The tradition of carnival will always remain, but the big question is: Why do we still play mas, even though the festival has become corrupted with domestic politics, foreign influence, and some artistes always fighting among themselves for money and prestige during national competition events?
During the colonial era, carnival had a vibrant rural influence. Villagers came together and organised themselves; and play mas. The songs composed by the masqueraders were as political as they are today, but there were less repercussions from the authorities against the artistes, who sung those anti government songs.
Today our political leaders are local citizens and unfortunately, some of them become very thin-skinned and paranoid when they hear songs with lyrics that criticise their authority. However, yet still we play mas in the annual carnival because it is a tradition that has it’s roots within the people and, as long as the people hold on to the tradition, the show must go on.
It is not by accident that our carnival celebration is now held in the month of August. Those among us who do not know our history will say that our August carnival is only for economic reasons , due to the fact that Trinidad & Tobago has a bigger carnival on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash-Wednesday and we cannot compete with the Trinbagoians, based on numbers participation, so we shift carnival to August. This is not the real fact.
However, our senior Grenadians know that we always have two carnivals. My parents told me that Grenada always had two carnivals: the Pre-Lent Carnival and the August 1st, Emancipation Carnival that celebrates the freedom of our African ancestors from the slave plantation.
It is obvious that those of us who are interested in our history know fully well that the our colonial rulers during the post slavery period were not interested in the August Emancipation Day celebration. However, the influence of the Roman Catholic church and its Ash-Wednesday ritual sort of kept the pre-lent carnival influence, due to the fact that Roman Catholics are the largest religious group in our tri-island state.
Those followers of the Roman Catholic faith who played mas usually attended church service on Ash-Wednesday, with the belief that they will be purified if they remain obedient during the Lenten period after receiving ashes on their forehead from the priest.
Presently, the government is getting more involved in our carnival celebration. However, I personally believe that government involvement in the festival is not in the interest of culture but in the interest of getting financial revenue from the events. I am saying so because our government officials are trying their best to commit cultural genocide within the rural communities within our tri-island state by limiting the carnival activities in the villages and trying to influence rural citizens to come to St. George’s and play mas.
I believe the government will fail with such an agenda. Carnival celebration has its roots in the rural communities. Government has not done any thing positive in the rural communities to elevate culture. It is insane on the government part to ask rural people to come to the city and play mas. St. George parish has the largest population, due to urbanisation. If the government is interested in carnival rather than the money from the events, the officials should try and influence villagers in St. George, to play mas in the city of St. George’s. The long history of exploiting outer parish citizens must stop.
In the past, the importation of fundamentalists Christian religions from the United States and the Rastafarian movement from Jamaica had intention to destroy our carnival celebration culture, yet still the celebration survive because it has strong roots in our African spirituality that our ancestors came with from Africa.
Presently, our calypsonians find themselves caught up in party politics. Those who sing for the government or refused to sing against the government gets personal treatment. Those who sing against the government and those who will fully disrespect government officials for spite, will never be winners of competitions because government control our carnival events.
In conclusion, I believe that faces in government will always change, but August carnival will always remain. This is the reason why we continue to play carnival. Therefore, it is very important for rural citizens to take back carnival from those who trying to steal it from them.
This Article was written by Hudson George a writer and music artist of the Tri-Island State of Grenada.