Q : Archbishop J: How could we redeem the Carnival?
There are many elements to the Carnival. Some brilliant, some noble and praiseworthy and some just taking us in the wrong direction! When confronted with the stagnation of Carnival in 1992, David Rudder wrote his ‘Long Time Band’. Through this song, he laments and proposes a way to renew. He says:
“Enough is enough shout little man as he pull out de ancient tenor pan,
Carnival soft, dat is a fact, so I going in town and bring it back,
Only Peter Minshall, I think that is he name,
but look he try, but he gone to Spain,
whole week me vibes just telling me,
to go down and cause some controversy.”
Renewal comes from “little man” who begins with the ancient tenor pan and a few old-time mas’ characters and ends crossing the Savannah stage with 10,000. Renewal comes by understanding the history, the characters and energy of Carnival. It comes from within. This is true for both Carnival and the society. As long as we keep looking outside for direction, we will continue with the mindless bikini and beads, the vulgarity, the naked greed and corruption and the degradation of our nation.
Rudder points to Peter Minshall as one person who has tried. I will follow the thinking of Minshall seeking to understand his path to renewal.
When asked about the state of the Carnival, in an interview on C TV, mas’ man extraordinaire, Peter Minshall said: “I think we have to start working on our soul, or rather on our collective soul. I think that in the fifty years of independence, the soul of the country with a bright glare of spotlights on it, has withered. The place is magical, but the politics has driven much of the magic underground, and I get frightened” (https://youtu.be/APNnospm_bU).
I agree with Minshall. At its heart, the problem is a problem of our collective soul. It is a spiritual problem that cannot be fixed without sacrifice and true devotion. Minshall tried to communicate this in the first of his trilogy in 1983—‘River’.
‘River’ is a modern fable as street theatre in two acts. Some objected that it was not really Carnival. Minshall stood his ground and invited thousands of people to play the mas’ on the streets of Port of Spain.
Through this art, he challenged the model of development of Carnival and T&T—the emerging lust and greed, the loss of innocence of our people and ultimately, that we had sold out for an empty (material) illusion that is someone else’s dream.
River was a scathing critique of Trinidad and Tobago. Forty years later, looking back at what Minshall said through his mas’, we must acknowledge that he was prophetic.
He named our missteps in development, the seduction that sucked us in and blinded us to the truth. We had taken the wrong road and the consequences have been dire. We did not listen to Minshall then or now.
Like all mythology, River has good and evil in juxtaposition. The river was one love, one people, led by Washerwoman who was the epitome of goodness and purity. She was like the water.
She lived by the river that gave its goods to the people freely and generously. Her power is her love for life. She is the beloved leader of the river people. The people lived in purity and harmony around the river. Everyone was content with what they had.
The river was desired by Mancrab who was the epitome of evil. He represents man’s greed and lust for power, aided and abetted by technology. Enough is never enough for Mancrab. He always wants more.
Mancrab wants the river to build his factory on its banks. Mancrab offers an illusory of a rainbow of colour to the people with promises of profit and luxury for all.
And he wins.
In act one—The battle begins. Mancrab tries to take the river from Washerwoman. He wants to build his factories. To do this, he must defeat her and win her people’s trust.
Washerwoman’s strength is in that trust and love. Through these she defeats Mancrab and banishes him from the river. There is joyful celebration —purity and love prevail.
Act-two—Mancrab settles quietly by the riverbank using his best technology, chemicals, and oils. He developed a rainbow in the river. He entices the people with glowing promises of luxury and profit for all. The river people are amazed and run to grab as much of the rainbow they can contain in buckets and calabashes etc. Each begin to fight the other for more. Washerwoman is left unprotected.
That night, Mancrab steals into Washerwoman’s camp which is no longer surrounded by the force of love and kills her. Mancrab is victorious, and he drags the lifeless Washerwoman before the stage and the river people are wild and frenzied in their dance. They believe themselves richer for Mancrab’s rainbow. They bathe themselves in its colour and in so doing they destroy themselves.
This is our story
Forty years after the theatrical presentation, River, we can see so clearly how the glitter of money, and the promise of materialism has corrupted the soul of this nation. We put money before people and God. In the corruption index we are one of the highest in CARICOM. We have given up Washerwoman through the illusion of technological development, for some money and the ability to buy luxury and nice things.
In this story, we need to hear that disregard for the ancient values has stolen the soul of the people. This is both an ecological, social, and moral collapse. It brought greed, violence, and instability.
The state of crime in our country is directly linked to these bad moral choices on an individual and collective basis. It is linked to the immorality that the media highlights and the behaviour that should be confined to a bedroom.
We have bought someone else’s vision of freedom and development. This vision has killed our soul, sent us on a path of greed and corruption, hedonism, ecological disaster, and worst of all, it has killed the love we used to have in our families, communities and neighbourhoods.
The soul of the nation
In killing Washerwoman, we have killed the soul of our nation, that which was pure and virtuous. Forty years later, the Carnival has become big business, the end motive is profit through colourful beads and skimpy costumes.
This is only part of the story. Kiddies’ Carnival has maintained creativity and a few bands have held the tradition. The panyard remains a place of true development where people come first; discipline and excellence are extolled as virtues and culture is being reborn. Little man is working the renewal from inside out.
The problem with Carnival was seen clearly over 40 years ago. We chose to kill our soul in pursuit of glitter.
Take a long hard look at your values and that of Washerwoman and Mancrab. Which is closer to your values? Ask God for the grace of conversion of heart.
Matthew 6: 22–24