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Contents No. 161 • January/February 2020
24 Wish you were here
26 Need to know
Essential info to help you make the most of January and February across the Caribbean — from the Mustique Blues Festival to a post-hurricane exhibition in the Bahamas
couldn’t happen without the efforts of thousands of people working behind the scenes, like the ones profiled here by Laura DowrichPhillips and Georgia Popplewell
Our reading and listening picks
On morning ground Every Carnival Friday morning, before dawn breaks, the re-enactment of the 1881 Canboulay Riots invokes the memory of ancestors and the spirit of resistance in T&T’s Carnival, writes Attillah Springer
44 Bookshelf and playlist
Filmmaker Michael Lees talks about his documentary Uncivilized, recording the six months he spent living in the rainforest of Dominica IMMERSE
Carnival backstage The annual festival T&T calls “the greatest show on earth” is a time to shine in the spotlight. But Carnival 16
Look mas Photographer Jason C. Audain’s portraits of traditional Carnival masqueraders record both their intricate costumes and the human energy that powers their performance
The return of the baby doll Dating back to the nineteenth century, the Baby Doll masquerade character — with frilly dress and
bonnet and sly parody of gender roles — has been adopted by a new generation of activists as a form of feminist intervention. Amanda T. McIntyre and Jarula M.I. Wegner explain
84 Own Words
“I want my legacy to live on” Gilbert “Dibo” Doran, Curaçao’s 2019 King of Tumba, on the role of music and culture in shaping identity, and his decade-long journey to winning the coveted title — as told to Nelly Rosa ARRIVE
Choose your own Tobago Is your dream vacation about relaxation or thrills, exploring nature
or history, spa days or wild nights of dancing? Tobago has them all, says Nixon Nelson
St Elizabeth, Jamaica In the southwestern corner of Jamaica, St Elizabeth Parish is a laid-back alternative to the bustle of Kingston and the all-inclusive resorts of the north coast
Back to the Bahamas The northern Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian last year — and one of the most practical ways to help with recovery efforts, Nazma Muller learns, is with your tourist dollars
112 Bucket List
The Pitons, St Lucia These twin peaks are St Lucia’s ultimate icon ENGAGE
All creatures great and small When Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, human inhabitants weren’t the only victims. Erline Andrews learns how animal welfare organisations stepped in to help hundreds of pets, and reunite them with their owners
118 On this day
Guide and prejudice What can a century-old guidebook tell us about how outsiders perceive the Caribbean — and how those ideas have or haven’t changed? James Ferguson finds out
Enjoy our crossword and other fun brain-teasers!
CaribbeanBeat CaribbeanBeat An MEP publication
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128 Do you even know
Our new trivia column opens with a T&T Carnival quiz. Think you’re an expert on Carnival and calypso history? See how many of our twelve questions you can answer correctly WWW.CARIBBEAN-AIRLINES.COM
Cover Tekel “Salti Lingo” Sylvan, king of the moko jumbie band Moko Somõkõw, photographed during T&T’s Carnival 2019 Photo Jason C. Audain
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This issue’s contributors include: Erline Andrews (“All creatures great and small”, page 114) is an award-winning Trinidadian journalist. She is a regular contributor to Caribbean Beat and her work has appeared in other publications in T&T and the US, including the Chicago Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor. Jason C. Audain (Cover and “Look mas”, page 69) is a self-taught photographer from Trinidad and Tobago with a particular interest in Carnival and portrait photography. He is the recipient of awards from the T&T Photographic Society and his work has been shown in T&T’s National Museum. Laura Dowrich-Phillips (“Carnival backstage”, page 50) is passionate about culture and the arts in the Caribbean. Based in Trinidad and Tobago, she is currently the regional lifestyle editor for Loop News and is co-host of a podcast called Music Matters: The Caribbean Edition, exploring the business side of the Caribbean music industry. Georgia Popplewell (“Carnival backstage”, page 50) is a media producer, journalist, editor, and longtime Caribbean Beat contributor from Trinidad and Tobago, who is currently managing editor of the international citizen media project Global Voices.
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A MESSAGE From OUR CEO
A new decade has begun, full of the promise of new opportunities, travel, and adventure, especially for those of us lucky enough to live and work in the Caribbean. At Caribbean Airlines, we know the Caribbean Identity is built on the shared connections between the nations, cultures, and peoples of our beautiful region, and we like to play our part in supporting its vibrant health and growth. We’re expanding our fleet this year to offer new routes and make new connections around the Caribbean — more details coming soon. As the year progresses, we will further evolve our brand under our 2020 Corporate Campaign “I AM CARIBBEAN” — which will reflect the energy and diversity of the region, reinforcing Caribbean Airlines’ characteristic warmth, award-winning hospitality, and unique customer experience. My Caribbean Vacations and Tours will launch packages to Grenada, the Bahamas, and Cuba, and our Cargo product will continue to expand, making it easier for you to trade with the world. In the Caribbean, the first quarter of the year is filled with action and energy. Few events capture the spirit and vitality of life in the Caribbean like Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, which culminates on 24 and 25 February with the ultimate street party through Port of Spain and other towns across the country. And Mashramani in Guyana is on 23 February, making that last week in February one of the hottest in the region. We encourage you to fly with Caribbean Airlines to enjoy these and the many other events taking place. Check the Need to Know section on page 26 for more details. As part of our ambition to offer even better service, we recently decided
to do one thing we haven’t done in a while — ask our customers. In October last year, we surveyed over 50,000 of you to get your feedback on what we do really well, what’s average, and the areas that need improvement. As a result, we put a comprehensive programme in place that first, among other initiatives, provides new training to our frontline employees and our baggage handlers. We believe it will help our teams better understand how to make every journey with us a great experience, and that most of all, you will notice the difference. We’re also going to keep asking you for your feedback, so we can continue to make improvements. We made a lot of changes last year, which we know are already making a difference for the better. New products and services announced include: • The launch of the Caribbean Airlines Mobile App, making booking and getting the latest updates much easier — try it today • A revamped website and twentyfour-hour call centre — to make getting tickets and help much easier • Flight Notiﬁcations — a free alert system to keep you informed of changes to your journeys • Caribbean Layaway — future bookings can be held for just 25% down-payment (conditions apply) • Cargo Loyalty programme — members earn Award Miles based on the dollar value of the freight charge applicable to their shipment • Non-stop flights between Port of Spain and Curaçao, and Kingston and Barbados • Seasonal service between Montego Bay and Fort Lauderdale
We also introduced Caribbean Branded Fares, offering you more choice and greater flexibility. We maintained the CLASSIC brand which you know well, and which gives one free bag and 100% miles. However, under Branded Fares, the range of products now includes LITE, for those who travel light, with no checked bag. And customers who prefer two checked bags can use FLEX economy, which is fully refundable, gives a free same-day change, and 125% miles. Finally, Business travellers can use BIZ or BIZ Flex, which offer exclusive perks, additional flexibility, and easier ticket changes. BIZ Flex is fully refundable and customers earn 175% miles. All branded options have free seat selection and will always be available, even if your travel is at the last minute, or spontaneous. New options, new ideas, and new choices for a new decade. The Caribbean Airlines team is focused and united in our vision to be your Caribbean airline of choice. We thank you for your support, and look forward to serving you in 2020 and beyond.
