300 Carnivals falling – How to Reload a Golden Age
OUR PROBLEM is that we’ve never understood our majesty. Never understood how large our cultural footprint is in the world. Never internalised the hundreds of heroes we’ve uttered into the universal pantheon. Never understood the power of the things we created. Never understood the billions just awaiting our reaping—if only we embraced who we are… It is not just Trinidad’s Carnival that’s falling. It is all 300 we’ve spawned…And it is not Carnival alone that falls—but all T&T’s cultural forms…
For 12 years the Artists Coalition (ACTT) has led battles against four successive administrations to get the commonsense facilitating systems for culture in place. These are systems the rest of the world put in place since World War II. ACTT inherited the struggle from two generations before us. Pioneers like Beryl McBurnie and Charles Applewhaite died without seeing it. Warriors like James Lee Wah threw their hands up in disgust at the paralysis…Every single political administration since Independence has refused to do the right thing. Now we’re paying the price in every facet of our life.
Every single collapse we are witnessing in the Carnival is related to generational collapse— to what happens when you fail to build institutions to honour your legacy, and manage the succession of traditions and knowledge-systems from one generation to another. We are thus always re-inventing the wheel, always victim to every invader, conman and gimmick…And have less authentic knowledge each year to create with…Our tragedy may be that our colonial rulers cared more about our landscape and culture than our post Independence politicians…
As a nation—no, as a civilisation—we are firmly in the age of institution-building. We either build or we perish. The solution to a host of our problems—from crime, to gangs, to unemployment, to the collapse of Carnival, to diversification of the economy, is in building the missing institutions.
This is a map of some that are necessary in the Carnival. The architecture and programming of these institutions must come from a place that understands the ‘ritual’ source of things. The ‘business’ will emerge from this. Here we go:
- Establish secret societies for mas traditions. Create architecturally appropriate houses for each tradition within the communities with the highest concentration. The House of the Midnight Robber. The House of the Sailors…Build it and they will come…The people who want to belong to those select orders will find themselves at their doorstep. These will be lodges with their own initiations, rituals. Our own Carnival priesthood…
- Fund the Guilds of Masters and grant it a Heritage Warehouse. The guild is the vehicle to pass on traditional skill. It is a workshop where master artisans work with master apprentices recreating master works, where the entire process is documented and codified. A completely indigenous curriculum from primary to university level can be extracted from this.
The secret of the genius of T&T mas-making was the fact that Trinidad possessed probably the region’s greatest skillsset cluster of ex-slave master artisans in traditional, rural and urban industrial skills. Tailors, carpenters, metal-workers…It was the application of this phenomenal skill-set to structural and costume problem-solving that gave rise to the Golden Age of Pan, Mas, and Calypso. That artisan class—their secrets and their skills—were decimated by our post-Independence governments.
Whereas in Italy tailors were supported and subsidised to become Armanis and Guccis, we spat on that class of our workers and gave them no facilitative economies. It was this class who went into exile and created the 300 Trini-styled carnivals worldover.
We must set up guilds of master carpenters, masons, tailors, etc in disenfranchised communities like East Port-of-Spain to recreate this Golden Age of talent and halt the collapse of our folk arts. It will also be an answer to crime.
Of all interventions in Carnival—and even for our economy—nothing is as important as the creation of the Carnival, Steelband, and Festival Museum. The centrepiece display must be the recreation of the 100 greatest costumes of the past—one each will be danced every day in the massive courtyard in the Museum’s interior restaurant. This cathedral to our best self must be built in the Savannah with an underground reservoir/aquifer which also generates some of its power. Landscaped into it will be the Carnival stands. Multi-media exhibitions will be the cornerstone.
This facility will be the heart of Carnivals worldwide— and the planet’s leading repository and investigator of costume traditions. This institution is equally important as process and as product. The processes that would be engaged in the four years necessary to build it would provide the engine for the Renaissance in every single field of the Holy Trinity of Pan, Mas and Calypso—and our arts. It will be the cornerstone of our national Renaissance.
We are at the end of an age. The end of the Age of Nostalgia. Farewell to the Golden Age. Let the New Age begin. Neglect bred the fall. Attention will breed the rise. Build the missing institutions!