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February 21, 2024
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February 21, 2024

Leaving no one behind: the Carnival contract is in we DNA

By Dr Marlene Attzs, Economist Email:

I read His Grace’s column ‘At the other end of the rope’ (February 11–17). His Grace’s article was a response to a question posed on whether bands were being exclusionary by roping off bands from non-masqueraders.

My first real memory of the issue of “exclusion” at carnival was circa 2005 when a popular mas band was accused of excluding prospective plus-sized masqueraders.

In recent times and based on many of the pictures published on social media platforms, the issue or girth among masqueraders seems no longer a concern. Alas, having surmounted that hurdle, we have advanced, albeit negatively so, to what I consider more worrisome aspects of exclusion.

Carnival is an integral part of the fabric of T&T—it in we DNA—and many of us have metaphorically signed Carnival contracts. This annual love affair which the people of T&T generously share with the rest of the world brings social capital and social cohesion in many forms.

Whether it’s communities rallying around their neighbourhood steelband during practice sessions or being the most boisterous and energised supporter when their band reaches the Savannah stage, or even as communities gather to make Carnival costumes under the tutelage of the neighbourhood wire bender or master craftsman. Carnival is a vehicle for social cohesion and social capital.

Even those who choose not to participate in the Carnival revelry may find themselves either bonding at church or youth camps or spending quiet family time away from the epicentre of the festivities— that too has tremendous personal and social value.

There also is the economic impact of T&T Carnival, the direct, indirect and multiplier impacts—the full scale of which remains unmeasured. What we do know is that the price of costumes and all-inclusive fetes is increasing—many local and foreign social media influencers have commented on this.

Many are aware the cost of living has been increasing and continues to rise. This coupled with the profit maximising motive can push prices out of the reach of many.

Another dimension of the economics of Carnival is that in a “short season” such as was 2024, ‘only the strong survived’ and some fetes had to be cancelled, small bands merged, simply because they could not cover the costs of hosting events.

On the much-discussed foreign exchange front, a significant amount of foreign exchange was spent importing costume components and related paraphernalia to support other Carnival events.

Though on the face of it, there was a healthy influx of tourists who may have brought with them some foreign currency that went into local circulation, overall Carnival would have used more foreign exchange than we earned.

All the above to say that the Carnival industry is significant when it comes to T&T’s social and economic landscape. Even the way our calypsonians weave social issues into witty ditties should be embraced as part of our national development trajectory as it highlights our creativity and symbolises a period where every creed and race can find, at least for the Carnival season, an equal place.

But amid this festival that in we DNA, there is the ember of exclusion that is smouldering and threatening to undermine ‘we ting’. One social media influencer called for more moderate prices to allow the average citizen the opportunity to participate in the national festival.

A more worrisome manifestation of the smouldering ember of exclusion was at the recent Panorama semis. There were attempts by some domestic and foreign companies to cordon-off large areas of the north stand to deny access to regular pan aficionados.

There is nothing wrong with a large group selecting and occupying a spot as is the tradition in the north stand—you get there early, choose a spot, and set up camp.

But to barricade off an area for your exclusive use and then threaten paying patrons who complain about the practice, must not be condoned. The very public financial support provided by these companies is appreciated, since hosting the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ is a costly venture.

I wonder however if the incentive to invest in ‘we ting’ is borne out of a sense of corporate social responsibility or a covert opportunity to exclude the population based on perceptions of class and entitlement.

With the myriad of challenges we face in T&T we should welcome opportunities to celebrate ‘we ting’ and enjoy the freedom that is in we DNA. Carnival is one such opportunity. Let us move forward and resist any attempt to impose exclusionary tactics, especially those based on perceived class and entitlements—that is not part of the Carnival contract and it’s definitely not in our DNA.

Lent is a good time for us to begin reflecting on how to resist and extinguish this smouldering ember of exclusion that threatens to erode the fabric of Trinidad and Tobago.

That’s just my point of view!

Photo by Cassandra Ramdin on Unsplash