The island of Tobago has always been a place apart, and this month it is proudly highlighting its differences as it launches into the first-ever standalone Tobago Carnival, which reaches its climax on the weekend of 29-30 October.
Themed ‘Ritual, Revelry, Release’, Tobago Carnival was officially launched with an event called Bago Jam in Shaw Park, Scarborough. The crowd had a taste of the main event as they mingled with traditional carnival characters such as moko jumbies, jab jabs and baby dolls and enjoyed music from local artistes such as Shurwayne Winchester and Adana Roberts.
What to see at Tobago Carnival
The Tobago feteing season kicks off in earnest on Saturday 22 October, with 3am start at The Hideout at Argyle Waterfall, a Soca Chutney Explosion (4-11pm Buccoo Homes Phase 2) and Pan on D’Waterfront starting at 6pm on the Esplanade in Scarborough. The following days see a variety of fetes and boat limes to get visitors in carnival mood.
Fast forward to 5pm Friday 28th when there’s Pan & Powder from the Coast Guard Base to Garden Side car park, along with other events and boat rides, most starting around 4pm and ending at some indeterminate time at night.
That should mean you’re already fired up and ready for the 4am start of Jouvert at Crown Point. It finishes at the Store Bay car park at 9am, but you won’t be leaving yet, because Store Bay is now officially Mud City, hosting 3 Canal, Mr Killa and others at the Mud Festival. That goes on until 2pm, leaving you time to wash off the mud and work your way over to Roxborough ready for Night Mas (Rox-Glow), 6-10pm, from Lammy Road Argyle to Pirate’s Boat Yard.
And so you reach Sunday 30 October, full of expectation and curiosity to see how Tobago’s Parade of the Bands in Scarborough measures up against its big brother across the water. Official times are 10am-6pm. Bands set off from the ‘I Love Tobago’ sign on Milford Road and carry on along the waterfront to the port. The parade turns left up Wilson Street as far as the junction with Claude Noel Highway. Bands pass along the highway past the hospital to the Lambeau junction, heading back down past Catty’s Roti Shop to rejoin Milford Road and, skirting Shaw Park, returning to the start point. It’s not quite the end, because there’s an after-party in Shaw Park for masqueraders only – a nice touch that other carnivals would do well to copy.
Very sensibly, Tobago is determined to offer a different kind of carnival experience. The official website tells us that Tobagonians “will flaunt our difference” at the inaugural carnival, which will be defiantly “Tobago-centric… a distinctive celebration steeped in our folk tradition, paying homage to our heritage”.
At last month’s media launch, Tourism Secretary Tashia Burris stated that Tobago is ready to stand on its own and stamp its mark on the rest of the world when it comes to Carnival. “We intend to present a spectator’s spectacle and a masquerader’s masquerade,” she said.
For Meisha Trim, chair of the Tobago Carnival Committee, this means putting “an identifiably Tobagonian stamp on the global calendar of festival events”. There’s a determination to get away from the “homogeneous, manufactured look” of Trinidad Carnival with its unimaginative “feathers, bikinis and beads” mas.
Lamenting the way that in other islands “carnivals have moved away from being a creative expression to something with a manufactured, cookie cutter-like look”, Burris said that in Tobago they looked to their culture, their Heritage Festival, queen shows, Sunday harvests, folk tales and superstitions. Visitors are promised the Tobago Ole Time Wedding, tambrin bands, tamboo bamboo and other aspects of local culture.
What’s more, you don’t have to be Size Zero to be welcome at Tobago Carnival (just as well, with all that delicious food on offer!). Burris insisted that the event will be inclusive – “everyone, no matter their size or race, will be welcomed into the space”. In contrast to the standard carnival business model predicated on slim female masqueraders, there will be a band specifically for plus-sized women, she revealed.
Just about everyone of Tobagonian heritage you can think of, from UK-based Tobago Crusoe to Calypso Rose, flying in from the USA. Rose – who insists she is in fine health and that rumours to the contrary are unfounded – said: “I am coming for Tobago Carnival. I am not coming to perform. I am coming to celebrate the first Tobago October carnival and to eat my crab and dumpling.”
Also representing the UK are De Core who are working in collaboration with The Tobago Drama Guild to present A Taste of Notting Hill Carnival. New band Just In Carnival will also represent the UK as they team up with Fog Angels in Tobago as part of their J’Ouvert presentation.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of the Calypso Queen of the World and see Tobago Carnival for yourself, check Soca News – Tobago Carnival; email: email@example.com; tel: +1 (868) 777 2246.