Dear Councillor Mihevc:
As humans, regardless of race and colour, each of us is capable of great good and gross iniquity. And what separates us as we pursue what is just, is that some of us struggle, not only for what is possible, but also for what is right. In fact, among those stories of courage which most move you to goodness for goodness’ sake, are those of people who, when it’s futile to continue … continue. ‘No Turning Back, No Turning Back!’
One such story from our Caribbean childhood was about ‘Sautez’, Grenada. There, the Caribs, having fought several losing battles against French occupation and backed against a cliff, rather than surrender they jumped to their deaths. The place now named Le Morne de Sauteurs, or Leapers’ Hill. Likewise, Canadian heroic First Nations figures like Louis Riel and Crowfoot inspire us, not because they won, but because they persevered—see video link below.
These struggles usually arrive, uninvited. But an innate sensing of indignity against our humanity ignites from our unwillingness, a will to act. Thus, what moves me to write is an immense sense of the unthinkable: that of the commemoration of Caribana’s 50th anniversary, August 5 – 7, 2017; staged under a name arbitrarily donated to a bank by the City of Toronto.
I write, not to make foes of former friends. I write to assist, where possible, in staging an anniversary that strengthens the fact that: Caribana Creates Jobs! Caribana Creates Culture!
I also write because, in 2017, if as now planned this anti-Caribana commemoration is effected, I want to honour the sacrifices of my ancestors by having endured, not surrendered. As Paul said, ‘the race (or effort) is not for the swift, but for those who endure …’
So, with the scarlet sins of Caribana and the righteousness of her detractors, here goes:
ü 1st. Caribana has survived, not because it belongs to Black Toronto, but because it makes $billions mostly for White Toronto;
ü 2nd. Uncannily, its historic precedent in many ways is Emancipation, which was ended, not for reprieve to Black slaves, but reparations, $billions in today’s dollars to British slave-owners;
ü 3rd. If for its 50th anniversary, Caribana is not celebrated, our carnival will never return to us, its owners, but remain uniquely transferred by elected officials to corporate officials;
ü 4th. In Canada, with more than half-a-million Black citizens: professionals, politicians, artistes, entrepreneurs, clergy, writers, students … yet none of us has the power of deciding ownership over Caribana as do you, Councillor Mihevc!
It can be the case that much of your actions are based on frustration; that few of your colleagues at City Hall want responsibility for the Caribana file; that you’ve been unfairly hounded by some opponents; that much of the information you have on Carnival generally comes from individuals who are either ignorant, or dismissive of anything African.
And why Carnival? Three reasons: 1st. Caribana is a child of Caribbean Carnivals. 2nd. As such, Caribana is a commemoration of the links between emancipation and enslavement; and 3rd. Also a commemorative link between enslavement and genocide. Yes, Genocide!
On this last point, let’s cite Dr. Sir Hilary Beckles: Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI). He is also Chair of the CARICOM Commission on Reparations. In this latter capacity, addressing in July 2014 a sitting of the House of Commons, the Parliament of Great Britain, he said, “… it is also important to recognize the genocidal aspect of chattel slavery in the Caribbean. (For example) British slave ships brought 5.5 million enslaved Africans into their Caribbean colonies over 180 years. When slavery was abolished in 1838 they were just 800,000 persons remaining. That is, a retention/survival rate of 15%. (In short) The regime of enslavement was crafted by policies and attitudes that were clearly genocidal. Jamaica received 1.5 million Africans (over 180 years). Only 300,000 remained at Emancipation (20%). (Likewise) Barbados received 600,000 Africans. Only 83,000 remained at Emancipation (14%).”
The African-American scholar, WEB DuBois in The Souls of Black Folks (1903), describing the decimating realities of slavery, used ‘holocaust’ for what Dr. Beckles called ‘genocide’. See website below on linkages between slavery, genocide and holocaust.
You’ve no doubt also been advised that Carnival, and thus Caribana, in its origin is not African, but French. Room here is insufficient to respond fully. However, Dr. Hollis Liverpool, a scholar, a.k.a calypsonian Chalkdust in “Origins of Rituals and Customs in the Trinidad Tobago Carnival” cites the work of the American anthropologist, author and novelist, Robert Tallant, who “having researched the roots of European festivities, has shown that European Carnivals date back to Africans, who thousands of years ago held Carnival festivities in celebration of the fertility of the earth and women, as well as the replenishment of their food stocks (1948:85). According to Tallant, the roots of Mardi Gras … lie in Africa (83-85).”
In addition, a millennium before Tallant, Herodotus the Greek historian, (5th Century BC) in ‘The Histories’ wrote, “It was the Egyptians who originated, and taught the Greeks to use ceremonial meetings, processions, and processional offerings … ” (Book II, para. 58). Later, he describes one of these ceremonial processions at the festival of Artemis: “… they, (the Egyptians) come in barges, men and women together, a great number in each boat; on the way, some of the women keep up a continual clatter with castanets and some of the men play flutes, while the rest, both men and women, sing and clap their hands …”
And why should such rites and rituals, of which Carnival is simply another cultural edifice, not have had their origins in Africa; the origin of humanity, itself? By contrast, what Europeans had, in addition to outdoors festivities, is described in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It was at an indoors, masqued ball that the two unfortunates met.
So, if the French really brought Carnival to Trinidad (18th century) why didn’t they also take it to other French colonies: Viet Nam, Algeria, etc? And why are these carnivals also found in Portuguese Brasil and Spanish Cuba? Furthermore, in all of these arrangements: the African/French; African/Portuguese; African/Spanish, the one constant is the ‘African’.
Here are other facts that support the African-based origins of Caribana-style carnivals. In these Carnivals, certain iconic figures and practices appear: powdering masqueraders; Dame Lorraine large-bottomed, big-breasted figures; Moko Jumbies (Stilt-Walkers); Griots (Calypsonians); Midnight Robbers. And, of course, the drums: steel and skins (some banned by Whites after Haiti’s historic slave revolution).
These iconic characters are from African rituals brought during enslavement, particularly from West African Egungun festivals. Still practiced in Nigeria, Senegal, Benin, etc., the attire, for example worn by ‘Midnight Robber’ mas, are those still worn by high-priests of the Yoruba. Also, on being ‘powdered’, these festivals were ‘spiritual’, and to mark a participant ‘being no longer himself, or being possessed’, white powder was thrown on him.
But, why the Yoruba, especially after centuries of enslavement? Because, over time, as the numbers of potential slaves were depleted on the coastal regions of West Africa, the slave-catchers went further inland, eventually encountering Yoruba resistance: Hebrews and Muslims, the last contingents of Africans enslaved to the Caribbean. Therefore, most of the slaves surviving to Emancipation; ancestors of today’s Black West Indians, were Yoruba. They passed on the Egungun cultural characteristics and icons found today in Caribana-style Carnivals.
And what’s English for ‘Egungun’? ‘Masquerade’! Also, if Caribana was European in origin, wouldn’t it secure funding like the ROM does?
Finally, is there a Carnival future with fewer conflicts, more understanding; one ‘Ensuring Caribana Worthy’ in Toronto’s multicultural ambience? Yes!
Lennox V. Farrell
http://wn.com/crowfoot_legacy ballad of crowfoot
http://www.theafrican.com/Magazine/carnival.htm African presence in carnivals
To Be Continued: ‘Making Caribana Worthy’ on the world stage: the Carnival to emulate!