"PISSENLIT" OR "WINE AND JAM": THE DILEMMA OF CULTURAL
PRESERVATION IN THE TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO CARNIVAL
The transformation of Carnival from its inception poses some dilemma as the forms of
artistic expression no longer only respond to what is happening within the society.
Once a male dominated arena, the boundaries have now been expanded as women rule
the scene and the forms and expression are now inclusive of external sources.
This factor poses a challenge for cultural preservationists, whose State-mandated
purpose thus far has focused on the preservation and transmission of the traditional
masquerade characters. This is the image transmitted as representative of the country's
cultural national identity while the more popular contemporary "wine and jam" bands,
proven to be crowd pleasers and huge revenue earners, continue to be marginalised as
their depictions and artistic expressions are not viewed within the ambit of Traditional
Knowledge, Folklore and Heritage.
The attempts to copyright certain aspects of the festival to prevent their theft,
degradation or misappropriation by local and foreigners alike are intricately
intertwined with the economic aspects and cultural appropriation issues. Selective
preservation, copyright and intellectual property rights would invariably affect the free
flow and access to information to citizens in the Information Society.
This paper seeks to explore issues surrounding cultural preservation, heritage copyright
and cultural appropriation of Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival as it impinges upon
citizens' rights to artistic freedom "through any media and regardless of frontiers."
tradtcciones vertaingen tradukshon tradufes traductions i6ersetzungen
"Pissenlit" o "Wine and Jam": el dilema de la conservaci6n cultural
en el carnaval de Trinidad y Tobago
Cherry Ann Smart
La transformaci6n del carnaval desde sus inicios plantea cierto dilema ahora que las formas
de expresi6n artistic ya no constituyen inicamente una reacci6n a lo que sucede en la
sociedad. Mientras que antes el carnaval era dominado por los varones, los limits se han
expandido: ahora son las mujeres las que predominan en el scenario, y las expresiones
incluyen ahora fuentes externas.
Este factor plantea un reto a los conservacionistas culturales, cuyo objetivo, por mandate del
estado, siempre ha enfocado la conservaci6n y transmisi6n de las figures tradicionales de
mascarada. Esta es la imagen que se transmite como representative de la identidad cultural
national, mientras que las actuales bandas "wine and jam" mAs populares, que han
comprobado que les encantan a las multitudes y que atraen a una cantidad enorme de gente,
siguen siendo marginalizadas y sus representaciones y expresiones artisticas no son
consideradas como parte del Conocimiento, Folclore y Patrimonio Tradicionales.
Los intentos de reservar los derechos de autor de ciertos aspects del festival para evitar que
scan robados, degradados o usados incorrectamente por personas locales o extranjeros, estin
intricadamente entrelazados con los aspects econ6micos y los problems de apropiaci6n
cultural. La conservaci6n selective, los derechos de autor y los derechos de propiedad
intellectual afectarian sin excepci6n el libre flujo y el acceso a la informaci6n para los
ciudadanos de la Sociedad de la Informaci6n.
Esta ponencia pretend explorer los problems relacionados con la preservaci6n cultural, el
patrimonio, los derechos de autor y la apropiaci6n cultural del carnaval de Trinidad y Tobago
y estudia c6mo los mismos afectan los derechos de los ciudadanos a la libertad artistic
"mediante cualquier medio y sin limitss.
Palabras clave: Carl, patrimonio, conservaci6n, acceso, cultural
John g. Emanstraat 110, Oranjestad, Aru6a, W.I. Phone: (297)588-2842 Fax. (297)588-4678
"Pissenlit" ou "Wine and Jam": le dilemme de la preservation du
Carnaval a Trinidad et Tobago
La transformation du Carnaval depuis ses origins pose des dilemmes 6tant
donned que les formes d'expression artistique ne repondent plus a ce qu'il se
passe dans la soci6et. Autrefois une arene domin6e par les males, les
frontieres ce sont maintenant elargies car les femmes dominant la scene et
les formes et expressions utilisent des sources exterieures.
