some extent operate as a business, and bandleaders have sought to maximise profits.

For a while now, it has been easy to ignore the apparent clash between the money-making imperative of the mas and its creative spirit.

This year, however, has changed that, given the poor reviews.

Problems with the distribution chain have also presented the perfect opportunity for us to take stock and to ask why we, as a nation, cannot manufacture more of what we put into mas and to do so at competitive prices.

Additionally, Carnival is about more than just “merriment” – the word used by the minister. Historically, the festival has been about the subversion of the norm, about dismantling oppressive systems, about speaking truth to power. Resistance and creativity have gone hand in hand.

It has always been ironic, then, that much of the material put into the mas has been imported.

If Carnival is the expression of who we are as a people it is understandable that it reflects a global point of view. Equally, there is no good reason why we as a people cannot produce the materials that go into this show, once deemed the greatest on earth.

Carnival is about macafouchette: making do with what we have. It is actually within its spirit to source all materials locally and to tailor designs to suit.

The problem, however, is how to capitalise on the spirit of resourcefulness and build an industry on it.

It is well and good for the minister to speak of local content and encourage local talent, but how can we even begin to manufacture the kinds of materials now featured in carnivals all over the world?

In the end, it may well be that the only way local content can play a meaningful role is if the mas evolves away from bikinis and beads. That’s a big if, given current trends.


"Making mas with local content"

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