Mas for Whom? (BdC 32/36)

Masquerader in Roy Pierre’s NY  Jouvert Band 2010


 Masquerader in Macfarlane’s 2011 presentation


This is a New York masquerader. I’ve spotted her in Jouvert in NY playing an individual mas with Roy Pierre’s Jouvert presentation year after year. I’ve been thinking about “mas for whom?” for a while now. In my opinion (based on research of the festival and my observation) carnival is a local festival. It is not intended specifically for tourists unlike some other events. Trinbagonian nationals who have emigrated to North America and Europe have always been a huge part of carnival. They’ve influenced mas themes, and supported carnival by returning home and participating in it, spending their foreign currency and boosting the economy. However, I wonder about how far their influence stretches. In 2002, after the attacks on the World Trade center in the US, some people feared Carnival would be dismal because many New Yorkers who make the annual pilgrimage were cash strapped and less likely to visit. Carnival seemed to continue just fine, which led me to affirm my faith back then in the autonomy of the festival. I’m not so sure now. I wonder what percentage of Trinbagonians can afford the costly costumes, fetes and national events. Are there so many well-to-do locals to support them? Are there so many well-to-do foreign nationals willing to pay the exhorbitant price hikes even if they won’t do so for other expenditures in their new home countries?

Musician Raf Robertson was talking about the contributions of Kitchener, and how one of his calypsos, Miss Tourist,  hints at the attitude of Trinidadians towards tourists. The singer encourages the tourist to find herself in a band, join in and do just as the locals do – no catering to tourists, you fit in where you get in. A recent visitor told me that was something he liked about Trinidad*, that there wasn’t a ton of catering to tourists (he touched on some racial baggage that comes along with that, but that’s a story for another blog, another time. I told him I don’t think it’s that simple, I’m sure foreign nationals do get treated differently, it’s a more nuanced argument (ethnic, regional, nationality, socio-economic etc.). I’m curious to know what you think – you tourists and non tourists, foreign nationals returning to spend your big bucks, and locals. In the meantime, I’ll continue looking to find myself in ah band.

*I say Trinidad specifically here, because Tobago is our tourism isle. Tourism is the main industry of Tobago, and in some ways events, attitudes, behaviors are supposed to be directed to attracting tourist money.

3 thoughts on “Mas for Whom? (BdC 32/36)

  1. I think that many of us would like to find ourselves in a band and wine to the side, but the prices are so up there that after the ticket home and fetes (whose prices seem to have gone through the roof) you may not have enough left over to eat. Yes, the prices seem to be set for the tourists whose dollars translate into 6 to 1, but for most people it is not affordable. Monday night mass seems to capture the essence of what mass used to be like so that is an avenue available to many of the would-be revellers. There are different standards for tourists and nationals as subtle as they may be.

  2. I agree with the previous person (Ometha). Carnival is certainly a big business in Trinidad and Tobago and every year it becomes more evident with all of the price hikes etc. Hopefully the true essence of the celebration with not be totally lost. However, it appears that left up to Foreign nationals and tourist to support the Carnival, it will always happen because I believe at the end of the day people are always looking for an escape that for some Carnival brings and they will pay what ever they need to for that fix whether they can afford it or not.

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