Trinidad’s Carnival; an All-Year-Round Event!
‘Carnival’ literally means ‘Meat Goodbye.’ It was an excuse to eat, drink and be merry before Lent and fasting began.
But the Trinidad & Tobago Carnival isn’t just a two-day event. It’s held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. And as soon as it’s over, plans for the following year begin at once.
Although it’s a huge celebration, it’s taken very seriously and provides permanent employment for a lot of people.
There is a Band Launch in July/August, with fashion shows to display the themed costumes for the next Carnival.
The day before the Carnival is taken up with hair-styling and spray tanning – not spray tanning as we know it though. It’s an art, and can give the illusion of making the body look completely different. A lot of men have muscles and even six-packs painted on!
People either sleep sitting up, propped with pillows, or they stay awake all night.
At around 4am the next morning they start applying their make-up. Then it’s time to put on their costumes.
Some costumes are very heavy and uncomfortable, so it’s not just the alcohol consumption that gives the wearers a headache!
When they’re ready, they join their group and off they go, with the latest soca and calypso blaring full volume out of the loudspeakers.
While I was in Trinidad I was taken to one of the many MAS Camps.
MAS is short for Masquerade. A MAS Camp is a workshop where the Carnival costumes are made, and it’s also a Club with members who pay a membership fee for their costume, a security band, and food and drink..
Each group has several lorries with a DJ on, a food and drink lorry, and even a lorry with toilets on!
Believe me, if you’re dressed in a Carnival costume, going to the loo is a complicated business!
The minimum age for membership is 14 as the music is LOUD!!!
Outside HartsCarnival, there was nothing to prepare me for what’s inside. But when I walked into the first room, I shouted out loud. I couldn’t help it!
The whole room has absolutely stunning Carnival costumes against every wall.
There are beaded bikinis, huge headdresses with feathers wired into them, jewellery, and more, all in different colour schemes.
I spoke to Daniel Bertie, who is the grandson of Edmund and Lil Hart. He proudly told me all about his family.
There are a dozen permanent workers, and his Uncle Gerald is the main designer.
Every year there’s a different theme, and this year it was Ultraviolet Jungle.
There are over 2,000 costumes and the basic designs can be modified to suit the customer.
Women can even take in their own swimming costume and have it decorated.
HartsCarnival don’t just provide costumes for the Trinidad Carnival. They also have a thriving mail order business, with a lot of customers in other countries.
This information comes from the HartsCarnival website;
HartsCarnival first began in 1961 with Edmond and Lil Hart and their Carnival presentation “”Was this Greece””. For the next 30 years Edmond and Lil continued to successfully produce Carnival bands. Edmond was famous for patterns, Lil for designing, and production was a family affair. It was during these years that Lil became known as “”The First Lady of Mas””, since a bandleader was traditionally a position held by men.
Confusion reigned when Lil broke tradition and designed a band with a fantasy theme rather than a historical one which was common.
The Harts with the help of their children continued to produce bands until October 1990 when Lil passed away leaving three of her six children the dream of continuing the Harts Carnival band.
In 1991 Thais, Luis and Gerald successfully designed and produced their band, Total Recall, in memory of Lil and to this day each Harts Carnival Band produced for Trinidad is dedicated to Lil… in her memory, in her honour, with her dreams. The Band has continued to design and produce costumes at the highest standard and quality which has led them to become one of the largest, safest and most popular bands in the Caribbean. No other Band can compete with the Harts 54 years of experience.
…FIRST to be labeled ‘The Fun Band’ back in the 1960s by the media.
…FIRST to forgo winning a Carnival title or prize in preference to our masqueraders enjoying 100% fete on the road.
…FIRST to introduce amplified steelband music on trucks for the two days of Carnival. We were also among the FIRST to use a rhythm section and a tassa side.
…FIRST to have a female mas designer…Lil Hart. Her attention to costume detail and mix of colours remain hallmarks of HARTS designs today.
…FIRST with drinks on the move. What started as a grocery cart is a far cry from the current carts with showers, cell phones and champagne.
…FIRST to encourage DJs on the road instead of live music bands. Luis and Gerald, as Purple Haze, helped put DJ music as ‘par for the course’ into Trinidad Carnival.
…FIRST to use bikinis and beads as the base for a woman’s costume. What began as an experiment with one section is now the norm for Carnival.
…FIRST to introduce organized security in a Carnival band. It was a bold but necessary step…at least that’s how we saw it…and this too is part of every band today.
…FIRST to develop an internet website with online registration: hartscarnival.com
…FIRST to put together a linked up music system on the trucks so that each masquerader hears the same sweet song at the same time.
I was finally dragged away as we had to go to lunch. I could have stayed there for hours!
Looking for an interesting career? I was absolutely amazed to discover that there’s not a Carnival Museum.
There must be a huge collection of old costumes and photos packed away in people’s lofts.
So there we are, fly to Trinidad, find a property, and open a Carnival Museum. I’m sure it would be a great success!
The Mas Camp opening hours are Mon-Fri 12-6pm.
Harts Mas Camp
5 Alcazar Street,
Trinidad & Tobago.
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