Almost a Year to Fifty: My Memories of Trinidad Carnival – Carnival Baby/Savannah Chile.

Dear Dad,

In Trinidad right now, things are heating up as Carnival approaches.  I have been looking at all the goings on through the lens of Maria Nunes ( yes, Maria Nunes self, Joe daughter, the talented golfer) who is a photographer now and Dad, she’s good; a talented artist. She is excellent at capturing the essence of mas …the essence of our culture.  I look at it all and I am so grateful to her for sharing what she sees everywhere she roams, from stick fighting competitions to the carnival King and Queen costume competition (where I find the costumes sweet too bad, this year) to Panorama where her photographs have made it so easy for me to actually hear the sweet notes of the pan.


Hear nuh, Bas, I think this was the year to go home for Carnival, but Adam is competing in the National Winter Games and the only plane ride we’re taking this wsherry anninter is to Corner Brook, Newfoundland to see him speed skate and cheer him on. And oui papa, after 10 years, Minshall is back, and so is the theatre of mas.  He took a piece of Russian Ballet culture, flipped it around and has a dude in drag, as a moko jumbie with pointe shoes painted at the feet, doing a continuous bourree across the stage to classical music before chippin’ off the stage to soca.  Its called The Dying Swan, Ras Nijinsky In Drag As Pavlova, portrayed ever so wonderfully by Jha-Whan Thomas.  Dad, it’s beautiful, its ugly, it’s graceful, it’s clumsy, it’s fragile yet strong and it is something to behold.  It is a show stopper, it makes the audience quiet for a moment and they applaud because they find it intriguing. It is, as always, Minshall and as always it is as praised and appreciated as much as it is criticized.tantan and saga boy

Charlie - The Midnight Robber - Minshall Mas

dying swan

I see it as ole time mas, meets foreign culture, interpreted to suit today’s world with a uniquely Trinidadian flavour.  It pushes you to look into history to the days in many countries when men portrayed female characters; it pushes you to remember and respect the history and performance of mas when you see it is a moko jumbie and in case yuh ain’t know who Anna Pavlova was, you damn well know now.  I am glad I lived to see Minshall do it all again albeit via vidoes and photographs on Facebook. And Peter, Dad, is Peter just as you left him – brilliant, passionate, unintentionally envelope pushing and his mind? Well, even now in his older years, meh boy mind still wide open and he is as articulate and expressive as always.

wayne berkleycarnival-trinidad_2136808ipsychedelic

Even from all the way here in this no-place where I have found myself, I can feel the spirit of Carnival. Just from what Janine and Sui Yen and other friends and family at home post, I can transport myself there. You’d be happy to know I still remember the sound of your voice and I can hear you clear as day talking about Burrokeet, Bookman, Pierrot Grenade, Bat,



Red Devil, Blue Devil, Minstrels, Dame Lorraine, Fancy Indian and Fancy Sailor.   I remember Reina was afraid of Jab Jabs and for some reason I was always terrified by a story you and Mummy told us about a man who lived in Belmont who used to play Devil who died Dimanche Gras night (from lead poisoning no doubt when he painted his skin) maybe because he played Devil mas one too many times???  When Mummy played Mas and you had to take us to the Savannah while you did the commentary for the parade of bands on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, we had the best seat in the house – right under camera 1, to the left of the Grand Stand, up high in the wooden scaffolding with all we needed to eat and drink…pelau, sorrel, souse, macaroni pie and currents rolls, sugar cake and tamarind balls galore!

minstrelfancy sailors

We were two little girls with a whole television crew of baby sitters, watching mas, waving to the masqueraders we knew, taking in our culture.  But you know, Dad, as much as I loved the modern mas, I have to tell you I loved when the ole time mas took the stage for their moment to remind the North Stand and the Grand Stand where it all began.  The little Pan Round De Neck bands,

pan round de neck

fancy sailors

The Drunken Sailors and Fancy Firemen   fireman   with their theatrical saga boy dance; the mesmerizing writhing of the Bat Dance and my absolute favourite, the Midnight Robbers and their Robber Talk.

robber 2 midnightrobber1There was this one older gentleman with a fully beaded and worked up Robber mas taking to the mic for his monologue saying ( and you know my memory for nonsense) “I am the Midnight Robber and you shall never know when and you shall never know where but I will come for you in the darkness and just like your father before you I will disintegrate you and grind your bones into gun powder” and then he shot the cap in his gun and scared the living crap out of me and Reina.

As he made his slow, deliberate, dramatic stride off the stage I wondered if I would ever see that Robber again and for six years I did and even saw his young son or grand son with him in the later years, giving his Robber Talk to the crowd on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, keeping the tradition alive.  I tell you Daddy, I have so many moments of my childhood in Trinidad, frozen in time in my mind that it doesn’t really seem like I have lived abroad longer than I lived at home.

When I am looking to connect with what is going on for Carnival, I find the best time is at night when while the boys sleep.  The cold of winter stays outside as I surf the net, curious as to what is going on now at home for carnival, ever so grateful for Panorama clips and soca videos looking for anything to remedy this homesickness. Tonight, my mind took me back to every Carnival Sunday drifting into J’ouvert when the music trucks and steel bands from the fete at the Chinese Association would take to the streets, heading down St. Ann’s Road and into Port of Spain.  Curled up in my current bed tucked under a heavy comforter to keep me warm, I am taken back to a time when all I needed was a thin, multi-coloured striped cotton blanket to cover me, fan blasting on hi-speed 3 in a too-warm-to-sleep room, listening to the revelers and the music, longing for the day when it would be my turn to chip in the streets J’ouvert morning from a fete.

