The Ethic Of Carnival

We must NOT agree that Carnival is debauched, or that it is going to die. Here is why. Who would have thought that we could devise a war, a stage, a gayelle – sans stick, sans knife, sans guns? Just sans humanite. A wargame of wit. Dramatic, feisty, enthralling, full of play, bringing the audience into play. A mock game of the quickest and highest intellects. A blind man, a politician, a sage, a woman tiger. Were the wits of Shakespeare, the European court, that quick? Perhaps. And not a shot fired. No one killed an Iraqi child. Just satire, irony, vituperation, parody, polemic of the quickest order. And both victor and vanquished, the Gypsy and the Blind Man walk off the stage, one escorting the other. Blood; that is, brotherhood.

Who would have thought that you could scramble in the slums, pick up a tin, beat into it a tune? Making something from garbage, wreckage, nothing. Souse from pig foot. Soup from cow heel. Bhaji from bush. An orchestra, communities of beaters, players, pannists brought into a choreography of drama, dance, music. Lil boy, lil girl, schoolchild, fat man, thin man, idler, businessman. Japanese, Norwegian, American. Did Tchaikovsky in Saint Petersburg ever sound so good? Perhaps. Organization and discipline from steel.

(Left) Revellers enjoying what is often described as “the greatest show on earth” - Trinidad Carnival! (Right) What would carnival be without controversy and topical issues? Peter Minshall’s creation for 2016 - “Dying Swan” - stirred up both.

(Left) Revellers enjoying what is often described as “the greatest show on earth” – Trinidad Carnival! (Right) What would carnival be without controversy and topical issues? Peter Minshall’s creation for 2016 – “Dying Swan” – stirred up both.

Who would have thought that we could string up some feathers, a hip and some bone on two tall sticks and produce Picasso? Africa? Europe? A king? Taken an old icon, the Moko, to intertext with it another old icon, the operatic dance, swan, to make a new icon? To rise against the sky, walk, dance, play? To make a moving Taj; Taj Mahal? To say, mean something. All on an impermanent stage? Genius.

Who would have thought that Calypso’s old khaki pants would bust? Couldn’t fit any longer. Would have to be stripped, darned, re-sewn into Soca. Into a bit of rock, punk, reggae, ragga, hip hop, soul, kaiso at the Socadrome? Neon, jamming, stalking lights, athletic dance, the spectacular and the primeval? In front of a crowd of five, ten, fifteen thousand? The pop, outpopping politicians and their political rallies? Youth toting guitars, blasting lyrics, doing gymnastics, not guns. The art of the spectacle.

Who would have thought that violence, coup, overthrow could be subverted with lyrics, licks, laughter? With bois, guntalk, picong, buffoonery, bellicose ribaldry, rather than Bakr. And Cro Cro, Chalkdust, would still be there, old brigadiers and snipers. And nobody ever shot them, hung them, dropped a bomb on their heads. A gayelle of talk, stupidness, banter, truth, falsehoods, ethnic defence and attack. And nobody ever killed a Hutu. Civilization and discourse.

Who would have thought that you could play a king with mud? Assault a kingdom with ketchup rather than blood? With old paint, blue, old engine oil? Scraps of ply, timber, a thumbtack and an ole nail? Playing the Opposition Leader with a pose: I Always Op-posing! Play a slave with a log of wood – Woodslave – dragged up the High Street? Make your own theatre, dialectic, with scraps of this and that? And have some fun? And go national, international? Facebook and instagram. Democracy.

Who would have thought that you could make a war with a cork-full of rum, a drum, and two lengths of poui? Mooma mooma your son in the grave already. But no one really ends up in the grave. The worst is a little drawing of blood, a buss-head. Put down your guns and take up a stick, a boxing glove. Stick is a tribute to the ancient martial art of war, control, temper; rather than viciousness, ignorance, stupidness – violence and youthman blood. Martial art, not slaughter and death.

And who would have thought that you could own the Government road for two days? Just be something big, grand, a march, a promenade, a fiesta, a parade. Buckle, bands, beads, feathers, tinsel, rhinestones, big sound. Walk right down the middle of the road, dance, half or quarter-clothed, with no SUV, van, truck, maxi taxi to block you, just people. A grand mercantile product. Trade, exchange, bazaar, money-making, forex. A chance to play yourself: thin man, fat man, big belly man and woman, KFC fat, no pressure. Rich people, poor people, not exactly mixing, but edging up to each other. Eros, God of wine and gyration, followed by Christ, the Lent.

Carnival is the most intense expression and depiction of our intelligence, creativity, genius, capacity for sustainability for survival and sustenance. Our prelidiction for peace, not war. Talk, not rage. Democracy not authoritarianism. Of African-European-French-Creole heritage, it is antagonistic to the round of corruption, violence and death which daily besets our nation. An expression of ancient African ethics, social art and humanism.

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