The Carnival of the People

The Carnival of the People

Justine Shapiro- Carnival Queen

Festival Essentials

Where: Trinidad, Eastern Caribbean
When: March
What Happens: Mother of all Carnivals, calypso music, stuning masquerade costumes, winin, chipping and 1/4 million folks
Remember to: Bring a divine costume and pre-book your digs

Where It’s At

If you go to Trinidad during the month of March, you will find the air electrified with anticipation, as the entire island prepares for one of the biggest street parties on earth – Carnival. Carnival preparations start straight after Christmas – as soon as Boxing day is over, the music and the partying get going. If you are going to Carnival in Trinidad the best idea is to get there early, get into a hotel, rent a car and, most importantly, get hold of a costume.

History

Trinidad carnival is often called the mother of all carnivals. It was introduced by the French Catholic plantation owners who held masquerade balls to celebrate the last two days before lent. When slavery was abolished, in 1834, this masquerade ball took to the streets with unbridled frenzy. Today, with more than 250 000 participants, this carnival is one of the largest on the planet, and has gained a reputation as ‘the carnival of the people’.

Joining In

A typically extravagant Carnival Queen costume

image: A typically extravagant Carnival Queen costume

The great thing about Carnival in Trinidad is that anyone can participate. There are over a hundred mas camps – masquerade camps – and they all have different themes and different costumes and colour combinations. You can just decide which colour costume you want to have, pay for it and simply join in. The costumes don’t come cheap at around $200 US, but you do get to keep them when it’s over.

Music is the backbone of Carnival. The steel pan drum and calypso were born in Trinidad, so if you want to get the most out of Carnival you’ve got to know how to move to the music ‘trini’ style.

Chippin’ and Winnin’

The first thing you have to learn is to ‘chip‘ to the music. This is a kind of walking, hip-swaying dance step. Wining is a word they use, and it doesn’t mean complaining, it means enjoying yourself. Wining is a kind of pulsing and gyrating of the waist, a bit like hula hooping. You must have consent from the girl to wine on her.

Trinidadians have taken the art of wining to new levels. Many of the skimpily clad revellers have spent months at the gym in preparation; this is the moment to be noticed. There is judging and some lucky dancers get to appear on TV.

The judging is based on colour, creativity and presentation, but everybody tends to be too busy with the winin’ and chippin’ to really care. The festivities over the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday escalate into the night until suddenly, at the stroke of midnight, everything stops with a bang (officially, at least).

By Corrine Mansfield

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