Some thoughts on Carnival

While I’ve written a few bits of my own concerning carnival, I’m writing this more in response to the article written by Davida Morris, published on Bernews today.  Carnaval

The article itself

I think Ms Morris does a good job of rebutting some of the criticism that has been leveled at this event by some in the community, and it’s clear that the article itself is framed around a reply to the comments by Pastor Maria Seaman of the Shekinah Worship Centre, who articulated the most robust attack on the event from a Christian perspective.

I think she addresses well the fluidity and constant evolution of our culture, and how carnival itself has roots in cultures which themselves have contributed to ours – and in such is less a novel ‘import’ and more an expression, a manifestation, of an already existing piece of our cultural fabric which, up until now, has been unexpressed.

This opening section also includes what I consider to be the best sound bite ‘tradition is rigid; culture is not’.

Tradition to me, reading this, can be seen almost as an ossified form of ‘living’ culture.  It’s still part of our culture, and so much so that it has become a rigid structure, it has largely ceased to evolve, to ‘live’, but instead serves as a structure around which our ‘living’ culture is organised and can even be based upon – the tradition regains ‘life’ when it is built on and adapted to changing reality.  Tradition serves as a skeletal frame which living fluid culture often relies upon for its very vitality.  However, I digress…

I question some aspects of her cultural history, mainly that Gombey’s, ‘our most iconic example of Bermuda culture and tradition is an “import” from the island of St. Kitt’s’.  I question this simply because I’d never heard such, and understood our Gombey’s to be an indigenous development, albeit sharing a common origin with similar cultural phenomena such as the Bahamian Junkanoo.  I don’t deny at all that our own Gombey tradition has been added to over the years, incorporating novel elements (including from St Kitt’s), but I question it being a straight-up import from St Kitt’s.  I concede though, I do not know the full history of our Gombey’s, so I leave it open for further investigation.

I do completely agree though that our culture is fluid, it evolves, and it incorporates new elements over time – some through ‘imports’ and others through novel ‘mutations’ – as well as developing new traditions.  We should not reject things, like carnival, simply because they are new.

The second part focuses more on carnival itself rather than the cultural argument.  Carnival is ‘new’ to Bermuda, and as such I’ve not experienced it (I was overseas for this year’s event), and while I do appreciate some soca music, I’m not familiar enough with the genre to really comment much on it, other than to appreciate it in either an abstract or occasional aesthetic manner.

Thoughts on the comments

The comments in response to the article are a bit of a mixed bag, and that’s to be expected in a divided island, fractured along racial, political, economic and sectarian lines.  For the most part they are positive and appreciative of the article and the issues it raises.

There are some points that I think need addressed, and while Ms Morris (and those directly involved in the carnival event) could probably address them better, I figured I’d give them a shot, and allow others to chip in if they want to.

  1. Why look at it as a cultural event and not just a party?  Well, it is both.  A party like this is also a cultural event, or, rather, has the potential to become a cultural event. However, I imagine the focus on the cultural argument was a direct rebuttal to Pastor Seaman’s attack on the carnival from a cultural perspective.
  2. Carnival is at the beginning of Lent – why hold it in June?  Yes, the origins of carnival (in the Americas) is from the Roman Catholic tradition surrounding Lent – and that’s partly why it’s not part of Bermuda’s history, as we’ve been dominated by Anglicanism since our inception, which does not have something really equivalent to carnival.  However, carnival can be – and has been – secularised away from its religious origins. There are precedents elsewhere, of which the Notting Hill Carnival in London is perhaps the most obvious being the Notting Hill Carnival. The Notting Hill Carnival was originally held in January, but is now held in August. It’s a carnival, but it’s divorced from the original religious date and origin (rather than stemming from religious tradition, it originated in the aftermath of the Notting Hill race riots as an attempt to repair social tie, reduce racial tensions and help cover legal aid for some of those charged in the riots).  While an argument can be made to stick to religious tradition in terms of when to hold carnival, there’s no need to do so.  Besides, in as much as one angle of this new event is to enhance our tourism, surely it makes sense to hold it at a time when it’s not in competition with more established carnival events to the south?  Holding it at a different time helps us attract carnival-goers who travel around different carnivals, as well as attract new visitors.
  3. It should be held on Bermuda Day, not Heroes Weekend! I am sympathetic to the idea that the carnival event can detract from a focus on our heroes, however I can also see it being used to help highlight our heroes too. And as Heroes Weekend is still a relatively new official tradition (replacing the Queen’s Birthday Parade, which still occurs, just not as the official highlight), I have no issue with a new holiday developing its own new traditions – of which carnival has a good chance of becoming now.  Additionally, as was pointed out by another commentator, the original plan was, indeed, to hold it in conjunction with Bermuda Day, and an attempt was made to do so. For whatever reason it wasn’t possible to realise that ambition however, and so it was moved to Heroes Weekend. I don’t really have a problem with the date, and the other existing big dates that are proposed, such as Cup Match, already have their own traditions around them which I think would inhibit the success of a new tradition of the size and nature of carnival.

 

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2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Carnival

  1. Thanks for the response Jon! I really appreciate your take on my thoughts.

    After further thought although I admit not full research, I would concede that the Gombeys are likely not an import but a creation of the slaves who lived here who had ties to St Kitt’s. Not saying it’s fact but a likely educated guess. I do know that the Gombeys have ties to St Kit’s from information garnered through the Gombey festival and the gombeys I’ve mt in my travels.

  2. I think there are still many people in Bermuda who are upset about Heroes’ Day and that there is no longer a Queen’s Birthday holiday, and this fuels their resentment to any new concepts developed around the holiday. That’s unfortunate, but we must move forward on it.

    As I mentioned in a previous comment, there is no reason why the aspects of this new product, Heroes’ Weekend, cannot become part of Bermudian culture, even if the origin of the celebration differs to similar celebrations in Caribbean nations.

    The original article by David Morris was well put-together and addressed a good number of issues that were raised concerning the ‘Carnival’ aspect of things.

    There frankly, is no reason whatsoever why we can’t encompass all aspects of what should be a National Heroes Day to honour Bermuda’s best citizens (as determined by Cabinet, that’s another story) with the parades, Carnival, *and* Queen’s Birthday activities.

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