Carnival is often characterized by a public festival or procession that incorporates aspects of a circus, masks, and a public street party. Over the past 30 to 40 years throughout the Caribbean, because carnivals have become moneymaking events, many countries and territories now have their carnival at different times of the year.
A festival, on the other hand, is an event that is usually organized by a local community to commemorate some element of that community. Several faiths have traditionally used the terms feast and festival interchangeably. Festivals of many kinds help to address certain requirements while also providing amusement. Celebrations provide a feeling of belonging for religious, social, and geographical communities. Contemporary festivals that concentrate on cultural or ethnic subjects aim to educate participants about their customs. Originally, festivals were occasions when the elderly told tales and offered a way for families to come together.
Let me explain the difference between a carnival and a festival. Several of us have been around the Caribbean, and we all have favorite islands. Dominica, which I have visited multiple times, is one of my favorite islands. If you visit in February, you may experience their carnival, and if you visit at the end of October, you can enjoy their Creole Festival. We also know that Trinidad is famous for its carnival, but they also have festivals throughout the year. Therefore we know that at least two groups of individuals in the Virgin Islands understand the distinction between a carnival and a festival.
Several weeks ago I invited the chairman of the VI Festivals and Fairs Committee to come on my radio show, “Straight Talk,” to talk about the upcoming August Emancipation Festival. At the time, he assured me that he would attend, stating that the timing was ideal, since it would be just after the formal opening of the 2013 Festival. Soon thereafter, I invited the director of culture to join us, and she accepted.
I phoned the chairman soon after 9 a.m. on June 5 to confirm his presence, which he did. I went to the director’s office on Tuesday morning to confirm with her. She wasn’t in, but she phoned me later that afternoon to say they wouldn’t be coming since they didn’t have enough information for the public at the moment.
I admit that I never completed secondary education, but I am not stupid, and it annoys me when people try to insult my intelligence. They had just had a grand launching at the Prospect Reef Hotel the Saturday night before: Information was all over the news, and they have the nerve to say that they have nothing to present to the listeners of Straight Talk. The festival is in less than eight weeks. This Festival has been in the works for months, and there is currently nothing to disclose to the public.
Perhaps their problem is that they are unable to tell the people of the VI why they can spend thousands of dollars to bring in outside entertainers and cannot bring in students and adults from Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. This is a VI festival, not a festival in Tortola, Road Town, East End, Carrot Bay, or Sea Cows Bay. They are not prepared to tell us why the calypso show was moved from the cultural centre to the Festival Grounds; why the junior calypso competition was discontinued; why people must pay to go into the village to buy a drink and buy food; why the village is not more family friendly — or a lot more concerns that I have.
‘Everything is a secret’
According to information in last week’s Beacon newspaper, you might no longer see the children in the parade on August Monday in Road Town, as they are having a children’s parade in East End the following day. I’d want to know who came up with the concept and who voted for it. Nevertheless, like everything else in the VI, we’ll probably never know since everything is a secret. This is the only place in the world that I know of where the leaders have so little respect or concern for the capital.
I hear and read a lot of nasty remarks about our Festival, and you can tell by the comments that they are coming from individuals who are just interested in what they can get out of it. It’s heartbreaking to watch how our Festival has evolved into a carnival in order for people to earn money. Our Festival was not created with the intention of making money. Nonetheless, if people earn money during the Festival, that is OK with me. Let us return our freedom celebration to a festival attended by Virgin Islanders and those who understand and appreciate how we celebrate. Those who do not agree are free to leave and go on vacation, or even return home, since they are not shackled here.
Everyone has the right to participate in or watch any event in their local community. That is no different in the VI. If a person attends any yearly event as a spectator in his or her own or another community and does not like the way it is done, he or she is not required to return for repeated visits. Even if it’s in your own neighborhood, you may remain at home, go to the beach, or even leave till the festivities are done. People here practice Christianity, and their religion informs them that they must not partake in worldly activities, thus every Festival they leave Tortola and travel elsewhere. It is their legal right.
Let me provide a note from the St. George’s Episcopal Church bulletin from June 9th. “Our participation in Festival will be in three sections, entitled “The Trilogy,” and will be presented on August Monday 2013,” it says. This follows the Vestry’s approval to have St. George’s and other faith communities restore Emancipation thrust and help to encourage more decency in our Festival.”
Every English-speaking Caribbean island, from Jamaica to Trinidad, commemorates freedom on August 1. Here, the festivities last almost two weeks, with the major events taking place on the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of August. I have no means of knowing how other countries celebrate liberation, and I doubt I will ever know: but I am certain they do not allow outsiders to control their celebration.
Maybe it’s time to take a long, hard look at whether this length of celebration is necessary or financially advantageous to the people, companies, and region as a whole.
Let us band together and remember why we are celebrating so that we may reclaim our Festival. We must set a better example for the next generation. It’s a celebration, not a carnival.