Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago!

by Torey Siebart

This blog is written by Outreach Coordinator and site liaison to Trinidad and Tobago, Torey Siebart.

Since Trinidad and Tobago is the first destination on our new Meet the Sites series, and because they just celebrated the nation’s biggest festival, Carnival, I wanted to highlight the site in a blog post.

Last month wrapped up Trinidad’s largest cultural celebration! While Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago officially ran from Feb 15 – Feb 23, 2023, “fetes” or pre-Carnival parties had been going on since December and January. The island had dozens of official events, like parades, concerts, music competitions, sporting events, Kiddies Carnival, and more, all leading up to the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Carnival Monday, or J’Ouvert, kicks off with a sunrise parade at 4:00am. Carnival Tuesday keeps the energy going with the biggest parade of bands and a competition for best best costume.

This costume depicts their national instrument, the steelpan, as well as their national flower, the double Chaconia. Credits: Denise

Carnival is so much more than just a party, however. It is a fantastic display of history, culture, the island’s embraced multi-culturalism, storytelling, folklore, fashion, music like Calypso and Soca, art, and so much more.

The celebration on the island dates back to the 1700s when French colonizers brought their masquerades, balls, and their celebrations leading up to Lent. Enslaved Africans, who were forbidden from attending, made their own version of it in resistance. The Calypso songs they sang doubled as a way to mock the enslavers and to pass messages between enslaved people. Over time, Carnival evolved into the liberating and inclusive festival it is today, and a rich part of Trinidad and Tobago’s shared cultural identity.

“Trinbago (Trinidad and Tobago) is the mecca of this sacred festival!” – Samuel Thomas Jr.

Samual Thomas Jr., a part of Amizade programming in Trinidad and Tobago, explained that “Carnival is a festival of people; a festival of colours. All walks of life come together for what the world deems ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.'” He went on to describe Carnival in 3 words:  “Ramajay, Dingolay, and Bacchanal.”

Denise and three guests staying at Samise Villa
Denise and her guests from Haiti, France, and Ghana, staying at Samise Villa.

Ramajay refers to singing to and making music with a steel drum, Dingolay refers to the dancing, and Bacchanal refers to the party aspect of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago.

Denise Aleong-Thomas, our Site Director, had her hands full at her Guesthouse in Port of Spain, Samise Villa. She had travelers from all over the world staying with her for this year’s Carnival. Some of these guests were from Nigeria, Martinique, Canada, the US, Haiti, Ghana, and France.

Trinidad and Tobago isn’t the only Amizade site known for their Carnival celebrations. Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Italy, and Spain all have their own unique versions of Carnival, too!

I had the pleasure of attending Bolivia’s largest Carnival celebration in Oruro, when I was an Amizade semester student. I was absolutely stunned by it’s magnificence. I’ll never forget the vibrant display of identity, culture, and art before my eyes.

I took this photo in Oruro in 2017

Needless to say, experiencing Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago is very high on my bucket-list!

Thanks Torey for sharing some information about Carnival! What other cultural traditions or events would you like to hear about on the blog?