Ce facteur pose un d6fi aux conservateurs de la culture don't le but, mandate
par le gouvernement, 6tait jusqu'd maintenant concentr6 sur la preservation
et la transmission des caracteres traditionnels de la mascarade. C'est l'image
transmise comme representation de 1'identit6 culturelle national d'un pays
alors que les groups o Wine and Jam ) contemporains les plus populaires,
prouv6s contenter les foules et 6tre une grande attraction, continent d'6tre
marginalis6s. Leur representation et expression artistiques ne sont pas
consid6eres dans le cadre des Connaissances, Folklore et Heritage
La tentative d'enregistrer des droits d'auteur pour certain aspects du
festival pour pr6venir leur vol, degradation ou une appropriation frauduleuse
est entreml16e d'une facon compliqu6e avec des aspects 6conomiques et des
questions d'appropriation culturelle. Preservation selective, droits d'auteur et
droits de propri6t6 intellectuelle vont affected le flot libre et l'acc6s a
l'information des citoyens de la Soci6et dInformation.
Cet article cherche a explorer les questions autour de la preservation, de
l'hritage, des droits d'auteur et de l'appropriation culturelle du Carnaval de
Trinidad et Tobago, notions qui empietent sur le droit des citoyens a une
liberty artistique ( a travers tout media et en d6pit des frontieres. >
"Piss-en-lit" or "Wine and Jam": The Dilemma of
Cultural Preservation in the Trinidad and Tobago
Cherry Ann Smart, BA
Postgraduate Student, MLIS
University of the West Indies,
This essay presents a cursory glimpse into the Carnival. The illicit olden
character of the 'pissenlit' is a deliberate antithesis to the contemporary 'pretty
mas.' The imagery of their dissimilar facades is used here to underscore the
practice of marginalisation of certain art forms and groups of the Carnival at the
national and community level. It is submitted that this practice is common
among state regulated cultural bodies and the extant scholarship, appointed
experts in the traditional art forms of the Carnival. It is argued that cultural
appropriation or the selective retention of what constitutes the art forms of the
Carnival would invariably affect the free flow and access to information to
citizens in the Information Society.
But what is this Carnival? This celebration for which a nation spends
weeks anticipating; incites musical homage from calypsonians, soca artistes and
steel pan men; entices expatriates and tourists to travel miles just to participate in
it; while the State, not to be outdone, spends millions to "protect" it this alleged
"greatest show on earth."
Rohlehr (2001, 2) notes that Carnival evolved as the grand stage upon
which identities were asserted, contested and performed in the post-
emancipation period. Edmondson (1999, 57) observes that the Trinidad [and
Tobago] carnival is embedded in deep historical traditions dating back to the
combined religious rituals of the slave population and the Spanish slave owners.
Van Koningsbruggen (1997, 2) describes it as "a national cultural event ... the
result of almost two centuries of history, in which specific events which were
initially confined to specific social groups gradually became the common
property of society at large and were transformed into national symbols" (1997,
2) while Cohen (1974) in Manning (1990) terms it a two-dimensional public
drama, a performance in which cultural and political meanings act upon each
other in mutually influential ways. 1997 Soca Monarch Ronnie McIntosh
vocalises it simply as "colour, people, mas." Carnival can therefore be said to be
the result of a cross-fertilisation of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society, a
calalloo mixture of people, music and masques, freedom and turmoil, fused into
a living tradition.
The Carnival is made up of three distinct yet inter-related areas of art
expressions the masquerade, the calypso and the steel pan. Each art form
engenders its own distinct body of scholarship and is represented by its own
autonomous body although they all fall under the aegis of the National Carnival
Commission (NCC). The National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA)
represents the masqueraders, Trinbagonian Unified Calypso Organisation
(TUCO) epitomises the musical artistes, while last but in no way least, Pan
Trinbago stands as spokesperson for the steel pan noted as being the only
percussion instrument invented in the twentieth century.
The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival begins every year two days before the
start of the Catholic season of Lent, although the season in fact begins almost
immediately after Christmas. This was partly in response to calypsonians'
protests that the financial investment made producing their music brought such
minimal returns due to the short season, especially since calypso music was not
then played on the airwaves during the Lenten observation. So, from Boxing day
until Mardi gras, the country is a musical haven the venue for soca, kaiso and
extempore. This music is featured at parties, shows, calypso tents, schools and
workplaces, all inclusive fetes and limes (not always confined to the weekends),
with the parade of the bands relegated to the weekends for the children's events
and carnival Monday and Tuesday for the adult masqueraders.
