Oh gosh, I remember that old-time Carnival
Jourvert Morning one could almost anticipate the excitement on the eve of Carnival where all masqueraders would gather in front of the police station in Sangre Grande awaiting the signal from the siren to begin the celebrations. The revellers were mostly men and they were disguised in old clothing and painted faces; almost unrecognisable. Some carried effigies of stuffed animals or humans characters. Their musical instruments were cooking oil tins, pieces of bamboo, graters, bottles and spoons, flat pieces of wood held between the fingers, called the tock-tock and combs covered with pieces of paper. These provided the percussion sound needed to chant the lavway.
At the blast of the siren, the crowd went silent, suddenly all hell broke loose and the participants hit the streets chanting- "Jourvert, barray, no holding back for us".
The blue devils were a group of five men painted blue-black. Three had cooking oil tins hung around their necks which they beat mercilessly while they chanted "Pay the devil! Pay the devil!"
The devil was a man bound in chains with two horns and a long tail. He was controlled by his captor who manoeuvred his actions by way of the chains. There were also earth dwellers who were covered in dirt from head to toe. They rolled on the ground to keep themselves dirty. Only their eyes were visible. Further down the street were the may-pole dancers dressed in brightly coloured outfits accompanied by an old violinist. As they danced in and out they plaited and unplaited the long wide colourful ribbons on the pole. Nearby were the greasy-pole climbers who tried all day to reach the top for the prize money. Around the corner you could hear the boisterous stick-fighters' laughter, cheering, singing and drum beating, their lavway was "when ah dead bury meh soul, ah doh want meh body to feel the cold, when ah dead bury meh soul".
Their apparel was decorated with short pieces of ribbons. Each contestant wore their "coat of arms" colour which signified their district. Joe Prangay represented the Africans, Bull Brady the East Indians and "Dodoi" the mixed group. Each a champion in his own domain, they remained undefeated.
The Amerindian group was labelled the warahoon and it was said that they were from "down the main" which was Venezuela. This group formed a ring, chanting in a foreign tongue. The crowd of onlookers would throw money at their naked torsos rubbed down in roucou. This action caused them to jump in the air and scream making strange bellowing sounds. The burrokeet was a man in a stuffed donkey's body. He too danced to the sound of drums. A hat was passed around after each selection was rendered. The Dame Lorraine moved her large behind and bust in sync with her accompanying musician. The East Indians had one group which consisted of about four people. They would spread material on the ground where their musicians sat and the star was usually one girl about 15. Her trained body moved in unison with the music.
The strange thing is, she was of African descent disguised by a costume.
Ah... and now for my favourite the steel pan. Here is the real story behind its origin. In 1945 when Sir Winston Churchill went on the BBC news station and announced that Germany had surrendered and World War II was over, on hearing this news, some enthusiasts from East Dry River and environs took to the streets of downtown Port-of-Spain. With them they carried dust bins, hub-caps and pieces of steel, old graters, bottle and spoons, cooking oil tins, and pieces of bamboo which created the percussion sounds they needed to celebrate the victory. Afterwards, an oil company contributed oil drums to the youths, and a fairy godfather by his magical touch beat notes into them. In the old days, no one of social repute could support or associate with the steelband man. Today this once scorned evil has become Trinidad and Tobago's pride and is accepted internationally.
Last but not least, calypso. Calypsoes were our way of life, because it was our source of information, whether it was local parlance or state affairs concerning the British Empire or its neighbouring territories. All calypsoes were composed, strummed on guitar and sung by the composers himself. Although extempo is somewhat like modern day rapso, it was then sung in E-minor and it was designed to throw picong.
Indeed, Carnival of yesteryear wasn't what it is today. But regardless of its evolution it still remains a major part of our Trinbagonian culture and the greatest show on earth after The Adventures of Merlin (my favourite TV show!))
At 8 a.m. sharp the next day, the streets were cleared, because adults had to go back to work and children to school. Carnival celebrations were not public holidays back then. Those who absconded from their jobs lost them Ash Wednesday morning. We the children used to break "l'ecole-buiss" and sweep the neigbours' yards for one penny, ten cents was our spending money for us to buy 'press' palet, cassava pone and poulourie.
Afterwards a group of us would walk down Cunapo, after we had a bush bath by the well and a foot masage with coconut oil.
Sweet soap and shoes were items of luxury for the wealthy.
Our greased 'ten commandments' left foot prints of days gone by on the pavements of Cunapo.
The participants came out around 1.30 p.m. and they occupied every inch of the road. What little traffic we had was diverted to commute on Brierily Street. On the street itself strolled the peddlers and on either side where there were vacants spots. The different groups set up their displays of talents. There were those who carried around windmills on a stick for sale, and some had shoe boxes stung around their necks, calling out, 'one pound to see miss Suzie!'