Before Christians begin 40 days of self-denial and sacrifice during the Lenten season beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 1, several Caribbean Islands will celebrate one of the Caribbean’s more spirited entertainment event – Carnival. Nowhere in the Caribbean is Carnival more exhilarating, more colorful, more fun, than in Trinidad and Tobago.
It is believed the first celebration of modern Carnival in the Caribbean originated in Trinidad and Tobago in the late 18th century when French immigrants brought the Masquerade tradition with them to the islands. According to legend, slaves who were emancipated in 1838, used carnival rituals to commemorate their sufferings on the plantations and at the same time lampooned the lifestyle of their former masters through costumed characters. From TNT Carnival spread to other Caribbean islands like Haiti.
For decades. the annual Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, begins with plans and events from early January, peaking on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
Visitors from all over the world descend on Trinidad and Tobago every year to celebrate Carnival, primarily for the last two days, which are described as a celebration of life, color and the artistry of the people of Trinidad. It is usual for those who visit Carnival, even for multiple times, to praise the festivities especially the colorful costumes worn by various bands, and the pulsating rhythm of calypso, steel drums, and soca, as an experience they cannot forget.
Visitors to Carnival are advised to be well rested before going down to Trinidad for the fun as they say “never stop, and you can ‘grine and wine’ till you drop.” This is no idle advice, as during the build up to the climax, men and women of all ages, races, and colors wine through the streets, drinking rum under the sun and under the stars.
Before the highlight of Carnival next Monday and Tuesday, those who arrive in Trinidad over the weekend and bring the children with them, can take in the Kiddies Carnival which starts at 11:00 am on Saturday at the Queens Park Savannah in Port-au-Spain, the central location for Carnival events. Later that evening, visitors will be in for a unique thrill at the Panorama National Finals also at the Savannah, where large and medium steel orchestras will be thrilling the crowd with phenomenal steel pan music as they vie for the title.
On Sunday, there is a wide variety of events across the land, but for those who are unconcerned of the realities of not getting sufficient rest before the grand two-day celebrations, they can take in the Dimanche Gras, which is the King and Queen Competition finals, also at Queens Park Oval.
Thousands line the streets in Port-au-Spain and other major cities like San Fernando and Point Fortin from all walks of life to experience Carnival Monday and Tuesday; the grand finale where months of preparation and artistry are displayed for the world to see.
The big event which officially kicks off Carnival on Monday morning is J’Ouvert (or “day break“) which starts at 3am at Queen’s Park Savannah, ending after sunrise. This is a mass party like no other, referred to as “dutty mas” where revelers parade with painted bodies covered in mud, oil coca or many other forms of body paint, as they jam to calypso and soca music.
While people jam till the wee hours of the morning, street vendors serve the ever popular “doubles”, bake and shark and corn soup and steel pan and rhythm percussion sections continuously play the latest soca tunes of the season.
Those going to carnival to participate in Tuesday’s grand parade, Masquerade or “Mas” as it is commonly called, can join one of the all-inclusive bands like Tribe, Bliss, Fantasy, Yuma or Ronnie and Caro. With hundreds of bands to choose from, carnival revelers have their pick based on the vibe, costumes, or social setting they prefer.
Young and old alike have made Trini carnival a staple travel destination for good reason. Whether you go for the popular (fetes) or all-inclusive parties, the delicious cuisine, the Mas or just the overall Carnival experience, be sure to give yourself at least a week to take in the unlimited vibes and soak in the sweet TNT culture. There’s truly nothing like it on earth.