Garvin Medera Chief Executive Officer
A unIversity of our own By Amílcar Sanatan
olonial projects introduced their form and philosophies of education as “civilising” tools, and later on to meet expanding administrative needs for the management of colonial society. These projects were not invested in the development of a Caribbean intellectual tradition or a society of persons educated in Caribbean realities and imperatives. Olive Senior, on the disassembling nature of colonial education, wrote, “How those pale northern eyes and / aristocratic whispers once erased us / How our loudness, our laughter / debased us.” The colonial project relied on the absence and rejection of Caribbean knowledge-production and purpose. Education was a scarce colonial resource and persons from privileged class, colour, and economic backgrounds — and, for a long time, men — overwhelmingly had these opportunities available to them. For the majority of the population, students with exceptional intellectual abilities competed for prestigious Island Scholarships, a symbolic marker of the narrow avenue for mobility for ordinary and “tough foot” Caribbean people. To such a degree, the psychic leap made in independence for most of the Caribbean territories, as Gordon Lewis noted, “puts an end at least to that particular absurdity in a society that has been full of absurdities.” The University College of the West Indies was established in 1948, originally conceived as a residential college of the University of London. By 1962, the University of the West Indies (UWI) gained independent status and granted
degrees in its own name. The UWI’s mandate has long been to advance the Caribbeanisation of consciousness and regional development. Today, the university is comprised of five campuses (Mona, Jamaica; St Augustine, Trinidad; Cave Hill, Barbados; Open Campus; and Five Islands, Antigua) and currently serves seventeen regional territories. The institution is known for its service to the training of primary and secondary education teachers, for industry and professional leadership by engineers, lawyers, and medical doctors, technological innovations and support for agricultural extension, the establishment of creative arts centres, and theorising of women’s rights movements, to highlight few of its successes. One of the most impressive developments of the UWI was the formation of the Open Campus, which offers university training at physical and online sites throughout the region. This structure has its roots in the early days of the Extra-Mural Department. The university’s engagement with the public is far-reaching and consistent. Truthfully, a university education is not relevant to the pursuit of every Caribbean citizen. However, it is important for the institution to be present to remind people, especially those from socially excluded and under-resourced communities, that the pursuit of a degree is not an unattainable extra-regional dream. Travel, cultural exposure, and encounters with difference are critical for individual growth, since they allow persons to compare the merits and limitations of social systems and reflect on the taken-for-granted ideas about “life”
as prescribed in one culture. Yet, the achievements of the UWI as an institution and its distinguished alumni have not broken the long-established glamour and psychic obsession with university education in the global north, particularly at British and American sites. Segments of the population maintain the idea that Euro-American study is a rite of passage for the making of a Caribbean intellectual. Others go as far as acknowledging the displacement and migration of people and the prosperity gospel of a globalised world to cast a sharp eye on regional institutions with regional mandates, and their privileging of regional politics, scholarship, and personalities. Their enlightened perspectives still fail to feed the hunger and material struggles resident in the “little backyards” of the Caribbean. The UWI continues to stand as a site of memory of Caribbean nationhood. It is an ongoing source of regional integration that provides both contributors and necessary critics to national and regional development projects. The issue of intellectual development in the Caribbean is less about cultural confidence and commitment; it has more to do with scarce financial resources to sustain research, institutional advancement, and the expansion of cultural and economic services for matriculating and graduating students. Neither economics nor political practice alone can animate the ideals of Caribbean independence. Culture, and the articulation and confrontation of ideas, drive the collective imagination and spiritual well-being of people. Our culture must construct a university space where there are no conditions for exile or scarcity of the imagination. Amílcar Sanatan lectures in the Department of Geography at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus. He is also a poet. This essay is part of a series reflecting on the Caribbean Identity and what it can be.
wish you were here
Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe The architectural heritage of Guadeloupe’s largest city and commercial centre ranges from elaborate nineteenth-century public buildings and gingerbread villas to more modest colonial-era structures like these townhouses — their simple vernacular details enlivened by brilliant colours.
Photography by Hemis/Alamy Stock Photo
NEED TO KNOW
Shynel Brizan, T&T’s Queen of Carnival 2019, portraying Mariella, Shadow of Consciousness from the band Palace of the Peacock, presented by Moko Sõmõko
Don’t Miss Carnival Kings and Queens in T&T
As dusk fades into night, a parade assembles on the paved “track” that leads to the spotlights of the Queen’s Park Savannah stage. Offloaded from vans, ornate segments of costume crafted from wire and fibreglass, fabric and feathers, sequins and rhinestones come together to form an astonishing array of fantastic forms: giant birds with hovering wings, cascades of blossoms and foliage, horses and lions, African or Amerindian warriors, mythological figures, cosmic eruptions, and other entities that defy simple description. By long tradition, Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival masquerade bands are led by King and Queens with elaborate and sometimes massive costumes — some of them more than twenty feet tall or broad — who compete for supremacy in the weeks heading to the festival. Crossing the Savannah over two nights, in preliminary and final rounds, the Kings and Queens are judged on imaginative flair and craftsmanship, plus the vibrancy and energy of the athletic men and women who dance these creations on stage.
How to get there? Caribbean Airlines operates numerous flights daily to Piarco International Airport in Trinidad from destinations in the Caribbean and North and South America 26
Jason c. Audain
Essential info to help you make the most of January and February: what to do, where to go, what to see!
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need to know
Top Five Mustique Blues Festival memories Sixteen miles south of St Vincent, Mustique is a 1,400-acre privately owned island along the Grenadines chain. Its serenity and charisma helped earned its reputation as a getaway for royals, celebrities, and anyone looking for a secluded retreat. But that doesn’t mean the island is bereft of nightlife: Basil’s Bar on Britannia Bay is a world-famous hotspot, and renowned as the home of the annual Mustique Blues Festival (running this year from 22 January to 5 February). Twenty-five years ago, bar proprietor Basil Charles and multi-awardwinning British performer Dana Gillespie started the music festival, on a friendly dare. One night while Gillespie was visiting on holiday, she amazed the bar’s crowd with an impromptu performance. She promised to arrange a proper blues festival if Basil got a piano — and the rest is history. The Mustique Blues Festival has evolved into a high-intensity good time, and also a charity event for the Basil Charles Educational Foundation, which offers scholarships to children across St Vincent and the Grenadines, to complete secondary school. To date, the foundation has helped one thousand children with their education. As the festival celebrates its twenty-fifth year with local and international artistes — or old friends, as they’re called on Mustique — Basil Charles shares his top five memories of festivals past. 28
I’ve known the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger since 1971. He played as a surprise guest artist in 2005, and it was amazing. We didn’t advertise that event, yet people came from Bequia and everywhere. He sang old blues and favourites like “Honky Tonk Women”, “I’m Going Down”, and “Dust My Broom”. I got goosebumps. We had violinist Nigel Kennedy perform, and it was sensational. It’s unusual to have a violinist perform at a blues festival, but everyone loved it. Saxophonist Big Jay McNeely was a crowdpleaser. Dressed in complete black with white gloves, he made us turn off the lights. He grabbed a lady from the audience who wore a white dress. He lay on his back [on stage] and from far all we saw were his fingers playing the sax. It was phenomenal. Joe Louis Walker, a powerful electric blues guitarist and singer, is also beloved. He played here before being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. I went as his guest. But my greatest memory is that each artist performs for free. These are people I have met over time. I host them, and they do it for charity. Dana Gillespie, Dino Baptiste, Steely Dan, Ian Siegal — everyone. As told to Shelly-Ann Inniss
need to know
he earned a BSc and a PhD. He was the first black student, and soon the first black professor, at LSE.
