Monday 5 December 2011

Behave Bad!

In Trinidad, there is a long tradition of “bacchanal” connected to a festival or holiday. Anil Sookdeo from the John Hopkins University, Baltimore, in his paper “Festivals and Plantations: The Misrule of Carnival and Hosay” explains why.

In the years of their popularisation, both Carnival and Hosay were lower class festivals. Carnival had not started out as such, when it was brought to Trinidad by the French plantocrats. However, after the abolition of slavery in 1834, the former slaves started to participate in the festival and soon take it over completely. The “jamette” Carnival dominated the pre-Lenten festivities towards the end of the 19th century, leaving out the middle and upper classes completely.
Hosay, on the other hand, was limited to the Indian indentured population. As such, it was - similar to the Carnival celebrations of the second half of the 19th century - not a festival that was participated in by middle and upper class creoles and the British administrators. The latter had a mighty lot of difficulties with the raucous festivals in Trinidad! Both Carnival and Hosay were oftentimes occasions of clashes between lower class behaviour and higher class ideas of how citizens should behave.
Anil Sookdeo puts forward two reasons for these clashes. Firstly, the two festivals were “used as surrogate vehicles for ‘organised’ action in the interests of those excluded from power and privilege”. The borderlines between feteing and protesting got blurred. Secondly, Sookdeo argues that there was a general atmosphere of contesting of the British administration in those years, which was vented in upheavals during the festivals.
Much research has been done on the misrule and non-conformist behaviour during Carnivals all over the world. Trinidad is certainly not alone in this. In fact, the success of Carnival throughout the centuries and its continuing attractiveness to people is its bacchanalian nature. It seems to always have been an occasion of expressing oneself against an established social or political order. This is, according to sociologists, necessary to actually upkeep and maintain a healthy community along those very lines that are being criticised in Carnival.

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