By Alyssa Huggins
Trinidad and Tobago has been my home for many years, and like many living on the island I would describe it as a paradise. It is a twin island that has been blessed to be sitting in the Caribbean filled with many natural resources, a rich history and a vibrant culture. Things that have inspired calypsonian Denyse Plumber to pen the song ‘Nah Leaving’, and there are a plethora of songs that speak to the patriotism that citizens have for their country, as the lyrics highlight the positives of the land.
So naturally, I have been existing in a state of euphoric oblivion, which has recently been distorted through our 2022 ‘Taste of Carnival’. One social ill that became too obvious to ignore is the inconsistent treatment of certain echelons in society . It may be true to an extent that every creed and race shall find an equal place, but is it so for the poor and disenfranchised in society?
The proposed ‘Taste of Carnival’ that was launched for citizens to enjoy and to bring some much-needed relief to those who depend on the sector for their livelihood, was a clear example of how we unfairly treat those who lack money and status. Leaving one to think about the oppression felt within Carnival, an oxymoron that does not contradict when you pay close attention to the events that occurred this year.
The events hosted for Carnival 2022 were under the Safe Zone Policy created by the Ministry of Health to ensure public safety in the midst of the pandemic, as we aim to return to a state of normalcy. The policy is also part of our legislation, and as such the enforcement of its rules is under the charge of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS). Some of the general guidelines would include; patrons being vaccinated, wearing masks and practicing social distancing. These protocols have been applied to the Carnival safe zone activities but the enforcement of such was only seen for certain events.
‘Vibes with Voicey’, ‘Festival Friday’, ‘Awake’ and ‘Carnival Comeback’ were approved events breaching aspects of the Safe Zone Policy. Media outlets have numerous pictures and video footage that provides proof that patrons were not socially distanced and they were not wearing masks, causing many citizens to raise their brows at the safety of these events since we are still in a pandemic. The breach of policy and lack of action by the TTPS is further questioned when we have other events carried out by citizens in low-income areas that resulted in arrests. Is it that this taste was only for some to enjoy?
One can argue that these events put on by citizens were illegal because they don’t fall under the list of activities that were approved for the season. However, it is important to realize that legality of the event is not up for debate, rather the enforcement of the protocols that were supposed to keep citizens safe. Ultimately, the overall aim is to safeguard the health and well-being of citizens. So where was the action at the approved safe zone events to ensure this?
A recent article in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian reported that the TTPS arrested 48 people at over 19 ‘illegal’ Carnival parties in areas like: Maloney, Bagatelle Diego Martin, Sea Lots, and Beetham, and judging from the pictures that accompanied this article there is no difference between them and the aforementioned safe zone events, apart from providing proof of vaccination-which does not stop the spread of the virus. It is clear that our society has a dark underbelly of injustice for the poor. The old adage ‘money talks and bullshit walks’ rings to be true in this land.
Many aspects of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival was birthed out of the oppression of African slaves. The various art forms that have evolved were a direct response to the oppression from the colonizers, which made them illegal activities. Ironically, in 2022 we have restrictions in place for safety but varying application, which affected the way those with less power in society choose to celebrate Carnival.
Looking at the evolution of Carnival, this does not come as a surprise since Carnival has always been an event that brought government intervention and scrutiny when one looks at our colonial past. For example Canboulay and the revered steel pan were not always welcomed items of the Carnival package. Only through social and political developments were these aspects of culture socially included and appreciated. This goes to show that “we cannot separate our analysis of cultural identity, cultural practices…from an analysis of work, power and politics” (Green et al, 2007)
Daniel Guerin writes that “there is no segregation in the West Indies, no legally codified discrimination; but the Caribbean brand of racial prejudice, sneaking about under a mask of hypocrisy, is more irritating and psychologically, more demoralizing than if it nakedly showed itself for what it was.”
This taste of Carnival is an example of how our class segregation is hidden. Since we gleefully sing songs, hug a stranger and share a cooler with ice under the pretense that ‘all ah we is one’. However this is a bitter and frustrating taste for people who encounter prejudice as their lived experience. It may have been sweet for those who benefited or exist in the oblivion, but let’s face it, injustice exists in this sweet paradise and it demoralizes people everyday!
Dowlat-Rostant, Rhondor. “Police Arrest 48 at Illegal J’ouvert Parties.” Trinidad Guardian, 1 Mar. 2022, https://www.guardian.co.tt/news/police-arrest-48-at-illegal-jouvert-parties-6.2.1461283.6fdd0c1e26?fbclid=IwAR1g4EivizsrOQ-BUmJVuRumUBb4gFqugdeSfxObiEDVuEukY6dZsj4oMDg.
Guérin, Daniel. The West Indies and Their Future. English Translation by Austryn Wainhouse. D. Dobson, 1961.
Gioannetti, Andrew, et al. “Lee Questions Enforcement of Health Regulations at Queen’s Hall Fete.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 27 Feb. 2022, https://newsday.co.tt/2022/02/27/lee-questions-enforcement-of-health-regulations-at-queens-hall-fete/.
Green, Garth L., and Philip W. Scher. Trinidad Carnival: The Cultural Politics of a Transnational Festival. Indiana University Press, 2007.