Keystone Press/alamy stock photo
• After a stint at the University of Manchester, Lewis returned to the Caribbean in 1959 when he was appointed the first Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. In 1963, he moved to Princeton University in the US, where he was based until his retirement twenty years later. • Lewis also served as an economic advisor to the governments of several newly independent Caribbean and African nations, and as president of the Caribbean Development Bank.
Life and Times Sir Arthur Lewis How much do you know about Sir Arthur Lewis, St Lucia’s first Nobel Laureate? Did you know that St Lucia is the country with the most Nobel Prizes per capita? Or that the island’s two laureates share a birthday? When poet Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992, he followed in the footsteps of his countryman Sir Arthur Lewis, the economics laureate in 1979 — and the first black man to receive a Nobel Prize in a category other than peace. Each January, St Lucians commemorate these two exemplars during a weeklong programme of lectures, poetry readings, symposiums, and more, scheduled around Nobel Laureates Day on 23 January — Lewis and Walcott’s shared birthday. The poet’s life story may be better known to the public, but Lewis’s career was equally stellar, credited with groundbreaking contributions to the development of postcolonial countries in the era of Independence. Here’s a closer look: • Sir William Arthur Lewis (23 January, 1915–15 June, 1991) was the fourth of George Ferdinand Lewis and Ida Louisa Lewis’s five sons. His parents were originally from Antigua. • At seven years old, he fell dreadfully ill and was unable to attend school for three months, so his father assumed 30
the role of his teacher and homeschooled him. By the time he was ready to return to school, he was two academic years ahead of his peers. • His original ambition was to be an engineer. Instead, he won a scholarship to the prestigious London School of Economics, where
• Over the period 1941 to 1988, Lewis wrote eighty-one academic articles and ten books, including The Theory of Economic Growth (1955) and The Agony of the Eight (1965). His work included the development of the Lewis Model, explaining the growth of developing economies like those of the Caribbean — first outlined in a 1954 article. • In 1979 Lewis shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with American Theodore Shultz, whose work also focused on developing countries. • St Lucia’s community college is named for Lewis, and other educational institutions have named buildings or schools after him, including the University of the West Indies and the University of Manchester. His portrait appears on the EC hundred-dollar banknote. • After retiring from teaching, Lewis moved to Barbados, where he died in 1991, and was survived by his wife Gladys — whose family had known Lewis’s since they were children — and two daughters.
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courtesy the national art gfallery of the bahamas
need to know
On View Refuge at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas Since last September, the tragic effects of Hurricane Dorian have caused many across the Caribbean to reflect and unite. Bahamians demonstrated a spirit of resilience in the wake of the destruction inflicted on the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, but questions about how and where to find hope and healing after the catastrophe consumed minds. When your home is destroyed, where is home? Opening on 19 December, 2019, and running until 5 April, 32
2020, the exhibition Refuge at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) is intended as a form of therapy at this pivotal moment in Bahamian history, and a safe outlet to share experiences, anxieties, and dialogues on the future, while offering institutional support to the nation’s artists. The forty-one artists assembled in Refuge — seventeen of them from Abaco and Grand Bahama — include the three whose works are featured on these pages.
1932 or 2019 is a series of digital collage works by Leanne Russell, combining photographs taken after Dorian in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, and those salvaged from a lost collection taken by artist Brent Malone’s father in 1932, along with stories collected by historian Amanda Diedrick. The fiveimage collection reflects on the bizarre similarities between Hurricane Dorian and the (unnamed) hurricane of 1932, and the aftermath experienced politically, environmentally, and sociologically
courtesy the national art gfallery of the bahamas
Nicole Minnis’s oil painting After the Storm depicts three children whose home has been destroyed. She writes: “In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit the island of Eleuthera, where we lived. Anyone who has ever been through a major hurricane like Andrew or Dorian knows that this experience changes your life forever. Each [child’s] expression is different, but captures their personal struggle and unique response to the same event. It took me almost a year to paint this canvas”
courtesy the national art gfallery of the bahamas
Cydne Coleb’s Specimen examines how catastrophic events and personal traumas redefine an identity. She writes: “An individual is altered within themselves (psychologically and physiologically) as well as externally through a newly established and single-minded perception. In the work, I grotesquely modify old family photographs, substituting select elements with imagery of decay and environmental unrest, to illustrate the lasting transformative effects this trauma has on personal history”
need to know History aficionados can journey through time at more of Barbados’s historical sites, including:
courtesy barbados tourism marketing inc
• Nidhe Israel Synagogue, Bridgetown • Tyrol Cot, St Michael (home of Sir Grantley Adams, first premier of Barbados) • Wildey House, St Michael (headquarters of the Barbados National Trust) • Gun Hill Signal Station, St George • Welchman Hall Gully, St Thomas • Andromeda Botanic Gardens, St Joseph • Morgan Lewis Windmill, St Andrew • Arlington House Museum, Speightstown, St Peter
Holetown’s St James Parish Church is the oldest consecrated site in Barbados. The original wooden church was built in 1628, and eventually replaced by a limestone coral structure.
All About . . . Barbados’s Holetown Festival Traditional Barbadian chattel houses, charming boutiques offering unique creations by local artists and artisans, and ultra-cool nightlife are all characteristics of Holetown on Barbados’s west coast. And don’t overlook the history of this picturesque community. At the annual Holetown Festival (16 to 23 February), cultural showcases and other events like street parades and markets harken back to 1627, when English colonists first settled this area of Barbados. For all the history buffs, the Barbados National Trust shares some lesser known tidbits about Barbados’s first town. The Holetown “Hole” was a small stream at the English settlers’ landing site. Allegedly, they carved the inscription “James 1st of England and of this island” on a nearby tree, claiming the island for their mother country. 34
Holetown once had a whaling station, in the late nineteenth century. 1st and 2nd Streets are two of the oldest named streets not only in Holetown but also in all of Barbados.