At midnight on shrove Tuesday, the reign of the Merry Monarch ends and
some semblance of normalcy returns to the city streets. Former revellers, guised
now in the garbs of the consummate professional, resume work after the two
unofficial public holidays. For those so inclined, there is also the receipt of ashes,
worn as a reminder of our unworthy and sinful nature for which we must be
penitent. 'Las lap' events are hosted subsequent to the main festivities but these
are held in some moderation in consideration of the forty day observations.
State, Sanctions and Cultural Appropriation
Sanctions have played a part in the Trinidad and Tobago carnival from its
inception. Throughout the 19th century, the whites attempted to "purge"
carnival and at times to ban it altogether (Alonso 1990, 118). Powrie1, in writings
that date as far back as the mid-twentieth century, informed even then that
Carnival had become a tourist attraction many of the traditional, African,
elements of Carnival having disappeared. All has become "cleaner" and much
more respectable, she notes, the middle class are at last inclined to take pride in
something which is Trinidadian.
Rohlehr (1999, 6) maintains that morality, respectability and decency, as
defined by an entrenched elite, have always sought to control or even abolish
Carnival's festive laughter. Yet despite its quest for respectability, that unruly
component that is ingrained into the carnival cannot be eradicated, as Zavitz
and Allahar (2002, 142) reminds "carnival remains a performance, whereby
conflicting ideas and values are dramatised and contested in the struggle for
powers... a stage of which the complexities and contradictions of the nation are
Throughout all these episodes the state has played its perfunctory part by
the appointment of regulatory bodies of the carnival. For instance, 1919 and 1938
saw the installation of the Carnival Deputation Committee (CDC) and the
Carnival Improvement Committee (CIC), respectively. The functions of these
two entities consisted mainly of sanitising the festivities, removing what was
perceived as obscenities and other undesirable aspects of 'mas' (Franco 1998).
This cultural cleansing of the masquerade was deemed important to
preserve the Carnival from elements which could contribute to its degradation,
and project an image of civility and respectability to outsiders. But this
regulation, which can be perceived as cultural appropriation at the national level,
can prove perilous to Trinbagonians,2 the true owners of the culture, especially in
the Information age.
According to Brown (2005), cultural appropriation is held to be wrong for
two reasons: First, it is disrespectful of the cultural values of the source
community, which rarely has sanctioned the imitation of its creations by
outsiders. Second, it subjects that community to material harm, either by denying
it legitimate economic benefits or by undermining shared understandings
essential to its social health.
Cultural Preservation and the Information Society
It is possible to see the network as it relates to cultural protection, heritage
preservation and tourism. It is also plausible to see why the responsibilities for
all three might lie within the ambits of the State. In the spirit of international
models of protection of folklore, through organizations such as the World
Intellectual Property Organisation and UNESCO, it would appear that the State
is best positioned to adopt the role of cultural preservationist. But in
undertaking this onerous burden, the State has not only positioned itself to
define folklore, it has also appointed itself as guardian of the culture. Part of the
strategy of claiming the right to act for the culture means projecting a generic
image of a culture, shared equally by all, in danger from the outside (Scher 2002,
From the "inside" however, cultural preservation authorities become the
body who defines the contours of "real" versus "fake" culture, marginalise
certain expressive practices, and purge existing practices or elements considered
foreign, undesirable or inauthentic (Scher 2002, 460).
So, following precedence, the State appointed as its agent of the Carnival,
the National Carnival Commission of Trinidad and Tobago (NCCTT) by Act 9 of
1991. This body superseded the Carnival Development Committee (CDC) which
had been installed since 1957. The functions of the NCC entail:
1) regulating, coordinating and conducting Carnival activities
throughout the country under the aegis of the Government;
2) developing, maintaining and reviewing rules, regulations and
procedures for the conduct of carnival festivities throughout the
3) identifying, evaluating and promoting all carnival related
industries with a view to enhancing and marketing cultural
products and services;
4) developing and implementing marketing strategies for revenue
earning potentials of the festival and its contribution to the national
economy with the following considerations:
i. The unexplored potential of Carnival
ii. The possibility of marketing Carnival products and
activities in domestic markets
iii. The contribution by the private sector to the funding of
specific aspects of Carnival
iv. The establishment of closer promotional links between
the tourism and carnival industries.
