Trinidad and Tobago


Bad start, Mr Mayor

January 31, 2001

JUST ABOUT as long as I have been around Carnival, I have known Murchison Brown, the recently appointed Mayor of Port of Spain.

And I have known Mayor Brown mostly through Carnival-related activities. His brother Wrenwrick and I brought sections with George Bailey’s band back in the Sixties, leading to a relationship with the entire Brown family, whose Cascade home I frequented.

As an adult, my larger involvement in Carnival led to an even closer bond with Mayor Brown. For years, he chaired the Downtown Carnival Committee (DCC) and communicated frequently with me in my many roles in the festival spectrum, including chairmanship of the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) and public relations duties for the then Carnival Development Committee (CDC) and later with the National Carnival Commission (NCC).

I was therefore mortified to hear the new Mayor, a man who should know better, adopting such an irrational position regarding the re-routing of the February 24 Children’s Carnival Parade. Mayor Brown was yesterday reported as objecting to the change of route for the junior parade, saying: “I do not think children should be denied the opportunity of crossing the real Carnival stage.” Now, Mayor Brown may have been embarrassed by contrary statements he made to the media last Thursday, when he was patently premature in announcing that plans to re-route the parade to Ariapita Avenue had been abandoned.

Mark you, it is entirely his fault for taking so firm a position, when the final meeting on that issue was but hours away.

But saying: “I am sorry, I was either misled or I misunderstood” would have been far better received than statements now attributed to him. In fact, he would have been on solid ground, since the NCBA did produce a document outlining the Ariapita Avenue plan well before last Thursday’s news conference, or the final meeting.

Perhaps Mr Mayor has forgotten the origin and evolution of the children’s parade. Firstly, Trinidad and Tobago didn’t invent this aspect of Carnival.

The concept was imported from St Thomas, USVI in the mid-1960s, when then CDC chairman Ivan Williams visited that country and saw it in flight. We therefore did not develop the blueprint, so there is no grand history upon which to rely.

And as Mr Mayor might remember, it started at the St Mary’s College in Pembroke Street to go to the Savannah. At the time, there was but a handful of bands and the event was altogether manageable. When there were only 12 bands, many of us actually thought the event had peaked. Then it grew to 25, moved up again to 80 and this year, the NCBA expects some 120 bands. The parade is therefore ten times the size it used to be just 20 years ago.

How can we do the same things we did then and not run into confusion with the use of the Savannah stage, the same venue Pan Trinbago has used for its Panorama final for decades? There is further confusion to be had from Mayor Brown’s description of the Savannah venue as “the real Carnival stage”, particularly when he presides over a Carnival activity that competes for audience. It is also useful to note here that his Downtown Carnival venue has no stage and no masquerader seems any the worse for its absence.

It has to be the Carnival joke of all time that the Mayor of Port of Spain, whose predecessors less than 60 years ago protested when mas was being wooed away from the Broadway competition to the Savannah, now argues for exactly the opposite. Mr Mayor really should check that snippet of the City’s history.

But precisely why the children’s parade must go to the Savannah is a matter that Mayor Brown is yet to make clear. Just when everyone concluded that the festival has outgrown that venue, Mayor Brown is making a stout case to send more participants and activities there.

Frankly, I would hate to think that Mayor Brown’s extraordinary passion in this matter is inspired by the fact that the City Corporation might lose some revenue from the rental of vendors’ booths it constructs around the Princes Building Grounds. He did indicate that he envisages “problems for vendors and spectators”. Given that the junior parade is one of the best sale-days for Corporation booths, it may be that his tenants are refusing to pay the same prices as last year. It was also instructive that in none of his comments did he quote any children who, after all, are the people on whose behalf his arguments were proffered.

And exactly what did he mean by saying: “I call it (the Savannah) the world Carnival stage and these are the future masqueraders.” Surely Mr Mayor does not believe that the nation’s children have to practise at the Savannah in order to jump and wine there when they become adults? One would think that the major objector to the new route might have been the NCBA who, according to chairman Richard Afong, stands to lose some $80,000 in Grand Stand gate-receipts. Instead, Afong is pleased with the new route and Mr Mayor is upset.

But what is most disconcerting is Mayor Brown’s repetition of the difficulties, without offering an alternative. As the City Father, he must be careful to send the right signals about problem solving and more importantly, not foist an exclusively adult opinion upon children, most of whom really don’t care where they wine.

Perhaps as the festival is proceeding without controversy, we could really use a little bacchanal to maintain the Carnival stereotype, but believe me, Mr Mayor, the issue of the junior parade route really doesn’t qualify.

Ask the children.


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