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Raffique Shah


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Carnival is happiness, harmony

By Raffique Shah
February 10, 2013

Whatever our differing views on Carnival, one thing we can agree on is the heights of happiness that the festival engenders at all levels of the society. There is hardly a sourpuss left scowling as the music, the visuals and the spirit take possession of our beings, commanding us to listen, to look, to sing along, to dance and, most of all, to laugh and be happy.

If I may paraphrase English poet Sir Walter Scott, I ask, “Breathes there a Trini with a soul so dead, who never to himself has said, this Carnival is mine, even if I cannot wine?” Not surprisingly, such wretches (Scott’s terminology—and mine!) do exist. I am not referring to persons who stay aloof of the bacchanal because of their religious beliefs, or those who, on moral grounds, condemn its carnal contents. I may not agree with them, but I accept their right to not participate or partake.

I cannot, however, tolerate the hypocrites in our midst—Trinis who enjoy the benefits of being citizens of the country, every dollar’s worth, but who turn up their pompous noses at aspects of our culture that they deem beneath their obnoxious persona. For them, steelband music is noise, calypso is crap, and Carnival is a mindless parade of the masses. Black skins trapped behind white masks, these living lies see life through a colonial prism, hence culture through European eyes—or so they delude themselves into believing.

Mercifully for us, such wretches are few, a dying breed whose own children would probably spit on their graves in which they would be dumped, “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung...” But later for this lot: they have no impact on our Carnival that we enjoy, and which, as stakeholders, we have every right to criticise, to help re-shape so that it brings benefits beyond mere happiness.

Mark you, we cannot put a dollar value on the harmony and happiness that surround Carnival and engulf almost the entire population. The stress-relief it provides to tens of thousands who “free up” themselves at shows and fetes no doubt saves them tens of millions of dollars in medical bills they would incur if there were no Carnival. Another health benefit is derived from the large number of people who get fit for the festival. Many among this group, especially women, stay in shape year-round, hence live healthy lives, which is as good as you can get by way of savings on health care.

In so many ways, the happiness quotient is difficult to quantify. Take Jouvert morning in the capital city and its environs. There is a sea of humanity, miles of people, most of them in a dream-like, or very likely drunken, stupor, warm smiles etched on their faces, people of varying hues and classes, chipping to steelband music, bouncing behind a big truck, no quarrel, no fight, pure love flowing among complete strangers...

Where else in the world do you witness scenes like that? Multiply Port of Spain by San Fernando and Point Fortin, add Penal, Couva, Arima, Mayaro and Scarborough, and many more districts throughout the country, a huge chunk of the population, possibly half-a-million people, celebrating Carnival in joyous harmony. And that’s merely on Jouvert morning. Think Monday mas, Monday night, Tuesday, las lap. Consider fetes and open-air shows with patrons numbering between five and twenty-five thousand at various venues. Huge crowds... happy people.

You can’t buy such happiness; you either have it or you don’t. Trinis (here I include Tobagonians) have it naturally, and the aura that goes with Carnival brings it out best. I am not suggesting there are no negatives in Carnival. Excessive consumption of alcohol is probably the biggest challenge in this regard. When there are unsavoury incidents, the combatants are invariably under the influence.

That said, where else can you have so many drunken people mingling and frolicking, yet have so few incidents? Bear in mind we are not talking about one-day festivals such as carnivals in metropolitan centres which, because of sheer size of those countries, would have more people assembled than we do. Carnival activities in our country run for at least a month, sometimes two. This means the time span for mischief is long. I do not have statistics to support this, but I feel certain that Carnival-related crimes are lower than average. This suggests that Carnival may actually have a calming effect on criminals!

Whatever the link between Carnival and happiness—I leave the professionals to figure that out—we, as a people, should capitalise on it, see this harmony prevail year-round. The answer cannot be to stage more carnivals or declare more celebrations and public holidays as the politicians are wont to. Already, we have more holidays than most countries, which must have a negative impact on our productivity as workers.

I think David Rudder and Kees Dieffenthaller captured this aspect of our Carnival best in the duo’s joint production, “Live Yuh Life Like Yuh Playing Mas”—a song that got lost in the melee of this year’s celebrations. For those who have not heard it, I cite some of its lyrics as I rest my case.

Kees sings: “Just like when Carnival come and we jammin’ in the rain/You do not have to be a friend/But you still hugging up all through Port of Spain/Why only that time of year everybody come as one...”

Rudder and Kees (chorus): “Live your life like yuh playing mas/We loving together, jamming together/Raising we hand and we feteing together...”

Rudder sings: “So when the iron klang and the oil drum boom/Soul fire start to blaze, we found a love we could never lose/So please bring the unity/Peace, love, true harmony...”

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