The NCC also offers consultancy services providing technical assistance
and expertise on Carnival Arts and Culture to domestic and international bodies.
In a nutshell, the responsibilities of the state-appointed body as listed
confirm that Carnival is indeed big business. The transformation of this once
considered pagan ritual into a worldwide industry resurfaces annually in cities
in North America, Europe and the Caribbean where there is a high migrant West
Indian population (Fergusson 1996, 1).
The rise of national governments in the Independence era led to an
emphasis on national culture which was magnified by the rise of the Information
Society. This occurred because the information society, by its very nature,
undermines social norms and institutions using its power to strip the smallest bit
of performative content from their value-context and then use technology to put
these pieces to work, typically with a goal of realising a profit (Brown 2005).
Scher (2004) reminds that the proprietary attitude taken by governments
with respect to intellectual property is understandable. The fact is that for some
of these economies, IP is recognized as a tool for development, the regulation of
which can attract investment. But how does this stance affect citizens at the
community level? The State's definitive take-over of the festivities both locally
and abroad, the heavy commercialization of the event, and selective preservation
techniques practised are inimical issues which should be addressed alongside
theories of dilution or misappropriation by external forces.
This is especially poignant in view of international interventions. Who
speaks for the community? Brown (2005) notes that an overly broad
interpretation of group rights to heritage can lead to situations in which
marginalised members of cultural communities (women, gays and lesbians, etc)
find themselves silenced by the power to represent its values and practices to the
world at large.
These are some of the challenges that Wallis (2003, 369) warns that the
information citizen must face. While intellectual property3 laws and policies, in
part, determine the extent of the dissemination of information and the ease of
access to knowledge, restrictive policies, entailing secrecy and exclusionary
practices, can create barriers to access and use (Drake 2005, 21).
Citizenship then is important as it means participation in public life and
involvement in public affairs. Apart from the political and civil rights of
citizenship, individuals are imbibed with cultural rights which enable an
individual to play a full part in the culture of a community this includes all
organizations in the education system and cultural heritage such as libraries,
museums, and archives as they too make a fundamental contribution to
cultural citizenship (Correira 2002, 2).
As it stands, the three entities representing Trinidad and Tobago cultural
art forms, as well as the NCC, maintain a web presence. Noticeably absent from
these web pages are forums to invite dialogue. The media however can always
be relied upon to broadcast the public's views, propitious as well as inimical,
with respect to cultural initiatives by the State and the public's view with respect
to matters relating to the culture. How far these opinions are considered is
Piss-en-lit or Wine and Jam
The abuse of cultural preservation application in the Carnival is hardly
bizarre, as the depictions of the 19th century character 'piss-en-lit' and the 20th
century 'pretty mas' are two cases in point. In both instances, they represent
masquerades of which women were and are the key supporters. The 'wine and
jam' sect proves to be a further conundrum as the State finds itself caught up in
its own two systems of morality social politics and money.
Winston "Gypsy" Peters'4 complaints that the "jump and wave" music
(the accompaniment to the "wine and jam" masquerade), is killing the art form is
not an isolated claim. This has been the view of many traditionalists in the
carnival since the introduction of the soca. But what are the art forms of
Carnival? If Carnival has always been socially constructed and the art form is a
reflection of the various forces in the society contributing to its referral as a
'living tradition', then what are the traditional arts? As society changes, in
response to internal and external forces, it would seem plausible that an art form
which thrives on this interaction would reflect those changes. It belies then the
tendency of organizations such as UNESCO in granting culture, (for which there
is still no explicit definition) transcendent legal status, the concept tendency to
freeze social life in time, to imagine stable boundaries where none exist, and to
attribute to social groups (especially indigenous ones) a vague, even mystical
otherness (Brown 2005).