The oldest survey of any Barbados plantation was on the Forde Plantation (dated to 1648), and shown on the Hapcott Map. The Forde Plantation has since evolved into an area of Holetown. The police station in Holetown is thought to be part of an old fort, and the arch that leads visitors into the station is believed to be an original feature. The Holetown Monument was set up in 1905 to commemorate the tercentenary of England “discovering” Barbados in 1605. However, subsequent research has put that date in question. The monument inscription was later changed to reflect when England took possession of Barbados: February 1627.
need to know Nelsion Nurse (at left) receiving the best designer award for Mashramani 2019
him about me, and he was adamant that I bring my costume to the competition. I accepted the offer, and named my piece Floral Harmony. I won third place that year. courtesy nelsion nurse
What were your resources?
Back then, I wasn’t able to access fancy materials, so old newspapers, cardboard boxes, and Christmas decorations were my secret weapons.
Word of Mouth Time to Mash In 1970, a community group in Linden, Guyana’s bauxite mining centre, organised the first Mashramani, in celebration of the country’s transition to a co-operative republic. Over the past half century, “Mash” has evolved into a national Republic Day Carnival, with street parades and elaborate floats depicting nation-building messages and ideals of social cohesion. Costume and fashion designer Nelsion Nurse skilfully weaves creativity, colour, education, and entertainment into his Mash bands. Over the years, he’s won the King of the Band and Designer of the Year titles, and dominated multiple Mashramani competitions. As thousands gear up to celebrate the golden jubilee of Guyana’s Republic Day and Mashramani on 23 February, Nurse talks to Shelly-Ann Inniss about his love for the festival.
What does Mashramani mean to you?
I call myself Mr Mash. I’m always in a band, and participated in the main competition as King of the Band, winning that title four times. If you want to experience something unique, come and celebrate Mashramani with us in Guyana. It gives us our identity. The word Mashramani itself comes from our indigenous people, and means “celebration after hard work.” When we think of our history and the challenges we faced to become a republic, then we must celebrate. 36
What got you started designing for Mashramani?
I started at age eleven by creating a costume for my sister, who was at nursery school. Instead of doing the requested bomb-sprayed t-shirts, I did wire-bending and created some butterfly wings for her. She insisted that I do it for her best friend, too. They were the showpiece that year, which was also her final year at nursery. A recognised designer approached the school seeking to create their costumes for competition, but they didn’t have the budget. They also told
What inspires your designs for Mash?
To be honest, I had no formal training in design, initially. It was just my way of keeping my mind occupied and expressing myself. Most of the bands I have worked with are government ministries. During the reading of the national budget, I pay attention to what area they want to concentrate on, so when I do a concept, I hit the nail right on the head.
How does designing make you feel? Every piece I design is a piece of me that I offer to you. I’m taken to a world where I just let my creativity soar. Craftmanship and love for what I do are placed in every detail. I think my advantage over the other designers is the concept, and how I utilise our national colours and symbols.
What happens with the floats after Mash?
This is the most painful part. After we spend weeks of sleepless nights just for one day, it aches to see all that work become trash. Consequently, after the parade, we donate the costumes to schools unable to participate due to funding — they can recycle, recreate, and have the opportunity to participate the following year.
courtesy matheus josé Maria/SESC SP
need to know
On the Beat The reggae story David Katz previews Jamaica Jamaica!, an exhibition of artefacts celebrating an astonishing musical heritage Jamaica Jamaica! is an immersive experience. Displays of wooden marimbulas bring the indigenous folk form of mento into focus, and original instruments once owned by the Skatalites will delight all ska devotees. Shrines to Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark and Clement Dodd’s Studio One, the latter often hailed as “Jamaica’s 38
Motown,” are stunning homages to the island’s iconic recording studios, using archival material from each site. And the staging of the Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston — where it opens on 2 February, running for six months — is itself highly significant. This is easily the most comprehensive overview
courtesy matheus josé Maria/SESC SP
After debuting in Paris, Jamaica, Jamaica! moved to São Paulo (pictured here), and now opens in Kingston in January
of Jamaica’s complex musical culture ever to reach a museum setting, and its arrival helps give reggae new legitimacy in its birthplace, since the music has often been denigrated by mainstream Jamaican society, due to its longstanding association with a disenfranchised underclass. According to exhibition mastermind Seb Carayol — a documentary producer and exhibitions curator who divides his time between Marseille and Los Angeles — Jamaica, Jamaica! aims to “restore its rightful place in the history of black music, looking beyond the clichés to which it is too often reduced.” It makes an effort to get beyond a mere surface-level exploration of reggae.
Instead, in several thematic sections, the exhibition tries to provide the historical, political, and social context so often missing from explorations of the music’s evolution, allowing for a “history of decolonisation through the music,” as well as the widespread influence that various sub-genres of reggae have made on other global forms of popular music. As the exhibition makes clear, the story of reggae is long and complicated, and to understand its evolution, certain historical specificities of the island’s colonial phase must be considered. In terms of the music itself, after explorations of African-Jamaican religious practices such as kumina and revival, we find the quintessential formation of the Skatalites in the early 1960s, the prevalent roots reggae of the 1970s, as well as the subsequent dancehall craze and the attendant culture of the sound system. Innovations in Trench Town, the relation between music and politics, and the creation of landmark film The Harder They Come also feature. Musical artefacts, graphic arts, film clips, audio materials, and carefully written explanatory text all help guide us through the most important phases — the result being a nuanced and informed understanding of how Jamaican music has evolved over the years and just why it remains so important. And each of the items on display has been cleared directly with the Jamaican rightsholders, giving an extra layer of legitimacy to the
project through carefully brokered partnerships, sensitive to potential issues of appropriation. Previously staged for extended periods at public arts spaces in Paris and São Paulo, Jamaica Jamaica!, for its Jamaican edition, is curated by Carayol in conjunction with O’Neil Lawrence of the National Gallery and Herbie Miller, former manager of Peter Tosh and the Skatalites, who currently runs the small Jamaica Music Museum within the Institute of Jamaica in downtown Kingston. “My idea was to showcase at home what is left of the tangible memory of music in Jamaica,” says Carayol, “digging on the island to make an exhibition where items would be locally sourced. I am very pleased that new items will be shown that have never been exhibited before, all from legendary studios, producers, musicians, and artists.” The new items include vintage archive material from Studio One and other iconic recording facilities, plus artefacts from Count Ossie’s Rastafari camp, and original field recordings of kumina performances, alongside an interactive sound system installation. The opening of the exhibition is perfectly timed to coincide with February’s designation of Reggae Month in Jamaica, with musical performances taking place daily in Kingston and elsewhere. Panel discussions and other special events will give the public maximum opportunity to delve deeper into reggae’s many potential meanings. WWW.CARIBBEAN-AIRLINES.COM
need to know
Shandilay Bush After Louise Gluck When the fevers will not end, when the doctors with all their study are silenced, when even your family, close and extended, are lean with worry, murmuring fervent prayers within earshot;
The Read A Portable Paradise The second book of poems by Trinidad-born, UK-based Roger Robinson, A Portable Paradise (Peepal Tree Press) tackles subjects as topical and painful as London’s Grenfell Tower fire and the scandalous deportation of Windrush-era West Indian migrants, and as timeless and tender as the author’s childhood memories. Delving with equal insight into pleasure and sorrow, Robinson argues that “earthly joy is, or ought to be, just within, but is often just beyond our reach.” A Portable Paradise is shortlisted for the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize, to be announced in London on 12 January, 2020. 40
courtesy Peepal Tree Press
when you no longer have enough energy to raise your body unaided to sitting position; so weak that you think that you may not make it past this day; and you’ve made peace with the idea of death, because life takes an effort that you can no longer summon; but when you are drenched in sweat and you can’t shake the shivers, you ignore my bitter taste as you sip, because by this time all you want to do is live. Before I was boiled as your cure I’d absorbed everything: nights of full moons, rainy seasons, nutrients from decomposing dung beetles, loamy soil, bird song, a list to end your suffering. I will let you live if you want to live. I am already drowning your fever as you drink, your life hanging by my leaves, your body of fat, skin, blood and bone all weaker now than my slender stalk. Drink now, past the dregs to the grit, and in your mind we are forever bound; my bitter taste that you once swore that you couldn’t stomach, you will now sip, and the taste will come to remind you of life, of oh sweet sweet life.
