Each year one of the traditional Carnival events, “The Ole Yard”, takes place at a small park east of Port of Spain. This performance is generally sold out as the park is small and the viewing areas are limited. The performers portray a mix of Trinidadian historical events, along with satire of past and present politicians. Below is Derek, our driver, talking with Baby Doll, the unwed mommy. She is “begging” Derek for a few coins to buy milk or diapers, and she is accusing him of being her baby’s daddy. Derek assured her that she was mistaken and suggested she walk over and talk to me, so I was accosted as well.
Part of Trinidad’s history involves years of French occupation with the Trini population exploding at the time of the French Revolution. Many towns and landmarks bear French names, others Spanish, some British. Some of the ladies of the past with their big bustles and boobs, a satire of those years. These women, portraying various characters from history, would perform throughout the day, delighting both locals and visitors alike.
The Fancy Sailors below wore heavy ornate costumes depicting past days of Carnival pomp and splendor, and they all performed a traditional dance made up of many intricate steps, first individually, then as a group, then with members of the audience. Most of the male performers were in their 70’s, and how they withstood the intense heat and sun amazed everyone. Their dancing steps drew many rounds of applause.
The Mocojumbies are a huge part of modern Carnival, and you’ll find them featured in many events. Their history dates back to times in Africa when the “divine ghost” towering above normal humans was thought to protect and guard over the people. Each performer, wearing brightly colored flowing costumes and using stilts 10 to 15 feet tall, dances to either traditional songs or one of the Carnival signature songs. Then all the Moko Jumbies come together to perform and dance to the carnival melodies, songs with a fast pace and an engaging rhythm. Everyone sways and hums along. It’s all but impossible not to.
Throughout the day at Ole Yard you will find one of the favorite presentations, satire of past and present politics and history. To the right, locals loudly vocalize their views of both past and present politicians. Each performer composes a song to go along with the satire they are depicting. The crowd loves this performance as Trinidad’s politics often seem to get in the way of the Trini’s enjoyment of life. We should have such a venue in our country, to be able to criticize without fear of retribution.
One of the traits we love most about Trinis is their quick and ready smile. It seems that most Trinis are happy all the time, and they despise those things that suppress happiness. That dark side to modern day Trinidad, the part no one likes, is the violent murders related to the drug trade. Officialdom seems to fear the druggies and their suppliers, and violence in the bad parts of town is frightening, shocking, and beyond our comprehension. Everyone hopes for an end to this scourge.
The devil, diable, or Jab Jab, plays large in the minds of the Trinis. You’ll see him portrayed as the Red Devil, Blue Devil, and the Firebreather. Each has unique significance based in the history of the island closely tied to the evolution and eventual emancipation of all the slaves. Once freed, the slaves took their traditions and new found freedom to the streets in dancing and song. The practice and planning for these events moved into Mas Camps, or Masquerade camps where costumes were designed, music practiced, and fun planned.
We spent a long day at the Yard sitting in the shade of a large sea grape tree right beside and amongst the Trinis watching the performances. We had a blast, though by day’s end we were weary. The final presentation featured all the performers en masse, singing and dancing in a winding parade which brings the audience into the action “wining” and dancing to songs of Carnival right alongside all the costumed revelers. This event was one of our favorites and was extra special because Derek was along to explain the significance and meaning of many of the songs and dances. Tradition – part of the Trini way.
We’re ready for the Road!