Debate about women in carnival is no new phenomenon. Franco (2000,
61-63) gives a comprehensive description of the 19th century character 'piss-en-
lit' (wet-the-bed) or 'stinker' which she describes as 'jamet mas' and which was a
protest representation by Afro-creole women of their place in society. The
characteristic 'jamette'5 or 'diametres' masquerade was attributed to the
underworld who gradually took over the carnival in the eyes of the white elite
(Cowley 1997, 66).
The term 'piss-en-lit' or 'pisasne' is said to have been derived from the
French verb 'pisser,' meaning to piss or urinate and which Franco further
explains was changed from the Trinidadian term 'chie' meaning to shit. Other
terminologies used were 'pizali', 'pizand' and 'pisser du sang' which signified
menstruation and which seems to substantiate in part the claim that its chief
masquers were female. However, the propensity for symbolic inversion6 in the
Carnival could also confirm the opposite. The extant Carnival literature reveals
both men and women as participants as Cowley (1997, 83) makes reference to
"masked men...who unsexed themselves to enjoy the silly novelty of wrapping
their big frames in a shapeless bundle of female apparel." In Traditional Masques
he alluded again to 'masked men dressed as women... [who] wore long
nightgowns, often transparent, and decorated with ribbons and lace. Others
wore very little except menstruation cloths liberally stained with "blood. They
danced an early version of "wining"...the dancing was accompanied by sexual
horseplay including the use of a poui stick protruding between the legs" (
The very nature of the 'pissenlit was regarded as so unsavoury it
provoked yearly denigration from the upper classes. The outcry from these
aristocrats as to the scandalous nature of the character only resulted in an
increased female participation while the male numbers decreased. It would
appear also from the span of the literature that the more complaints the character
generated, the more its facade degenerated, moving from a 'loose flowing night
gowns, all in white' to a tattered affair with an accompanying 'long red-dyed
cloth' (Cowley 1997, 87). Criticisms such as those expressed in an 1884 editorial
in the Port of Spain Gazette (cited in Cowley 1997, 99) refers: "some costumes,
such as the pisse-en-lit... [were so indecent] they should not be tolerated."
"Public" [emphasis mine] outrage led to its eventual ban from the carnival in
1895. Women then abandoned it, men re-appropriated it as comic mas, but by
1899, it was almost extinct, resurfacing in the early twentieth century as j'ouvert
mas (Franco 2000, 69).
How much this 'mas' represents the struggles between the male and
female for empowerment is a topic for another essay as Alonso (1990, 115)
contends that the sexual inversion of 'pissenlit humiliated women and asserted
male dominance in what was defined as "masculine space on the street." Davis
(1972) in Alonso (1990) concurs citing that "by appropriating feminine generative
potency, 'jamette' men enhanced their power."
Ironically, the description of the 'piss-en-lit character seems reminiscent
of famed mas maker Minshall's acclaimed theatrical portrayal of "River." In this
1983 production, masqueraders danced on stage en masse clad in 'innocent
white cloth' on the Monday; then on Mardi gras, 'jets of coloured dye' suddenly
appeared, "staining" the river people. In this portrayal his Washerwoman
queen, the embodiment of innocence and purity was symbolically raped and
murdered by his king, Mancrab, a devil-like creature representing greed and evil
technology (Kerrigan and Laughlin, 65). In some rural communities in Trinidad
and Tobago, terms such as "aunty in town" or the "river come down" are used to
refer to the fact that a woman was currently menstruating.
The National Carnival Bands Association approximated that over 85% of
the masqueraders of these 'pretty bands' were reported to be women.7 The
increased involvement of women in contemporary carnival and their
appropriation of 'masculine space on the street', is instructive. Female
participation in the steel pan, traditionally considered a male domain, has also
expanded. This trend relates to the broadening role of women in the society as
well as the transitions that are taking place in Caribbean masculinities (Nurse
So we have a situation where male participation in the masquerade
steadily dwindles while women's involvement increases, with a resulting
increase in revenue. Yet the reigns of the Carnival still remains a gendered affair
and just as religiously there are complaints made about the lack of originality in
the costuming and the behaviour of these young, middle-class, independent
individuals. Critics decry their lack of respectability and morality because of
their wining extravaganza and bikini clad bodies. Their choreography, with or
without male partnership, is said to be reminiscent of yesteryear's 'jamettes' the
epitome of 'baadness' the qualities of which were ...talent in dance and music,
indifference to law and authority, and great sexual accomplishments. By their
behaviour they represented the reversal of the values of respectability and a
flamboyant rejection of the norms of the superstructure (Pearse 1956 cited in
Alonso (1990, 110-111) notes that it is common place for subordinated
groups and classes for whom there is no law and no justice to establish a
reputation for being 'baad'. However, the illicit power and wealth which are
maintained are destructive and sterile, as it is a power "outside" society, which
can only be used to destroy, not to reproduce, that which is "inside."