need to know
Datebook January and February bring Carnival season across the Caribbean, from Haiti in the north to Trinidad and Tobago in the south, with a grand finale in the days before Ash Wednesday on 26 February
Port-au-Prince, the capital, is home to Haiti’s biggest Carnival celebrations, with massive floats moving through the streets to a soundtrack of kompa. Smaller but equally exuberant, Carnival in Jacmel, on Haiti’s south coast, is a showcase for traditional papiermâché skills, with elaborate costume headpieces in the form of exotic animals — giraffes, zebras — and caricatures of political figures. In some places, Carnival parades last one or two days. In the Dominican Republic, every Sunday during the month of February brings colourful processions through the main cities. Costumes and traditional characters are unique to each area and demonstrate the diverse population’s folkloric traditions and beliefs.
The action starts on Dimanche Gras — “Fat Sunday” — with a parade in Pointe-à-Pitre. Monday, Lundi Gras, brings an early-morning pyjama parade, followed by the performance of burlesque weddings, as couples cross-dress in each other’s wedding garments. Tuesday, Mardi Gras, is the biggest parade in Guadeloupe’s capital, Basse-Terre, as the streets fill with excited revellers in masks and costumes. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is a day of Carnival tabanca or mourning. Guadeloupeans take it to another level, as crowds dress in black and white, and burn an effigy of Vaval, the King of Carnival. “Vaval, pa quitté nou” (“Carnival, don’t leave us”) they cry, as the festival comes to its close. 42
Carnival in Guadeloupe
Among the colourfully costumed masqueraders and overflowing music, other traditional Carnival characters inject a note of the sinister. Similar to the jab molassies of Trinidad to the south, Martinique’s Neg Gwo Siwo is covered from head to toe in a glistening black syrup, frightening children and reminding onlookers of the island’s history of plantation slavery. And look out for Mariyan Lapofig, a woman dressed only in dried banana leaves, another reminder of Martinique’s rural folk roots.
Grenada’s sister isle affectionately refers to its Carnival as Kayak Mas. For Monday night mas and Fancy Mas on Carnival Tuesday, besequinned masqueraders and oil-covered jab-
jabs dance to upbeat music. And Carriacou’s unique Shakespeare Mas features elaborately costumed performers challenging each other with their best recitations of the works of the Bard. Try not to fumble, or you’ll get a tap from your opponent’s stick.
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinbagonians call their Carnival “the greatest show on earth,” and certainly when it comes to the stamina required to make it through the Carnival season, they can’t be beat. Weeks of concerts, competitions and fetes lead up to Carnival weekend, when steel orchestras compete for the Panorama trophy and singers go after the Calypso and Soca Monarch titles. J’Ouvert at dawn on Carnival Monday is like a second start of the year, and then it’s non-stop till Las’ Lap on Tuesday night.
hemis/alamy stock photo
bookshelf In Nearby Bushes by Kei Miller (Carcanet Press, 88 pp, ISBN 9781784108458) The cover of In Nearby Bushes features a composite series of newspaper articles in which the title is italicised and highlighted multiple times in yellow, starkly surrounded by white text against a black background. Yet the title is not what stood out for me, at first sight. It was the phrase “where she was raped,” nestled near the cover’s bottom right corner. Jamaican Kei Miller’s newest poetry collection works on the reader’s perception of traumatic violence in much the same way: these poems hold up horrors front and centre, yet it’s often the terror at the seeming fringes that sideswipes us. To borrow the title of one of Miller’s previous books, there is an anger that moves through these nearby bushes. Producing rage on its own for the page is a considerable yet limited exercise; the truly shocking beauty of these poems is that they set fury close to grace. A landscape may bristle with the pain of unsolved murders, rapes, and other human violations, these poems say, but that does not mean the landscape becomes immune to love. “Sometimes I Consider the Nameless Spaces” asks, “If sometimes it is possible to hear trees breathing, can you also hear them / catch their breaths before the violence of place?” Repeatedly, In Nearby Bushes presses questions about our mortal bonds to the earth, to our communal and individual senses of safety, about where we go and from whom we flee when that safety shatters. These poems trouble the freshly nailed lids off wholesale wooden coffins, rifling in the physical remainders of the dead for questions that morph into metaphysics. The third segment of the book’s three sections does this work in a series of unsettling, zombifying erasures, holding aloft a spectral lantern.
A Dark Iris
by Lauren K. Alleyne (Peepal Tree Press, 90 pp, ISBN 9781845234416)
by Elizabeth J. Jones (Blue Banyan Books, 240 pp, ISBN 9789768267252)
This prize-winning second collection from US-based Trinidadian Lauren K. Alleyne is an even deeper excavation of the potent mineral ore brought to the surface in her debut, Difficult Fruit. Alleyne’s pen does what so much poetry, for all its pulchritude, does not do: it confronts and names the enemy, the perpetrators of antiblackness, the Klan-inspired marchers who would desecrate Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice’s deaths. Not so fast, say the poems in Honeyfish, cutting through the rhetoric of hatred with the accuracy of a butcher’s cleaver separating offal from steak. What the poet serves us is the raw heart meat of love, the praise of an ineffable, indestructible blackness prized by the sun itself. Here, black beauty roams, cavorts, and survives without apology, each line insistent in reclaiming joy amid the mourning processions, against the grain of unlawful death.
