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Tobago Heritage Festival: Preserving legacy in our sister isle

The annual Tobago Heritage Festival returns to the island July 22 (Opening Night Gala) to August 1. The event remains a much-anticipated celebration of the unique cultural traditions of the sister isle where traditional artforms such as music, dance and theatrical reenactments are showcased.

Catholic News’ writer Kaelanne Jordan spoke to Chief Executive Officer at the Tobago Festivals Commission Ltd, John Arnold on all things heritage, from the significance of preserving the rich heritage of Tobago to the challenges faced over the years.

John Arnold, Chief Executive Officer at the Tobago Festivals Commission Ltd

Q: From your side of things, why preserve our cultural heritage?

It is important to preserve the tangibles and intangibles for any country or people who possess their own culture. The collective programming over time is powerful for all cultures and there is immense value in it.

Intellectual property rights have become important in a world where every culture is seeking to gain competitive advantage in attractions to visitors and examining how their unique culture can foster great visitor arrivals to the destination. The preservation and retention of values, practices, beliefs, and norms is important for the development of society as it strengthens communities and builds cultural confidence in their culture.

Q: Any improvements/adjustments to this year’s calendar of festivals?

Culture is dynamic and so are festivals. Technology helped over the Covid period, and we saw how modern tech played such an integral part in making the communication and delivery super for audiences.

This year, the focus is on lighting up the embers once again to maintain and restore the legacy. The theme this year is Reflect, Rebuild, Rejoice, Reigniting the Flames of our legacy.

This theme highlights all the relevant words to make the year a great one as we open to physical events one more time. The main adjustment this year is that we are hosting a shorter timeframe and featuring some of the topflight villages that are usually delivering top-class performances.

Q: How are you treating with the large crowds to avoid a Covid spike in the sister isle? Last year’s segments were staggered. Is it that you plan to utilise a similar approach?

The normal protocol is being adhered to despite the relaxing of Covid mandates. We are going to be hosting the events in a time that marks no masks; however, we would follow all the requisite guidelines so that we have safe events for the season. There will not be staggered events…the calendar affords two days off from heritage events.

Q: Last year’s events were virtual.

What were the pros?

The greatest advantage we observed with virtual events was wider and larger participation, and more diverse audiences. We were able to showcase our heritage to countries that were never exposed to such. This year some of the events are being streamed to allow persons in the diaspora and other participants to engage with us. Our social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

Q: Let’s talk figures. How exactly does this annual event boost the Tobago economy?

As you know, those figures will only be available once the relevant research exercises are conducted. However, we can safely say that festivals do have great spin-off benefits to any economy. Festivals allow economic activity in accommodations, rentals, restaurants, groceries, gas stations, artisans, performers, creatives etc. Festivals also drive community tourism. That has its own line of economic benefits to the area.

Q: Most persons are of the perception that these events are usually being upheld by the elders in the community. Is this so?

I was just at Charlotteville helping them with their folk song arrangements for their production, and I was amazed at the number of children and young persons that were involved in the music, dance, and drama. This augurs well for the festival as the knowledge bearers are passing on this rich legacy to the younger ones. I am also engaging young minds to learn the art of arranging songs etc. and mentoring them. The demographics of the various villages will span from children under 12 right up to older folks in their 70s.

Q: What are some of the challenges facing the Festival’s management?

The normal challenge of bureaucracy can sometimes cause untimely delays. The other challenge would always be limited budgets given the many pressing overall financial demands in the ecosystem. In the execution of events, uncertain weather patterns can also be a major challenge and calls for contingency planning all the time.

Q: What are some activities lined up for 2022?

The opening night will be a theatrical production on Friday, July 22 at the Shaw Park Complex. Then on Saturday, July 23 there will be two events with the J’Ouvert Carnival in Plymouth in the morning and the evening production of the Ms Heritage Personality at Shaw Park Complex.

On Sunday, July 24, we travel to Castara for the Northside Passion show, and then overnight in Charlotteville for the Monday, July 25, Production of Natural Treasures. Tuesday, July 26 is rest and visit sites day.

On Wednesday, July 27, we travel to Pembroke for the Salaka Feast and then across to Les Coteaux on Thursday, July 28 for the Folk Tales and Superstitions event.

On Friday, July 29, we head back to Shaw Park Complex for the Calypso and Extempo Competition and then to Moriah the next day, Saturday, July 30 for the Ole Time Wedding.

The following day Sunday, July 31 is another rest and reflect day. On Monday, August 1 is the Emancipation Day celebration at Store Bay Area, Heritage Park. Patrons are to remember that in all these activities they can also note the Junior Heritage Activities and the Micro Market at the Old FCB [First Citizens Bank] Carpark in Scarborough.

Q: What would you say is the most popular event among the line-up and why?

Festivals provide favourites for different people. It is difficult to say the most popular event at the Festival. I would quickly say the most known event, which is the Ole Time Wedding. If you measure most known with most popular, well there you go. However, I have seen Les Coteaux rammed and jammed in the past with patrons, so it’s a difficult question for me.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Looking forward to seeing everyone at the festival in 2022. There is always something for everyone and their individual tastes, and the most admirable feature of this festival is the immersive nature of the experience. You can dance brush back on the road to tambrin music in Moriah, you can taste the pork that was cooked under the earth in Pembroke, you can play mud in Plymouth J’ouvert, you can immerse yourself in the spell of Les Coteaux and walk with the cast in Charlotteville and dance the cocoa. Come one, Come all.

For further information on the upcoming Tobago Heritage Festival, please check all social media pages @tobagofestivals.