The only problem with remembering all that I do, Dad, is that it’s Carnival and this is when I miss you the most.  This is when Sui Yen and Meiling miss Uncle Kit Sang and this is where Dominique and Gabrielle miss Uncle Nicky.  Daddies like you were our original connection to Carnival and all things in our culture.  Daddies like you made your children appreciate what it is to be Trinidadian.

Like I said in your eulogy, not many parents would put their kids in the car late for so on a school night and drive them to a pan yard in Lavantille, Woodbrook or Belmont.  You took us to mas camps to see how mas was made; took us back stage at the Savannah during the King, Queen (and back in the day Individual) preliminaries, semi finals and Dimanche Gras competitions.  I remember being so small and the costumes being so big, beautiful and at times frightening but I loved the atmosphere and the lights, the smell and the sound of the casters at the bottom of the costumes.  I remember the names of the winning costumes through the years and who portrayed them and what band they were from. I remember one of the last costumes Uncle Archie worked on – it was an individual and he was part of what looked like a French Cafe.  It was a small mas compared to the others but it was so well made and wonderfully decorated and the colours were this rich emerald green, gold and purple and though I knew he was not going to win, I hoped that he did.  I remember the calypso/soca monarchs from years and years ago AND I remember what they wore, the skits performed while they sang, the political satire and I remember lyrics from way too long ago.  Chalk Dust, Sparrow, Kitchener, Crazy, Rose, Rudder, Brigo, Scrunter, Penguin, Gypsy, Denise, Super Blue when he was Blue boy and Explainer and those are just a few.  I remember going with you to each mas camp to pre-interview each band leader, gathering all the info you could before you and the other announcers broadcast the shows, me feeling lucky to see the inside of a mas camp, staring at the sketches of all the costumes in the various sections and always happy to head home with a flawed headpiece or standard or a piece of a costume every time.

I remember the rivalry between the uncles when it came to whether Despers, your beloved Tokyo (because you worked at Carib), Invaders or All Stars were the best steel bands and I remember EVERY year you would tell us about what Carnival was like when you played as a young man and yes, they gave you a lot of cloth for your money when Sally brought Imperial Rome …What was it?…ah yes…gold lame AND you got mas boots as part of your costume.  You took me to my first J ‘Ouvert and dropped me to my last and put Adam on your shoulders when he was a baby and chipped through my band in Woodbrook with him so he could see his mummy in her costume. When I brought Tom and friends home, you made sure we had a Carnival experience to remember, making sure everybody tasted all the food, made sure everybody had their costume and drove us everywhere at anytime teaching everybody that they were indeed taking part in the Greatest Show on Earth.  Carnival has changed over the years, and some say it isn’t what it used to be but what I was exposed to as a child has created those frozen in time memories I spoke about earlier.  Memories that make me smile.  They are nice reminders of who I am now that I am so far away and have been for quite some time.  One thing is for sure, no matter how Carnival has changed, the atmosphere is the same, as is the vibe that brews from deep inside our bellies and allows us all (every creed and race) to find that rhythm that was fused into our being way back in 1838.  Rhythm from tamboo bamboo, biscuit tins, tassa and the mighty oil barrel that dictates the movement of the hips of every Trinbagonian baby.

In my mind, there is book learning and then there is cultural awakening and I have you to thank, Dad, for making me a Carnival Baby, a Savannah Chile … a true Trinidadian.  I have lived in three different countries, one state and three provinces and I have always been as Mr. Rudder says, “Trini to de Bone”.  Drop me anywhere and I will still be Daniella from St. Ann’s because of you.   If you could take us, Daddy, you did; anywhere, anytime.  From parking behind the rails at the horse races at the Savannah to all things carnival, to kite flying, to cricket, to going for  coconut water and jelly and oysters and roast corn, to football, to look at the boats race in Caranege – you took us everywhere all the time and you populated my mind with treasures that I will take to my grave.  I tell the boys about all this but it is not their experience because they are Canadian and that is fine.  They know about it and appreciate it as much as they can but this is mine to share with Reina and Mummy and the cousins and that’s kind of nice, having this thing that is unique to us. Thank you for being our teacher and our tour guide through the most important trails of our culture.  Thank you for the stories and the experiences, the tastes, sights, smells and sounds that will stay with me forever.  What you gave to me is worth more than precious metals, more than gems, more than money. You gave me my Trini soul.  It was an honour to have you as a father.  It go be waxin’ warm from tonight,Dad and I can’.t wait to see Maria’s photos.  Maybe you have a stadium seat in the great beyond and you are seeing it all.  Maybe you are back and in the midst of it, if resurrection or re-incarnation is a thing,,,either way, I miss you and I wish we were there together like old times.

And so I end this letter to you, knowing maybe you are not watching us from some great beyond but in case you are, here are some calypsos we used to sing in the car on the way to school back in the day and a couple I remember you holding on to Mummy and “taking a lil chip” with her at at Uncle Mike’s  and Uncle Nicky’s house fetes. 

XOXOXO your first girl…your Danie.  (For Reina ) Look the Devil – Penguin  (For you and Me and Mom) The Sinking Ship – Gypsy  (Again for Reina) Tiney Winey – Byron Lee (For All of Us) Trini to De Bone – David Rudder   (For You and Me) King Liar – Lord Nelson



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