Set in early 1970s Bermuda, this CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Literature 2018 finalist is a graceful portrait of a young artist’s inner conflict, between the pressures of her society and the compulsions of her artistry. Rebekah Eve knows she should be pleased about her acceptance into the elite Meridian school, but her true passion is for the canvas, not the schoolbooks of rote. Rebekah’s art has the power to summon the phantoms of Bermudian history, each with their own stories still left to fully articulate. Through Rebekah’s visions, Jones centres the history of eighteenth-century enslaved Sally Bassett, a prominent figure in Bermudian narratives of rebellion, punishment, and socio-racial tensions. The interlocking layers of feminisms in this book for young readers are unmistakeable and refreshing. Jones excels at the interplay of these distinct voices.
Another Mother by Ross Kenneth Urken (Ian Randle Publishers, 206 pp, ISBN 9789768286048) Humility and the complicated eagerness of childhood love animate Another Mother, an unusual but urgently needed memoir. Urken, a self-described Jewish boy from New Jersey, reflects on the life-affirming, world-shaping, accent-hewing influence of his Jamaican nanny, Miss Dezna Sanderson, who left Jamaica in 1988 amid turmoil and under duress. The peculiarity of Urken’s accent, which lilts and pitches with all the authenticity of yaad talk, traces itself to Dezna’s caretaking. Following her death in 2010, Urken finds he cannot rest till he unearths Dezna’s full history, told — he readily admits — imperfectly, but in pursuit of his other mother’s memory. Addressing her, he says, “Dezna, you are the wave through the bus window, the hand on my forehead, the warm dumpling in my belly, the squealed laughter in the backyard amid Bradford pear trees.”
Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm ed. Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón (Haymarket Books, 384 pp, ISBN 9781642590302) “Resilience” and “perseverance” are often empty watchwords applied by outsiders peering into the Caribbean’s history of, and relationship with, natural disasters. This multi-genre study assembles essays, poems, and photographs to empower a stunning lineage of Puerto Rican voices. The anthology, under Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón’s watchful stewardship, involves a chorus of intellectuals, activists, and creative practitioners in the post–Hurricane Maria landscape. In Aftershocks of Disaster, these citizens speak for themselves on what resilience and perseverance mean, not as media soundbites, but as survival mechanisms that have been necessary long before Maria’s landfall. In “If a Tree Falls in an Island” poet Ana Portnoy Brimmer asks us to “consider the fright of a flamboyán / skirts upturned / robbed of red / roots ripped / from the earth’s scalp.” Reviews by Shivanee Ramlochan, Bookshelf editor WWW.CARIBBEAN-AIRLINES.COM
playlist All Island David Kirton (Right Recordings) On his fifth studio album, All Island, Barbadosborn reggae singer-songwriter David Kirton has put together eleven songs that span a spectrum of emotions and topics, making for happy crossover potential and a wider international audience. The usual tropes of the reggae of distance and displacement are charted here: ennui and the wish for exile (“Rescue Me/Refugee”), a homesick Caribbean soul in an English world (“Barbados”),
Bitter Sweet Riddim Various artists (Precision Productions) Months before the celebration of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival 2020, Precision Productions launched its new riddim to test the waters for the party cabal’s penchant to wine. Groovy soca is the sound for party folk to come together intimately, and the Bitter Sweet Riddim serves up five combinations of lyrical partners to choose from, as sing-alongs or suggestions for how to groove. Preedy offers the lament of a failed rela-
Down in Jamaica: 40 Years of VP Records Various artists (VP Records) The official blurb for this collector’s item reads: “Down in Jamaica is a ninety-four-track, deluxe, multi-format box set [of CDs and vinyl] with a twenty-four-page booklet and art cards detailing the hits, the rarities, and the history of the world’s largest reggae label.” All true, but this is also the successful result of Caribbean diaspora moxie making a significant and longstanding headway into the music industry Single Spotlight
The Struggle Bunji Garlin (self-released) When soca becomes calypso and rapid-fire lyrical rap becomes autobiography, you know that a song is being made by innovators. Bunji Garlin is at the head of the pack of modern soca lyricists, by miles. “The Struggle” is real, it’s danceable, and it’s a clear message that the continuing journey to the top for Bunji is not to be taken for granted. He worked for it, and it shows in the excellence of the flow. “I come from a different timing / Where you walk on a very thin lining /
the remembrance of home (“Where I Come From”). The songs, however, don’t all hinge on that idea of out there, but celebrate here, that Caribbean spirit that sells well: observation of our unique Caribbean beauty (“She’s All Island”), the joy of the global legalisation of marijuana (“Mary Jane”), unity and togetherness (“No More Walls”), true love (“Worth Holding On”), and more. A sonic template that focuses on roots reggae in this modern time is a happy recall of the genre’s golden era. Island vibes are irie again.
tionship (“I Tried”); Nessa Preppy makes a proud claim of delicious love (“Honeypot”); Sekon Sta enquires about misguided intentions of the youth (“Mr Badman”); and Nailah Blackman and Konshens have a plain-spoken sexy conversation, nuance be damned. Soca riddim may even be a misnomer in 2020: Nigerian singer Niniola Apata makes her track a proposal for a serious love connection (“Pocket”) that resonates with a wider Afro-House audience than the Caribbean soca scene. This riddim is a successful attempt to internationalise T&T’s festival music. in the United States. VP Records represents more than a record store and a label pushing reggae and dancehall hits from its base in Queens, NYC, to the world: it encompasses four decades of singers and musicians dreaming to become stars. And they are all here: the Heptones, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy, Yellowman, J.C. Lodge, Freddie McGregor, Cocoa Tea, Garnet Silk, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Capleton, Morgan Heritage, Sean Paul, Shaggy, Maxi Priest, and many more. One hundred and one, to be exact! This is a proud Caribbean legacy to cherish. Was either music or badness / And you could lose yuh life in d rhyming.” His story is replete with references to danger and rivalry, to war both lyrical and personal. His appeal to allow him to be himself, to free up, is couched in a chorus that samples the late Merchant’s 1977 African fantasy soca hit “Um Ba Yo”. The choice of fight or fete, life or death, was made through song. And rhyme, too. Bunji rhymes oesophagus with Galapagos, so you know this man is not joking. Serious thing here! Reviews by Nigel A. Campbell
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In 2016, the then–twenty-four-year-old filmmaker Michael Lees left the United States after eight years and returned to his native Dominica with an idea. Disillusioned with metropolitan life, he decided to spend six months alone in the Nature Isle’s forested interior. Like any good filmmaker, Lees brought along his camera. Then in September 2017, halfway through this modern Thoreau’s sojourn, the unthinkable happened: Dominica was struck by Hurricane Maria, its worst natural disaster on record. Not unlike Werner Herzog’s found-footage classic Grizzly Man (but with a good deal more self-awareness than that documentary’s doomed protagonist, Timothy Treadwell), Lees’s Uncivilized is a layered document of a young man’s attempt to live in harmony with the natural world. (It’s also a ripping adventure story.) Jonathan Ali speaks with Michael Lees about his remarkable film. Did you always intend to film your time living in the forest? From pretty early on I decided I would film my experience. One thing I’d always read was, if you want to be a filmmaker, then just make a film! To me, this was a way to shoot something with potential far-reaching interest without much cost, as well as to practice my filmmaking without too much pressure. You no doubt shot much more footage than appears in the film. How did you decide what sort of portrait you wanted to create? Choosing what to keep and what to discard was one of the big challenges. You’ve got an hour or so to tell a story, and there’s a lot that has to get cut. Originally my plan was to trace the evolution of humanity from hunter-gatherer to agrarian society. I started off strictly eating food from my immediate environment, later expanding to include fruit from nearby farms, and while I filmed footage of this, it simply didn’t fit the story. At the same time, I tried to show things warts-and-all — my fear, lack of discipline, anxiety. I wanted to try my best 48