Edmondson (1999, 2) argues about what she perceives as the
"contradictory ideologies surrounding contemporary women's performance in
the Caribbean public sphere."
On the one hand, black women are represented as icons of respectability,
virtuous women who must be properly educated and acculturated in order
to take their place as symbols of national progress. This is the Black
Nationalist ideal. On the other hand, black women are represented as the
anti-woman, pathological and lascivious viragos who undermine the
nationalist project. This is the historical stereotype, the nationalist
nightmare against which the ideal labours. Both images spring from
representations of women in popular culture rituals such as carnival, or
through women's civic organizations and other vehicles of uplift.
At the first World Conference on Carnival held in Boston in 1998, Scher
(2002, 455) reflects on what he construed as a conspicuous understanding of
what counted as Carnival by the body was "old time Carnival." These were the
Pierrot Grenade, Midnight Robber, Minstrels, Devil mas, Sailor Mas, chantwelles,
etc. which won high praises among the ruling classes for their intellectual
representation and artful choreography. Scher (2002) maintains that this
situation existed despite the extensive coverage of mainstream carnival in the
newspapers, NCC brochures and public relations documents a paradox if there
ever was one. Taylor (1978) cautions though that when popular cultural
movements are made to imitate high culture they are thereby destroyed as
Scher (2002) further posits that such "a myopic approach ironically
undermines the very goal of presenting a scholarly assessment of the experience
of Carnival that is most relevant to the majority of contemporary masqueraders."
Expressions of Folklore and De Overseas Carnival
The overseas carnival are said to be fashioned on the Trinidad Carnival
"... or borrow heavily from it in that they incorporate the artistic forms (pan,
mas, calypso) and the Afro-creole celebratory traditions (street parades/theatre)
(Nurse 1999, 674). However, the extent to which it can be categorised as a pure
affairbelonging to NCC or any other regulatory body is questionable. Abroad,
the Carnival is revered as a symbol and mechanism of Pan-Caribbean unity, a
demonstration of the fragile but persistent Caribbean belief that "All o'we is one"
(Manning 1990, 49); a Caribbean diasporic festival. Hence, while Trinidadians
may dominate the scene, other Caribbean expatriates, are enthusiastic supporters
A bit baffling then is the task of the NCC in establishing rights over
carnival and carnival related products so that the state [emphasis mine] might
benefit financially and symbolically from the use of "its" culture [Scher 2002,
DaMatta, on the Brazilian festivities notes that Carnival is a moment
without a patron and a master: it belongs to all (1991, 87). In response to
questions as to who is the owner of the Carnival the ready response is "cada qual
brinca como pode" -everyone plays Carnival as they can because "carnival belongs
to everybody". In an article on his resignation of the NCC Chairman and as
"head of the Carnival" (Trinidad Guardian, May 2, 2006) Kenny de Silva was
reported as declaring that "carnival belongs to the people and is funded by the
It would seem then that grievances about the Carnival being diluted or
polluted by errant female masqueraders or 'jump and wine' soca music are not
the culprits in misappropriation but rather the heavy commercialization, which is
so apparent in the event, especially in the International sphere. Article 1 of
UNESCO convention refers where it "reaffirms the sovereign right of States to
create the conditions for cultures to flourish and to freely interact in a mutually
Indeed the commercialization of the carnival overseas may be seen as an
unqualified success as the figures in the following table will show:
Steel band directory [registered] (courtesy PanTrinbago's Web Page, 2006)
T & T Caribbean USA & Canada Europe Rest of
150 5 246 223 12
Additionally the commercialization of the Carnival over the years has
'Lilt Notting Hill Carnival' renamed after a soft drink manufacturer;
a regimented, heavily policed, sanitised affair in Brooklyn;
a fee imposed subsidisation of the event marked by increased city and
police control in Toronto forcing veteran mas player Alvin Bailey to
comment that "In Toronto, carnival is becoming merely a display. There is less
and less audience participation. Police arrest or eject anyone without a costume
who joins a band. That is not carnival" (cited in Fergusson, 1996);
power struggles in Miami, leaving the Carnival in limbo (Fergusson, 1996)
In the local environment, the resort by pan men to entrepreneurial
support for the bands, in particular the steel pan, can be attributed to
government's prior lacklustre support or inability to invest in the carnival.
