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The killing of Carnival

Friday, March 28, 2014
FLASHBACK: Machel Montano sings to Island People masqueraders on stage at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, on Carnival Monday. Photo: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

So Carnival done! It has officially come to an end, the proclamation which heralds in the reign of the Merry Monarch has seen to that.


The administrators and officials have been beating their chests as they report that this was one of the most successful carnivals and from the National Security personnel the word is that it was “the safest Carnival ever.”


The question has to be asked though, are we killing Carnival and sacrificing the mas and spectator participation by the overkill of police methodology and the rigid rulings of the National Carnival Commission (NCC) for order and structure of the parade of the bands?


The administration seems to be averse to the Port-of-Spain mayor and the Carnival arrangements of the city corporation. Is it a case of political spite continuing, as was the case with the previous mayor Louis Lee Sing?


Chairman Allison Demas claims that the NCC will revive Downtown Carnival in 2015, but who ran it down in the first place? Who took the children’s mas out of downtown Port-of-Spain and opted for the new Adam Smith Square starting point and a new specified route for their adult counterparts?


Let’s try to pick some sense out of the nonsense. The decree/proclamation which is read to herald in the two-day reign of the Merry Monarch, gives the guidelines as they pertain to the duration and time parameters of the celebration. It also serves to relax the laws to allow for free movement on the streets in any direction (traffic lights turned off etc.); gives the citizens the right to assemble in excessive numbers, wear costumes, disguise and even cover their faces among other things.


In the Woodbrook area, police vehicles were seen boring through the bands at regular intervals with their sirens blaring, so masqueraders were forced out of the way, costumes and all. What made it worse was that streams of unmarked and unauthorised cars followed these police vehicles as if they had gotten the all-clear to so do. 


This, to my mind, was in poor taste and it interfered with the people’s participation, whether masquerader or spectator. One had to be constantly readjusting one’s position in the already limited space. Where could the emergency be when there were hundreds of officers already positioned on the parade route? Why choose to drive through bands on the parade route? Why were the unauthorised vehicles not ordered off the route?


Then, at exactly 9.10 pm on the Tuesday night, a massive squad of police dressed in burgundy-coloured jerseys, swooped down on Ariapita Avenue and proceeded to shut down the music and ordered people to go home; masqueraders and spectators alike. It seems as though Capt Baker has returned from the days of the Canboulay Riots for another confrontation; we know all too well how that one ended in 1881. 


Are the police provoking another riot, this time in Woodbrook, with their negative attitude? Their interaction with the public was less than encouraging. It was intimidating, antagonistic and hostile at times, especially some police women, who seemed to think that they had a point to prove. 


A total lack of understanding was on display as if they were annoyed that they had to work while we were having a good time, or tried to. Why this deliberate confrontational attitude? Remember the proclamation identifies midnight on Tuesday as the end of Carnival.


There was an uncanny level of ignorance displayed in this year’s Carnival. From administrative decisions to the expectations of some of our citizens, the wanting was the same. Unfortunately, it is the same catchment of human resource personnel that services all aspects of institutional employment needs, thus the eventual results are a reflection of the present state of the society. Clear reflections of impatience, indiscipline, lack of knowledge and thus lack of understanding of most things were displayed. The enlightened now cringe in disbelief. 


So most of the children’s bands went against the grain of the prescribed route and started from the traditional downtown starting point, going up Frederick Street to the Queen’s Park Savannah, instead of the new Adam Smith Square starting point. They were probably penalised, (the children had fun though). Those who took the new route were visibly burnt out and exhausted by the time they reached the top of Cipriani Boulevard. 


However, the city was starved of the usual enthusiasm because the breach by the protesting bands was quite unexpected and vendors would have been ill-prepared; the usual strategically placed music would have been non-existent and spectators would not have lined that route but may have gone straight to the Savannah if at all. 


But how did the route restrictions affect the large bands on Monday and Tuesday, some of whom were penalised for not appearing at a prescribed judging point first? Such a rule would have all the bands follow each other like a line of ants, not deviating from the route and thus subject to any stoppage in the flow. This would eventually escalate into the same full-scale jam they tried to avoid. 


Did Tribe, Bliss and Yuma’s absence from the regular route make a difference? Did it render any ease to the other bands’ parade-jam woes? What was the purpose of the GPS devices used by National Security personnel? Was it just to track bands? 


Imagine the Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism stating that the NCC will employ the services of traffic end transport engineers, to study the route and provide solutions. What utter nonsense. 


The solutions have been tried and tested years ago and are there to be employed/deployed. Evidently the huge umbrella of ignorance under which all these administrators operate and a seeming unwillingness to make sense, propel them down a treacherous path. 


The “proclamation” at the start of the Carnival provides for the free movement of bands on any street, therefore, if a route is blocked or congested then another route should be available for selection. This, however, should be managed, as was the case when the amateur radio club REACT controlled the parade of the bands in the late 90s and early 2000s. They constantly kept the bands moving along free passages, routing and re-routing as their personnel who moved at the front of each band, reported back to a command centre. Those were the best years of parade route management; the flow of the mas bands was free. 


Since they could bring back Capt Baker, why not bring back things that worked and made sense?


 Anthony Clarence is a cultural activist and poet.


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