to portray an honest version of myself, something that was relatable and not too sugarcoated. You made a brave — some would say foolhardy — decision to remain in the forest when you got word of Hurricane Maria. Why did you stay? Part of my rationale was that my project was about facing the realities of nature, good and bad. Hurricanes are something we would have had to face throughout the ages, so I figured it only made sense to stick it out. I also had no idea it was going to be a Category Five super-storm. Had I known that, I don’t think I would have risked it. To be totally honest, part of me knew it would make compelling footage, but again, had I thought it was going to be life-threatening, I wouldn’t have risked it. Some might say you couldn’t have survived Maria, that there must be some cinematic sleight-of-hand. I’ve heard all sorts of things, my favourite being that I filmed my experience after Maria and then faked waking up in the forest. But it’s all good fun. Of
courtesy michael lees
“I wanted to portray an honest version of myself”
course in editing sometimes you’re taking clips from different times and putting them together to build atmosphere and tension. But I can promise you, I was there alone in the forest in my palm leaf and bamboo hut during Maria. I think people underestimate how much the forest breaks the wind. You went into the forest looking to “find out where man went wrong” in his evolution. But you came out with mixed feelings about going back to nature, and the supposed evils of civilisation. We often love to paint things in black and white. Some argue that everything natural is better, while others argue that everything new and modern is better. I think what the experience showed me was that this sort of argument maybe isn’t the best way to contextualise things, and that often there are great and terrible things in both the new and the old. I still think it’s crucial that we protect the natural world, and find our place in it. I also think it’s crucial that as we “develop” we keep time for self-reflection. If our lives are enriched materially but not spiritually, can we really say we have progressed? Uncivilized Director: Michael Lees Dominica 71 minutes
50 Closeup Carnival backstage:
Portfolio 69 Look mas: Portraits
60 Snapshot On morning ground:
78 Backstory The return of the Baby Dolls: traditional mas as feminist intervention
behind the scenes at T&T’s annual festival
How Kambule keeps the spirits of Carnival alive
of T&T’s traditional mas makers
Own Words 84 “I want my legacy to
live on”: Curaçao’s 2019 King of Tumba, Dibo Doran, on his journey to the musical title
The Belmont Baby Dolls band made their debut at T&T Carnival 2019, using the traditional masquerade character to explore contemporary gender issues
Carnival is a time to shine: from performers on the soca and calypso stage to costumed masqueraders in the street and fete-goers showing off their most acrobatic dance moves. But “the greatest show on earth” wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of the many thousands who work behind the scenes — year-round or seasonally — on the organisation and logistics of the festival. Laura Dowrich-Phillips and George Popplewell meet four of the people whose backstage efforts make Carnival happen
“I don’t think anyone else knows how to do it” For hundreds of thousands of soca fans, the main online resource for new releases and information about artists is JuliansPromo, a channel on the YouTube platform. But the man behind it all — Barbadian-American Julian Hackett — is all but unknown to his numerous subscribers, and he likes it that way. Laura Dowrich-Phillips learns more 50
hese days, when looking at soca music videos or listening to new releases on YouTube, we take some things for granted. Detailed credits and release info, cool photos, and graphics are all the norm today, but prior to the launch of the JuliansPromo channel, there was no set standard for videos uploaded to the platform. “Somebody would release a song . . . back then, they would just email me a song and say, post this. There is no credit, no picture, and when we ask for a picture, they would say, just take a picture from online. We had all that down pat — the presentation and the quality and how fast our turnaround time was,” says Julian Hackett, one of the cofounders of JuliansPromo. Hackett, born in the US to Bajan parents, has remained a relatively unknown figure behind the YouTube channel that today has over 800,000 subscribers. Thanks to his parents, and living in New York City, Hackett grew up surrounded by Caribbean culture. He used to research online to learn more about the music he heard, and
Julian Hackett stays on top of trends and the ever-changing algorithms of social media platforms to ensure JuliansPromo remains relevant
YouTube would be better platform than a standalone website. Together with Vivaa, he started the JuliansPromo YouTube channel. “Soca was on the platform, but it wasn’t presented right,” Hackett says. “If you had to find soca pre-2011, you would only find a name. I am naturally very detailed, so when it comes to presenting things, I want people to know who is behind the music.” Hackett says they travelled all over the Caribbean, covering Carnivals and interviewing artists, funded out of their own pockets. That’s when they realised they needed to treat what they did as a business, and find ways to make money. “We got serious about turning it into a business, licensing the name, branding and trademarking. We tried to slow things down and get more organised in the back end. We charged a fee for the email blasting. We had no clue what we were doing, and we were doing things for free. We made money through charging for YouTube uploads and email blasts,” he explains. Hackett constantly stays on top of trends and the ever-changing algorithms of social media platforms to ensure JuliansPromo remains relevant. “When it comes to marketing, you have to be ahead of everything — otherwise it gets boring for me and boring for the channel. Trinidad Carnival from October to March is the busiest time. I use the dead period to research and find new ways, because everything is algorithms. Promoting songs is now harder than back then . . . is not like it was when I could just place someone on top of a playlist and get 50,000 views.” In addition to promoting songs, Hackett manages artists and their social media accounts, and uploads music to streaming services. That there has been no real competition to his business this far speaks volumes about the public’s ignorance when it comes to digital media, and the amount of work involved in maintaining and growing a digital presence. “I don’t think anyone else knows how to do it when it comes to music,” says Hackett. “You have to truly understand how it works. There are people with YouTube channels, but we aren’t just YouTube uploaders — we try to help artists, we make money in marketing, but it goes to website designs and promotions. We put a lot of time into this. We deal with almost every single artist, so my work is all year round, and it is really just me that is doing it. So the more I balance everything out is the more I am able to function.”
