Dancing Through History

Many people participate in carnival celebrations every year but have no idea what the actual history is behind it. The Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival (Caribana), first began in 1967 when the Canadian government asked the Caribbean community to get involved in the Centennial year. A select group of Caribbean individuals got together to develop and produce an event which would best portray a vision of Caribbean culture overall. In order to depict both the long- term and the more recent arrivals of the culture in Canada, they decided to utilize the model for the infamous carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. Caribana was then born in Toronto, and today it is known as a world-class spectacle.

Trinidad carnival is an annual celebration of life and was introduced around 1785. By 1797 the colony was under British rule and as the French were settling into Trinidad, they brought with them their slaves, tradition and culture. A ritual began where the wealthy planters started holding
fancy balls; here they would dance into the night wearing elaborate masks, and other fancy attire. Obviously banned from these balls of the French, the slaves would hold their own little carnivals using their rituals. For African people, carnival became their main outlet in expressing not only their power as individuals, but their rich cultural traditions too. After 1838 (when slavery was abolished), the freed Africans began to host their own carnival celebrations in the actual streets. These quickly gained more popularity than the colonial balls.

One very important aspect of the Caribbean festival is the tradition of the people parading and having constant movement; this actually stems from ancient African traditions of parading and moving in circles through villages in masks and costumes. Circling villages was supposed to bring a lot of positivity such as healing problems that arose, good fortune, and to ease angry spirits of relatives who passed away. Carnival time represents nothing but happiness and positivity.

In regards to carnival costumes, the idea from the African tradition of using natural objects (grasses, beads, fabric, shells) to create a piece of a mask or a costume, was also borrowed; this was meant to represent a certain idea or spiritual force, which has evolved in today’s carnival with having specific themes for the competing Masqueraders. Feathers were frequently used by Africans as a symbol on masks of our ability as humans to rise above any problem that comes our way. Today carnival costumes and feathers go hand-in-hand.

African dance and music traditions also influenced carnival with their rhythms, large puppets, and stilt dancers which we started seeing come into the picture later on. We must be mindful, more so grateful towards carnival time; There is just too much significance behind this event that we simply cannot ignore the historical components that combine to make it our favorite time of year.

The Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival really brings people together. It represents diversity, respect and understanding of all its influences. This interactive event happens not only in Toronto, but in many other Caribbean islands and other places around the world. If once a year is not enough for you to enjoy this festivity, here is a list of the other carnivals that exist for you to take advantage of:

Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
St. Kitts
St. Lucia
St. Martin
St. Maarten
Trinidad and Tobago
Virgin Islands
July or August
December or January
February and March
February or March
February or March
February or March
February or March
February or March
April, May, June, or July

The History and Meaning of Caribana. Retrieved from http://www.opseu.org/committees/woc/The%20History%20and%20Meaning%20of%20Caribana_2_.pdf Caribana. Retrieved from http://blackhistorycanada.ca/arts.php?themeid=22&id=4

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