Carnival in Trinidad&Tobago


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Picture of Trinidad&Tobago from



This paper focuses on syncretism found in the Carnival of Trinidad & Tobago. Carnival dates back to the celebration of spring festival in Ancient Greece. From here it was incorporated into the Ancient Roman mythological celebrations, and was eventually turned into a Christian celebration with the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. Trinidad & Tobago are composed of many different ethnic groups from native Indians, to early European settlers, the African slaves they brought with them, and many, many more. Each of these different groups has incorporated some of their ethnic traditions into the celebration of Carnival.


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Picture from Kiddie'sCarnival from Picture of Venezuelan Cow band player from


Trinidad & Tobago's Carnival may be one of the greatest examples of syncretism displayed by a modern celebration. Syncretism refers to the mixing of cultural traditions, which is the very basis of the Trinidad & Tobago Carnival. As Trinidad & Tobago has opened its borders to many different peoples and cultures from around the world, each group has had their own impact on the celebration of Carnival. Following through the history of Carnival, one can see various elements added to the festivities by different immigrant groups, and how each different group adds elements of its own ethnic ritual and tradition to the celebrations of Carnival.


Context of Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago are two small Caribbean islands located near Venezuela (Figure 1). They are located in between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean . The islands are mostly flat, occasionally interrupted by minor hills and low mountains (Central Intelligence Agency 2004). Both islands have extensive swaps on the coasts, and numerous rivers running throughout (Latimer Clarke Corporation 2003). The islands maintain warm climate year-round, while experiencing a rainy, tropical season from June to December (Central Intelligence Agency 2004). Trinidad and Tobago reach their warmest temperatures in July, and their coolest temperatures around January (Latimer Clarke Corporation 2003).

  The natives of Trinidad and Tobago are commonly referred to as “Afrindians”. This term is used to describe the two native groups of the islands; Native Americans (Indians) and Africans (All Ah We 2004). Columbus discovered these small islands in 1498, and both islands remained a Spanish colony until 1791, when they were surrendered to the British navy (Hill 1972). It was not until the early 19 th century that the British took an active interest in its newly acquired colonies (Central Intelligence Agency 2004). Around this time, French settlers began to move to the island, bringing their beliefs, traditions, and African slaves with them (Hill 1972). The prosperous colony was not granted independence until 1962 (Central Intelligence Agency 2004).


Origins of Carnival

Carnival is an ancient celebration with roots that predate the Roman Empire . The celebration of Carnival originates in Ancient Greece with the annual spring festival, held in honor of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility ( 1996). This celebration was soon adopted by the Roman Empire , and turned into a festival held in honor of the Roman god Bacchus, which is the equivalent to Dionysus (Independent Traveller 2003). As the Roman Catholic church began to grow in power and influence, the church incorporated this annual festival into a last celebration before the beginning of lent (Independent Traveller 2003). The celebration was named “carne vale”, a Latin phrase meaning, “goodbye meat” symbolizing that Catholic tradition is to abstain from the consumption of meat during lent (All Ah We 2004). As Catholic imperialists came to the Caribbean with their slaves, they also brought their religious beliefs, and the tradition of Carnival (Hill 1972).



There are three main parts to the Carnival celebration in Trinidad and Tobago : fete, mas', and steel pan (Mason 1998). Fetes are parties that mark the beginning of Carnival season, starting slightly after Christmas' (Granger 2002). From this time up until the week before lent, fete parties are thrown every weekend, with the average Trinidadian attending one party per week until lent (Granger 2002). At fete parties people dress up in costume and dance all night to the music of steel bands that will perform in the Carnival mas' (Granger 2002). Mas' is a shortened term for mas'querade. Mas' (usually referred to as “playing mas'”) is one of the most visible parts of Carnival. Mas' is when different bands parade the streets, in the days leading up to lent (Mason 1998). Mas' begins on Monday, and comes to its end Tuesday night (Mason 1998). The bands that make up mas' are groups of people that are all costumed in similar attire, portraying a certain theme. Some of the old-time bands included characters based on different animals. Figures 2 and 3 show different mas' costuming. Figure 3 is an old-time cow band, which is rarely seen anymore. Steel pan is the collection of steel bands that play during Carnival. These steel bands play at fetes, debuting new selections, and then compete in Panorama, a competition for the top steel band, at mas' (Hill 1972). These bands perform music on their steel drums (figure 4), competing to be named the winner of Panorama.



