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Our research couldn’t tell us when the word “Bacchanal” entered the Trinidad and Tobago lexicon, but there the word is used to describe any type of disorder: a fight, either physical or verbal; confusion, like a traffic jam; war; pestilence, and above all the upending of societal norms when “Carnival Fever” takes hold in the twin island republic. All we can say is that when the bacchanal starts and, as the Trinis say “dey ready to break away”, the faint of heart, the morally squeamish take to the hills rather than witness the norms they so carefully nurtured, smashed on the streets of Port of Spain and trampled under feet striving for untrammelled emancipation if only for a day or two.
This smashing of norms dates back to the enslaved Africans mocking their masters in the yard while the white masters celebrate their carnival in the big house.
Trinidad carnival stands in the ranks of all carnivals, or whatever name they go by around the world – always iconoclastic; a release from social obligations and hierarchies to make way for the overthrow of order, joking and even debauchery. And even though the calendar says that carnival begins this coming Monday and Tuesday, elements of the carnival season fell into place since last November when the full array of steelbands from across the land started their runup to the championship that will end in a growling crescendo this Saturday at the National Panorama Large Bands Final – the pride of the nation that goes simply by the name “Panorama”.
Yes, steelband or simply “pan” will be front and centre this 2024 carnival since the people of Trinidad and Tobago will, for the first time, get to celebrate at a carnival the United Nations’ 2023 decision to proclaim August 11th as World Steelpan Day. There could not have been a more perfect time or setting to celebrate the invention of an entirely new musical instrument created by the community’s hand. It is said that pan was conceived and gestated in the womb of carnival, therefore it would be right that pan take a prime spot on the road with the heavy brass bands keeping a respectful distance.
In whatever way pan is featured in 2024, it riding a wave of calypso and soca will add the seasoning to the bewildering colours and fantasies of the scores of masquerade bands that will transform the streets of the capital into a sea of marvelous, mystical things. Without the beat of calypso and soca, the masquerade remains as lifeless as a picture on the wall.
Mas, the brilliant display of living art will occupy the streets from “Jouvert”, early Monday morning, until lights out on Tuesday – the end of carnival season ushering in Ash Wednesday and 40 days of cleansing and repentance.
Mercifully, the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago are peppered with white, sandy beaches washed by the salt water of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It is there to which the weary and repentant revelers will make their pilgrimage for a ritualistic cleansing before taking the severe vow of abstinence.
There the Trinis will “let bygones be bygones” and begin to make plans for next carnival. It really never stops.