HOMAGE: Paying Tribute to All Ah We and All Ah Who Awwe Be.
That’s the theme of the 36th edition of the Tobago Heritage Festival, which, for the first time, features several pre-events outside of the substantive village presentations in July.
The festival, Tobago’s signature cultural showcase, begins in earnest from July 21 at the Shaw Park Cultural Complex and runs until Emancipation Day on August 1.
The opening gala will be a departure from the norm. Over the years, it featured a theatrical production, incorporating various elements of the island’s heritage.
But this year’s opening night will include the Miss Tobago Heritage Personality and Heritage Calypso Monarch competitions.
Auditions for the calypso competition are being held on June 24 at the Shaw Park Cultural Complex between 9 am-2 pm. Among other criteria, contenders must have an original calypso which should reflect the heritage theme, Homage. They must also walk with their own musical track.
Young women interested in participating in the Miss Heritage Personality show must be between ages of 18-40. They must be able to showcase a talent presentation in dance, drama, song or instrumental of no more than two minutes. Participants must also submit a short video (no longer than two minutes) saying why they should be chosen for this year’s Miss Heritage Personality. Screening takes place at the complex on June 17.
Regarding village presentations, Plymouth hosts its J’Ouvert and old-time Carnival on July 22 and on July 24, it’s off to Charlotteville for Natural Treasures Day.
The Yam Festival, Ole Time Village Market Experience and Junior Miss & Little Miss Heritage competition takes place in Goodwood on July 25.
A day later, the action shifts to Tobago’s cultural capital, Pembroke, for its ancestral ritual, Salaka Feast. This will be followed by Les Coteaux’s eagerly-anticipated Folk Tales and Superstition and Scarborough’s Rum Shop Lime on July 27 and 28 respectively.
The popular Moriah Ole Time Wedding will be held on July 29 and Speyside’s Tobago Harvest Experience on July 30. Black Rock hosts a Sea and Pan Festival on July 31.
The festival ends with an Emancipation Day procession in Crown Point on August 1.
Reflecting on the festival’s theme, Homage, Jesse Taylor, cultural officer II, Division of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation, told Newsday, “It shows an island that is still linked to its customs and traditions and the attempts that are being made to preserve it.”
So, he said, the festival will pay tribute to Tobago’s cultural giants, several of whom have passed on.
“They have left an indelible mark on our cultural legacy, those who have contributed to what we now have as a platform for our existence, what we have as our tourism product and what this present administration sees as the greatest little island on the planet.”
Taylor said the event also acknowledges the contribution of the younger generation of cultural exponents and those likely to follow suit in the coming years.
“So it is also about how we inspire the future generation, how we create and sustain the link and ensure that the legacy flourishes.”
He said before the start of the main events, there will be a junior heritage caravan from June 14-27.
Titled Once Upon A Time, Way Back When, the caravan targets eight schools across the island and features elements of the heritage festival that would usually be incorporated into the community events.
It also seeks to promote a greater level of interest in the island’s cultural heritage among a younger demographic.
“So the emphasis will be on the food, dances, beliefs, artifacts and other aspects of our traditional legacy.”
The junior caravan makes way for Heritage On The Road from July 11-18.
A precursor to the opening gala, Ah We Heritage On the Road brings Tobago’s traditions to the streets and roadways of the island.
Taylor said, “It is a marketing opportunity to create nostalgia. It is designed to at least rekindle, reignite and put in the space different aspects of our customs, things like the Salaka Feast, our flora and fauna, elements of our natural treasures, the tambrin, drums. So we will just show up through the streets of Tobago.”
Organisers have also set July 11 as the tentative date for At De Crossroads: Where Do We Go From Here – a forum to review past heritage festivals and make projections for the future.
The initiative features a youth discourse, public online platforms and a round table think-tank for “intellectual, immersive discussions.”
Among other things, it will address the genesis of the Tobago Heritage Festival and its evolution; examine its goals and objectives; review the festival’s impact on Tobago’s socio-economic ecology and associated motivational factors in the global scheme, including its relevance; and assess the effects of modernity and technology.
“It is designed to be a forum and platform for the critical analysis of the genesis and evolution Tobago Heritage Festival as we continue to enhance and develop our socio-cultural, tourism product for the future,” organisers said in an overview of the initiative.
“In its 36th year, the Tobago Heritage Festival is at a juncture where it has grown through several generations and world ages, and like numerous festivals of its kind, requires reflection, evaluation and planning in order to ensure its longevity.”
The forum will also review the challenges, benefits and successes of the festival “with recommendations and plausible solutions for its continuity.”
Target groups include cultural activists/practitioners, performing artists, services providers, students, researchers, historians, community groups, spectators and other stakeholders.