STEEL BAND by HAYLEY MADDEN. (../../2001) Image No: 12523 - HM1004_STEEL_BAND. Picture of Steel Drums from




Prognosis for Carnival

It is almost an absolute certainty that Trinidad 's Carnival will continue to grow and flourish. Each year the celebration grows in participants, and in recent years has even been internationally publicized by magazines and television (Green 2002). Local government and industry has notice the explosion in popularity and have begun to capitalize off of it (Green 2002). The government has ensued on tourism marketing campaigns, positioning Trinidad & Tobago as the ultimate authority and best place to experience Carnival; and local businesses have begun to sponsor mas' bands and other events as a way to favorably market their company to the locals (Green 2002). This increase in popularity piggybacks of the popularity of Mardi-Gras in New Orleans . Tourists are more interested in Carnival now because they had no knowledge of what Carnival was as recent as ten years ago. Now that the media is beginning to get the word out about Carnival, interest in the celebration continues to grow internationally.



In conclusion, Trinidad 's Carnival is not only a celebration with strong religious undertones, but also a driving force in local unity. To this day, each culturally diverse group in the small island nation continues to have a large impact on the celebration of Carnival. This great celebration has become a vital venue for the facilitation of cultural unity, diversity, and knowledge. With the popularity of Carnival becoming greater each year, this celebration can only be expected to flourish.


Internet References Cited

  • All Ah We.

    2004 History of Carnival. Electronic document,, accessed October 21, 2004 .

  • Central Intelligence Agency

    2004 Trinidad and Tobago . Electronic document,, accessed September 20, 2004 .

  • Granger, Camille

    2002 The Fete. Electronic document,, accessed September 20, 2004 .

  • Independent Traveller

    2003 Exotic Lands. Electronic document,, accessed October 21, 2004 .


    1996 Carnival. Electronic document,, accessed October 21, 2004 .

  • Latimer Clarke Corporation

    2003 Republic of Trinidad and Tobago . Electronic document,, accessed October 21, 2004 .
  • Madden, Hayley

    2004 Steel Drums. Electronic document,, accessed October 21, 2004 .


    2001 Old-Time Carnival Characters. Electronic document,, accessed October 21, 2004 .

    2002 Cowband1. Electronic document,, accessed September 20, 2004 .

    2002 Frontpagesadkid1. Electronic document,, accessed September 20, 2004 .


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

    Dorson, Richard M

    1982 Material Components in Celebration . In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victor Tuner, ed, pp. 33-57. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

    Green, Garth L.

    2002 Marketing the Nation: Carnival and tourism in Trinidad and Tobago . In Critique of Anthropology . John Gledhill and Stephen Nugent, ed, 22(3):283-304. SAGE Publications, London.

    Green, Garth L.

    2002 Marketing the Nation: Carnival and tourism in Trinidad and Tobago . In Critique of Anthropology . John Gledhill and Stephen Nugent, ed, 22(3):283-304. SAGE Publications, London

    Hill, Errol

    1972 The Trinidad Carnival. Austin , TX : University of Texas Press

    Mason, Peter

    1998 Bacchanal! The Carnival Culture of Trinidad . Philadelphia , PA : Temple University Press.

    Scher, Philip W

    2002 Copyright Heritage: Preservation, Carnival and the State in Trinidad . In Anthropological Quarterly Dept. of Anthropology, the Catholic University of America for the Catholic Anthropological Conference, ed, 75(3): 453-485. Catholic University of America Press, Washington

    Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner

    1982 Religious Celebrations . In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victors Tuner, ed, pp. 201-219. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington




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