–Professor Errol Hill in
The Trinidad Carnival, 1972.
Before 1834, when the Ma’afa of the African was abolished in the British colonies, Trinidad’s Carnival celebrations had two aspects: the torches, drumming and other African-derived ceremonies of the enslaved people, and the fancy-dress silks and satins of the European plantation owners. Often, the French would dress in what they considered fancier versions of the enslaved Africans, while the Africans would parody the plantation owners.
After the physical bandage was made illegal on paper, emancipated Africans, under the concealment of disguise, brought their dances, their songs and their festival traditions to the streets, recreating in symbolic ways the freedom from the cane fields. Archtypical characters-devils, bats, royalty, indians and death figures – were gradually refined into such traditional favourites as the Jab Jab, Jab Molassic, Midnight Robber and pierrot Grenade.
Throughout the mid-19th century, the middle and upper classes were extremely uneasy with this torchlight revelry. It seemed too bawdy, too raucous, and too liable to provoke riot and violence. Various measures were taken to prohibit public disorder, especially after 1881, when police and revellers clashed in the “Canboulay riot”.
As the turn of the century approached, however, Trinidad began to recognize that Carnival was here to stay. Official competitions were established, while some of the more provocative elements were suppressed. Merchants began to understand the economic benefits of an annual street celebration, and soon a wider segment of society – including people from all ethnicities and classes – were “playing Mas” (dressing up in masquerade costumes).
The early 20th century saw the dawn of Calypso. The steel drum was born; a wedding of African ingenuity and the cast-off industrial waste of foreign companies. The three art forms of Trinidad Carnival – masquerade or Mas’, Steel Pan and Calypso – were developed as forms of social commentary that could criticize the law, the government or society at large without fear of punishment. Competitions in all three genres elevated the skill of their practitioners, so that today Trinidad Carnival is known by many as “the greatest show on earth.”
Tomorrow will culminate another year of Toronto’s Caribana Festival – 42 years- in fact. Over the years Caribana has included members of many other communities that are now present in Toronto, including Jamaican, Brazilian, Cuban, St. Lucian, Guyanese, Bahamian, Antiguan, Barbadian and Dominican, aboriginals. As well as certain organizations that are political than festive; the environment, HIV, organizations from the homosexual communities and of course the ever present political shills looking to ride their pimp mobile on the backs of the ho’s, “jigging” in the streets.
Toronto’s Caribana Festival falls on the anniversary of the emancipation from slavery in Trinidad (August 1, 1838). This date is also significant because August had some significant events on that day:
- Chattel slavery abolished in the British empire (1834)
- Augustus Nathaniel Lushington, the first African American Vet born (1869 – 1939)
- Mary Eliza Mahoney first African American to graduate from a nursing school (1879)
- Educator Benjamin E. Mays born (1895 – 1984)
- Ron Brown, the first African-American chairman of a national political party, and the first African American Secretary of Commerce born (1941 – 1996)
- Jamaican heavyweight boxer Trevor Berbick (1955)
- Rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy born (1960)
- Dahomey proclaimed independent (1960
- The Jamaat al Muslimeem coup ends (1990)
Our-story of Caribana takes on a long road of firsts that would have built some significant chips for African people in Toronto… if the could have capitalized on it. This includes:
1810 The campaign of Upper Canada lieutenant governor John Simcoe to abolish slavery in the British Empire bears fruit – some say this is another reason why Caribana activities traditionally fall on Simcoe Day. Usually the first, but since the first is a Saturday, it is moved to the first working day of the week, to make it an official public or civic holiday.
August 5-12, 1967 Coinciding with Canadian Centennial celebrations, the Caribbean Centennial Committee kicks off a “trade and cultural exhibition” in Toronto. It includes a Yonge Street parade, mas bands, a Carnival Queen, a ball at Casa Loma and plenty of calypso. One of the purpose of this event (or so I was told by some original organizers) was to build a cultural centre to accommodate Caribbean victims of White Supremacy in Toronto, who experienced Jim Crow in Toronto. Up until that time, Yonge Street was the worst in the city…so bad not even Caribana’s our-story of leaving rebuilt projects in their wake could have saved the street.
August 2, 1968 Toronto mayor William Dennison officially proclaims August 5 to 10 Caribbean Week. This two week festival brings more money (officially $30 million in revenue and 3.9 million in taxes in to the city, unofficial, the hotel, restaurant, taxi and other ancillary bonanza is hard to chart, though a Decima report concludes that the festival brings $250 million into the city and despite the discriminatory practices are still evident in many of these establishments), and or 40 of this 42 years, getting funding money from the city is equivalent to pulling your own teeth with nail clippers.
January 15, 1969 The Caribbean Centennial Committee changes its name to the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) and expands its focus to include drama and dance classes, lectures and social services. The effort is backed by a loan from the Royal Bank, but directors put up their homes as collateral. This was a period when Africans had foresight and were willing to sacrifice for their children and the culture.
1970-1971 The parade needs more room to lime and moves to University Avenue. Along University Avenue, from the top of Queens Park (site of Afrofest) to about Richmond Street, were statues of Heroes of the boar invasions of Azania and other symbols of British expansionism in to Africa. African people were partying down that street, for so long until University Avenue became a district of wealth and an area were numerous governmental presence is seen, including the US consulate.
1980’s The exact Part of the route took the festival down to Front Street, right by the sugar refinery station. The idea of descendents of enslaved Africans, dancing by a sugar refinery had to be symbolic on so many fronts. Front Street from Jarvis to Spadina Avenue is a well built through where the Sky Dome and many attraction resides. It wasn’t like that before Caribana danced through.
1991 In a controversial move, the parade shifts from University to a strip of Lakeshore from the Prince’s Gates to Parkside Drive. There were no more faded streets that needed a face lift from the tourism influx following the Caribana parade, so the powers that be decided to send them through the dying CNE grounds and down lakeshore, hoping to build that area and control the “Niggers”. The fact that Caribana became an attraction to African self haters and their home made violence which made it and more acceptable easier move by City Hall.
1997 For some reason with debt heading past $800,000, Caribana is boycotted by mas makers and disappoints millions of attendees. This was due to the crabs in barrel bullshit infighting and years of theft and mismanagement by subsequent boards and insiders.
2005 The city withdraws funding, citing mismanaged financial records. The fest is in trouble, but the show goes on.
2006 The CCC gives up organizing authority but holds onto the trademarked name. The celebration is now called the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. Due to ineptitude, the CCC gave the Politicians the reasons to take over the cash cow and thus what could have been a keepsake of the community.
2008 After a couple of years without mounting losses, Caribana teams with Scotiabank. Once avoided by corporate sponsors, the fest now has new friends like the ROM hosting its Roots To Rhythm art exhibit. It is interesting that many of these sponsors never wanted come on board, but since the city now controls the cash cow, all of a sudden all kinds of money is being infused into the festival.
For more than 2 decades I have been personally boycotting the festival. I have been there three times, twice to bring out of town guest to the parade and once as a aspiring vender on the ill fated day the organizers decided to move the festival in to the broken down relic that was CNE Stadium. Besides the fact that the parade was rained out that day, I didn’t make any money, but did shell out a lot to line some crooks pocket.
So when I say that the imagery of semi naked, inebriated mainly African females, and women of all stripes along with children and elders, grinding up on or being grinded up on by inebriated men of all stripes, disgusted me I am not lying. To see a succession of Po-Lice ossifers, dancing with these women, members of the blue shield that always had a hate- hate relationship with young African males, getting their grind on…well!
Caribana and the organizers of Caribana have failed the community. The revellers have failed themselves as well because, just like Mardi Grass and the Trinidad, Barbados Carnival, it has become one big fuck party. We have not built any concrete legacy for our children. And now that massa controls the cash cow, we will see even fewer knee-grows and more Caucasians and others, benefiting from Caribana. While we are still wondering why African youth are embracing a culture of the gun, why employment hits us so hard, why so many of us are victims of the educational killing fields and why newer ethnic entities come here, get hooked up through political measures, through their own hard/smart work and desire to leave a legacy for their own children.
I cannot in good conscience sanction Caribana in my eyes, because I really don’t see a reason to celebrate today, not when the original reason for Caribana in Toronto, to commemorate the emancipation of Chattel slavery has been overlooked for so many years.
“…When the revolution comes afros gone be trying to straighten their heads and straightened heads gone be tryin to wear afros
When the revolution comes
When the revolution comes
When the revolution comes
But until then you know and I know niggers will party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party and bullshit and party…”
The last poets, When the revolution comes