By K’Areece Rogers
“…No Bois Man no fraid….No Bois Man no fraid no stickman. No Bois Man no fraid no demon…” These were the chants, or as they are colloquially termed, lavways that were echoed as the Bois Man also known as Stick Fighters prepared for battle. Tensions are high as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have gathered at The Gayelle to witness arguably the most important battle in stick fighting history- Traditional Carnival vs Capitalism.
Stick Fighting remains one of the few, if not the only, aspects of Carnival that has stayed true to its origin. Stick Fighting was created by the Africans and involves a mixture of martial movements accompanied by chants and drumming (Doughty 2018). The fighting ground, traditionally known as The Gayelle, serves as the battlefield for opposing warriors who would challenge each other until one fighter is defeated. As such, there is no other location as fitting for the battle that will take place. Today’s modern day Stick Fighters are Traditional Carnival and Capitalism/Elitism.
For several years, these Fighters have indirectly battled each other. To onlookers, in recent years, it has appeared that Capitalism/Elitism has had the upper hand as they have seemingly began to erase the traditional aspects of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival and, with the assistance of modernization, transformed it into a profit-based, segregated event exclusively available for individuals who have the monetary capacity to experience it.
So why a battle? As tourism remains a source of income for our country, over the years Carnival has been used as a tool to draw these tourists to our islands. Therefore, as previously mentioned, Carnival has been transformed into a profit generating industry. Whilst this is not a negative occurrence, the issue is developed in the process of erasure that is taking place because of Capitalism and the segregation that has been created. As cited in Haralambos, Capitalism refers to ‘capital accumulation in the context of competitive labor and productive markets (Giddens 1990)”. He continues that capitalists are always trying to develop new products in pursuit of profit. This is accurate when compared to Carnival as in an attempt to pursue profit, capitalists have transformed Carnival so much so that today, traditional events of Carnival are struggling to keep their foot in the door and the overall experience has not remained affordable for citizens. This has led to several traditional events losing its true essence as the Doxa of carnival has changed.
Bourdieu explains Doxa as a set of rules or norms in a particular field. These rules or norms are established and adhered to by members of a particular social space and become part of their subconscious. Referencing this definition, in previous times the Doxa of Trinidad and Tobago would have entailed a true, embedded appreciation for all aspects of traditional Carnival, which was free or almost free. Whereas in today’s society, individuals have become more interested in the commercialized Carnival. The Doxa has changed to an acceptance and longing for the fetes, beads and feathers.
In his writings, Karl Marx spoke of us coming out of a state of “false class consciousness”. For us in Trinidad, reclaiming our culture is our version of coming out of a state of false class consciousness. I, like many Trinbagonians, believe that the time for small talk is over, it is time for battle. It is time for us as a society to reclaim Carnival as an aspect of tradition that belongs to us and as such, ALL OF US CAN FREELY experience.
For too long, we have allowed the elite in society to capitalize on our culture so much so, that the ones who would have created Carnival, are unable to experience it today. Clear examples can be drawn from fetes held by Carnival committee giants who host events that can cost patrons from TT$250.00 to TT$1500.00 for one party. Even attending or participating in the more “traditional” events such as Dimanche Gras, Jouvert and Calypso Monarch have become financial liabilities to those wishing to experience their occurrence. Though costly, the price of these fetes continue to be a far reach from the costs of actually playing Mas with dominant Mas Camps. So, in order to completely enjoy the 2-day experience, patrons must be willing and able to pay a minimum of $4500.00 for their packages. However, despite these exorbitant prices several Trinbagonians use their savings or incur significant debt in order to parade in these bands. So much so that these costs have almost become natural to us.
The separation and elitism that has overtaken Carnival is also evidenced in the organization of Carnival Monday and Tuesday as well as the activities that lead up to it. At these fetes and events there is usually a general section, VIP section and an area designated for committee members and their friends and family. Similar separation techniques are employed on Carnival Monday and Tuesday where mechanisms of symbolic power such as rope and specifically hand bands are used to separate paying masqueraders from onlookers. Some Mas Camps even offer patrons the option of being a part of an elite section that has additional perks compared to that of the average masquerader.
Bourdieu’s theory of social capital accurately depicts the role of this separation in Carnival and by extension, separation in society. In his paper “Social Space and Symbolic Power” Bourdieu emphasized that individuals who hail from the same social space use their capital to exert power over other members of society (Bourdieu 1989). In order to demonstrate their power, committee members place themselves in a reserved area in fetes, separating them from the common feter. This separation thus gives them a sense of exclusivity and allows them to exert their “power position” within the space.
As aforementioned, these hand bands that are used as a symbolic tool of separation, contributes to the creation and dissemination of power. The creation of this elite masquerader section is also a means for the exertion of power within a social space. The ability to be a part of this VIP section with perks that are beyond the average masqueraders package gives the elite masqueraders a sense of power not only above onlookers along the streets but also fellow masqueraders.
Therefore ‘The Battle: Tradition vs Capitalism/Elitism’ is an analogy that we should actively engage in as a society if we would like to maintain the beauty that is our culture of Carnival. The scene takes place in a Gayelle which represents the battleground of Trinidad and Tobago. The hand on the left holding the whole stick represents us taking back our culture. The hand on the right represents the elite class who has commercialized and capitalized on Carnival. Through the image, one can see that the stick on the left has destroyed the Bois in the hands of the elites and simultaneously bursts the wristband which was given to the masqueraders to separate them from “stormers”. This represents us as a society, coming out of our state of false class consciousness and deciding to break the holds of the elite on our culture. The breaking of this hold would redirect us to accept and ensure that Carnival becomes an event that can be enjoyed by all.
For far too long we have allowed the elite in society to morphe our culture into an experience that has become significantly commercialized and consequently, has lost its true essence. Like the Stick Fighters, we must bring these elites to the Gayelle and strategically deal them blows that can break their defense and bring about some change in the industry. Carnival should not only be limited to those who are able to pay for the experience. All citizens should be able to participate in events and not feel segregated. Our love for our culture must propel us to chant laways of support for those who are willing to defend the use of our culture instead of lavways that fuel the spirit of the elites who have continually attempted to abuse it for profit. We should not be afraid to make the change. We no fraid no fraid no band leader. We no fraid no stakeholder. No Bois Man no fraid.
Bordieu, Pierre. 1989. “Social Space and Symbolic Power.” Sociological Theory 14-25.
Doughty, Melissa. 2018. “Stickfighting Starts Tomorrow.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 25 January.
Haralambos, Michael, and Holborn Martin. 2013. Sociology Themes and Perspectives. London: HarperCollinsPublishers Limited.
Slechta, Daniel. 2015. “What are the concepts of “Doxa” and “Habitus” that Pierre Bourdieu created?” October 26. Accessed March 7, 2019. https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-concepts-of-Doxa-and-Habitus-that-Pierre-Bourdieu-created.