Consequently, the plea for commercial sponsorship initiated a counter-offer
which is to be expected in any reasonable business transaction. In return for
band sponsorship, the violence among and in bands had to be contained. More
housekeeping as old traditions and structures of social organizations are broken
down as capitalism and the cash nexus enter the picture (Zavitz and Allahar
It is therefore no small surprise to see the members of steel pan orchestras,
who once proudly upheld the status of 'bad johns', being outfitted in tuxedos
and such uniformed attire belting out classical compositions on the steel pan,
attributing to the instrument its much yearned for respectability. Additionally
the pan yard, once thought of as the domain of the lower classes and criminal
elements, enjoy a boost in status as the happening place for intellectuals and the
upper middle classes, although this mingling may be relegated to the carnival
A lot of the blame of cultural appropriation has been attributed to
globalisation, yet its effects should not be viewed as all negative. At least it has
allowed advocacy groups to muster international support to seek out solutions
and strategies to protect expressions of folklore and traditional knowledge (Scher
2002, Brown 2005).8 The political ramifications of this move were not countered
in this essay.
At least some work is being done with respect to preserving the tangible
remnants of the art form. In an article on documenting the Carnival (Trinidad
Guardian, May 8, 2006) Pat Bishop, consultant to the state instituted Carnival
Institute of Trinidad and Tobago (CITT) recognized that carnival costumes could
not last forever, and explained that an archive was being built of DVDs, videos,
photographs and newspaper clippings. The article did not mention efforts at
digitisation. However equitable digital access to nationals, if this is one of the
Prospects, would assume that the nation is literate in the components of
Information Communication Technology (ICT). Given the sometimes myopic
vision of the State this is doubtful. A case in point at a recent World Economic
Forum, former deputy governor of the Central Bank, Trevor Farrell chastised the
government for Trinidad and Tobago's slow immersion into the ICT era. In the
article entitled '2020 reports irrelevant' (Trinidad Guardian, May 10, 2006) Farrell
stressed that there was a need to build-out the communication infrastructure of
the country as a public good. Despite its affluence, Trinidad and Tobago ranked
behind countries such as Barbados and Jamaica.
While there may be a genuine threat to the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
through cultural appropriation, the dangers may be more evident from over-
commercialisation, over-exposure, over-sanitising and overmarketing of the
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A I L
1 Barbara Powrie, "The Changing Attitude of the Coloured Middle Class Towards
Carnival," Caribbean Quarterly, vol. 4, nos. 3-4, March-June 1956 quoted in Alonso, Men
2 Nationals of Trinidad and Tobago are also referred to as Trinbagonians.
3 Intellectual property refers to property rights resulting from creations of the mind, such
as inventions, industrial designs, literary and artistic works, symbols, names and images.
4 7 times Extempore King, former Calypso Monarch, Minister in the Ministry of Human
Development, Youth and Culture, 2001.
5 The different spellings used intentionally to showcase the diversity.
6Barbara Babcock's definition "any act of expressive behaviour which inverts,
contradicts, abrogates, or in some fashion presents an alternative to commonly held
cultural codes, values, and norms, be they linguistic, literary or artistic, religious or
social and political." In "Introduction" The Reversible World, ed. Barbara Babcock
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), 14.
7 Terry Joseph, Sunday Express. February 20, 2000.
8 UNESCO's adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage (CSICH) at the organization's 32nd General Conference in 2003 called for a
range of measures "aimed at ensuring the viability of the intangible cultural heritage,
including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection,
promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal
education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage."