No Carnival taste for Tobago, stakeholders eye October
Tobago stakeholders say they support the THA Division of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation’s decision to not host a physical Carnival celebration on the island.
It came hours after the National Carnival Commission announced that an estimated $30 million has been allocated for its Taste of Carnival initiative for mas, pan and calypso at safe zones in Trinidad. There will also be a brass concert and Carnival history showcase on February 28 and March 1, which would have been Carnival Monday and Tuesday. The NCC also unveiled over 200 pods at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port Spain where groups of six and ten can enjoy Carnival activities away from other patrons.
In a statement on Monday, the division said “a unanimous consensus” was reached among the division, Tobago Festivals Commission Ltd and other Carnival stakeholders.
It added the decision, which was formalised with a signed agreement, came about after a series of consultations involving the division’s line secretary Tasha Burris, Assistant Secretary Megan Morrison and representatives of various governing bodies in mas, pan and calypso. Stakeholders are now contemplating whether to host a Tobago Carnival in October.
The division said according to the agreement, the organisations will focus on restructuring and strengthening the overall festivities, and begin preparations for Tobago Carnival 2023.
However, the division will be embarking on a few initiatives during the season. These will include character portrayals at various locations.
On Tuesday, veteran bandleader Jemma Bedlow said the island’s mas fraternity simply will not have enough to prepare for Carnival by the end of the month.
“So, we are looking at October. That will give the band sufficient time to prepare.”
Alluding to the resumption of international flights to Tobago, Bedlow was optimistic there would be a spike in tourism by October.
“It will be a hype up for Carnival in 2023. But in Tobago, we are looking at October – and we will be the last Carnival in the region.”
However, Bedlow said several bandleaders have expressed an interest in hosting “a little J’ouvert and night mas.”
She suggested Shaw Park Cultural Complex could be used to host the events.
“You would have a greater measure of control there with the covid19 protocols. The mas people will want something.”
Bedlow said conventional mas with kings and queens is out of the question.
She said people’s lives are more important than a dollar.
“If I value my life, I value yours. I doh play that.”
Tobago Business Chamber chairman Martin George said he welcomes the division’s announcement.
“I am elated and ecstatic as this is something I have argued for,” he told Newsday via Whatsapp.
“I’ve also said it should be held later in the year and at a different time from Trinidad’s Carnival. It seems the THA is listening so that’s great.”
Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice-president Carol-Ann Birchwood-James also supports the decision.
“We had already done a study of it about ten years ago and we had proposed October 31 to be our second Carnival. We had studies on it, so we didn’t have to look for a date.
“Some people might say we are Trinidad and Tobago, one country, but we also could have a second Carnival. We cannot have it in August. It will clash with the other islands. So, I agree.”
The THA has long been exploring the likelihood of hosting a second Carnival in Tobago.
At a post Executive Council news conference in September 2020, months after the onset of the covid19 pandemic, former chief secretary Ancil Dennis had said, “We are in the process of discussing the possibility of a Tobago Carnival separate and apart from the national Carnival. And, of course, we continue to look at ways and means in which we could continue to have cultural shows and cultural events even while observing the restrictions and observing the realities of the times.”
In its statement on Monday, Burris is quoted as saying the division stands ready to support the stakeholders to ensure that Tobago’s Carnival and cultural offerings continue to grow.
“This decision was not easy in the sense that we know that Carnival provides employment for a number of persons; we know that our stakeholders look forward to the participation of their members; we know that people look forward to seeing our Carnival on display, but the reality is that a bigger consideration had to take precedence.”
She added, “Deciding not to host physical Carnival festivities in the traditional way, demonstrates that we are putting the lives of our citizens first and foremost. Secondly, because of the short time frame, planning Carnival activities in February would be rushed and not result in the benefits and impact that are desired.”
Burris said the decision will allow the Tobago space to get back to a place that is as close to normal as possible and will give stakeholders an opportunity to “get things right, for us to plan our activities properly and ensure that we build out a product that could become commercially viable.”
BY: COREY CONNELLY