Monday, February 15, 2010
Sunday, February 7, 2010
‘…the Caribbean is not a common archipelago, but a meta-archipelago (an exalted quality that
Hellas possessed, and the great Malay archipelago as well), and as a meta-archipelago it has the virtue of having neither a boundary nor a center. Thus the Caribbean flows outward past the limits of its own sea with a vengeance, and its ultima Thule may be found on the outskirts of Bombay, near the low and murmuring shores of Gambia, in a Cantonese tavern circa 1850, at a Balinese temple, in an old Bristol pub, in a commercial warehouse in Bordeaux at the time of Colbert, in a windmill beside the Zuider Zee, at a café in a barrio of Manhattan, in the existential suadade of an old Portuguese lyric.’
The mythic history of the
Caribbean is richly layered with a diversity of cultural motifs. These islands were home to different Aboriginal Indian tribes like the Arawaks and Caribs alongside visiting tribes from the mainland. When the Spanish met this archipelago it was already a diverse region. From the 15th century when Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World to modern times when Trinidad is a thriving industrial nation, the Caribbean has become a bricolage of cultural expressions. Carnival in this sense is the ultimate syncretic celebration of this region, which temporarily creates an experience of the city which makes visible its differing mythologies.
Three Histories presents the separate founding mythologies of the festival and the people who inhabit
Trinidad. This analysis will lend clarity to the significance and potency of each cultures belief system in order to understand their confluence in Trinidad’s Carnival. These histories are assembled according to their relative impact on the festival as it is seen today. The first history is titled Shango: God of Drums. Here, the world of Yoruba in West Africa is revealed in order to understand the mythological and ideological underpinnings of African religious masquerade within contemporary Caribbean cultural expressions. The second history, Dionysus: God of Ecstasy traces the origins of ecstatic pagan celebrations. This analysis thereby considers the attitudes and traditions which underscore the European Carnival, brought to the Caribbean by French colonials. Finally, Leela: Sacred Play considers the societal role of festivals within East Indian culture. Through looking at some of the festivals which still occur in Trinidad today alongside Carnival, this history will uncover the integration of East Indian beliefs into modern Caribbean cultural expressions.
Although there are many other influences which have passed across
Caribbean waters, the three histories presented here are main anchor points of the festival. These myths have founded the physical articulation, the cultural significance and the form of celebratory characters today, making Trinidadian Carnival unique from most other Carnivals around the world. The basic thread that is shared between these disparate histories is ecstatic joy and the cultural imperative to engage in festivals to create that communal joy. It is this mutual acceptance of the need for communal celebration that has made the festival as prominent as it is today.