eventually joined IslandMix, a once-popular website where users shared soca, commented on the songs, and engaged in heated debates about which island produced the best music. “I was using the forum there, and I would find music online that I liked and post it. I was good at finding things online. People saw how good I was, and they recommended I grow it. That grew into the music section on Islandmix that I managed,” he recalls. In 2011, the managers of the website asked Hackett to find someone to do videos with artist interviews. “I recommended my best friend, Vivaa, and I shot the interviews. We had no clue what we were doing. We just knew we loved the music and wanted to expose the artists. We were getting into events interviewing artists, and that grew. We did that from 2011 to 2015, but it became too much to handle. The music advertising was growing so quickly, artists started coming to me to promote their music, so I had to drop the media for that.” As his popularity grew, Hackett found himself at odds with the IslandMix owners, and he felt
“We live like he’s still here” Kewal “Lalo” Ragbir was considered one of T&T’s premier designers of mobile sound systems when he died suddenly in 2008, days before the festival. His widow Ome and daughter Ornella had to step in to keep the trucks on the road. Twelve years later, writes Georgia Popplewell, DJ Lalo Sound is a rare example of a women-led company in a male-dominated business, making sure the biggest mas bands have their thundering soundtrack on Carnival Monday and Tuesday 52
achel Montano’s 1997 soca hit “Big Truck” wasn’t only about large vehicles, but the song cemented in the imagination an aspect of the Carnival landscape that it’s impossible to imagine the festival without: music trucks. These mobile sound systems, with their massive arrays of speakers, and, increasingly, features such as lounges and decks, have become as iconic as the steel orchestras they’ve gradually replaced. Yet probably few people give much thought to what goes into creating these behemoths. There’s no such thing as a readymade music truck, and building a mobile sound system around the skeleton of a truck cab and trailer is a complex enterprise involving ergonomics, acoustical engineering, metal fabrication, and electrical design. One of Trinidad and Tobago’s premier designers and producers of mobile sound systems was Kewal “Lalo” Ragbir. Lalo was only fifty when he died tragically in a car crash on 30 January,
since gone on to other pursuits and families of their own. But Ornella, who trained in project management, seems born to it, navigating her way through the male-dominated sound systems business with confidence and expertise. She and Ome have also overseen the evolution of DJ Lalo Sound Ltd into to a full-service events company. Admittedly, they had a strong foundation to build on. Ornella’s conversation veers continually towards the rich legacy left by her father. “We live like he’s still here,” she says. Lalo, who started building sound systems in 1974, at age sixteen, was a technically gifted innovator and trendsetter who was highly respected by local sound engineers and deejays. He was known for being able to get an incredibly full, rich bass sound from a relatively modest array of speakers, and was constantly trying new things. He wasn’t afraid to stand out, at one point painting his fibreglass speaker boxes white, instead of the traditional matte black. Ornella remembers her father working feverishly into the night on a design for a mobile sound system, asking her to print out each new version as he refined and amended.
There’s no such thing as a readymade music truck, and building a mobile sound system around the skeleton of a truck cab and trailer is a complex enterprise
2008, just four days before the start of that year’s Carnival. Lalo’s company had six trailers on the road that year, one of which featured an innovative new subwoofer design. Lalo’s wife Samdaye — known to friends as Ome — had to step in quickly and, with the help of their three daughters, make sure their commitments for that season were met. Ome was a partner in the business and knew its workings inside out, but the timing still was about as bad as it could get. “We had to power through that grief,” says Ornella Ragbir, the youngest of the three girls, recalling the fourteen-day funeral ritual the family carried out while simultaneously making sure that the Carnival show went on. Today, Ornella runs the business alongside her mother at their headquarters near the University of the West Indies campus in St Augustine. Only sixteen when her father died, she hadn’t envisioned this path for herself. Her sisters Nisha and Laura have also been involved at various points, but have
Lalo was one of the first Trinidadian sound system builders to be contracted to produce trucks for North American Carnivals such as Toronto’s Caribana, New York’s Labour Day West Indian Day Parade, and Miami’s Columbus Day Carnival. For Lalo, however, the holy grail was London’s Notting Hill Carnival, a dream the family is still pursuing on his behalf. “I’m in talks with various bands,” Ornella says. “One day we’ll get there.” For Trinidad Carnival, the company produces music trucks for some of the country’s largest and most popular masquerade bands. In 2019, they created a VIP triple-decker truck for Machel Montano and the band Tribe. They start work on the following year’s Carnival right after they return from Miami, the last of the overseas Carnivals, in October. For Lalo, Miami was also an important testing ground for new features and equipment. “When the container lands from Miami, that’s when the season starts,” Ornella says. They’ll spend the following two months working with clients on plans and designs, and fabrication begins in January. By the week before Carnival, they’re putting the final touches on the trailers, and by 10 pm on Sunday night the crew is heading into Port of Spain for the start of J’Ouvert at 4 am on Carnival Monday. They return to headquarters that night, then head out again around 5 am on Tuesday. Ome and Ornella credit a great part of their success to the loyalty and commitment of long-time staff members and collaborators such as engineer Fawaz “Bobby” Mohammed, Bhisham Dookran, Ryan Rampersad, and Bryan Andrew, who pull out the stops over the hectic Carnival weekend. The Ragbir family are observant Hindus, and every 30 January, on the anniversary of Lalo’s death, the hold a puja in his memory in the lead-up to the festival of Maha Shivaratri. This means that some years they have obligations at temple on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. “Sometimes I’ve had to troubleshoot problems while at the altar,” Ornella says, laughing. “My fear when Daddy died was that his memory would fade,” she says. “But I took those dreams, and put those lessons into play.”
He’s known as one of the Caribbean’s leading bespoke menswear designers, but come Carnival time, Ecliff Elie has an even more demanding assignment: dressing some of the hottest soca performers for the competition stage. The right outfit, he tells Laura Dowrich-Phillips, sends performers’ confidence “through the roof” 54
“Soca is me”
cliff Elie is a name synonymous with bespoke menswear in the Caribbean. But long before he was outfitting stylish men across the region, the Trinidadian designer actually got his big break dressing soca artists. The first artist he dressed was Shurwayne Winchester, back in the mid 1990s, when the Tobago-born singer was now making his name in Trinidad. “I was around twenty or twenty-one,” says Elie, “and Shurwayne was still fresh from Tobago, singing as a backup singer with [the band] Traffik. When KMC pulled out of the Soca Monarch that year, Shurwayne was called to replace him. He had a song called ‘Get Out of My Dreams’. That was his big break, and he contacted me to outfit him. That was my big break, too.” Elie, who learned tailoring at Chaguanas Senior Comprehensive School in central Trinidad at the age of fourteen, had wanted to be in fashion since he was a young boy. He used to make a stencil and draw an E on his shirt as his logo, because he observed how powerful branding was in fashion. The last of fifteen children, whose father died when he was still a youth, Elie didn’t have the means to pursue his passion, so he tried odd jobs after school. He got a break when a neighbourhood
tailor allowed him to use a sewing machine in his shop. Elie started getting orders, and his reputation grew. When Winchester approached him, Elie was so excited to see his clothes on television that he did a handshake deal for the singer to become his first brand ambassador. For eight years, Elie partnered with Winchester without getting paid. When local telecoms provider bMobile signed Winchester among its cast of brand ambassadors, the soca star — who has won Road March, Groovy Soca Monarch, and Soca Monarch titles over the years — insisted that Elie remain his stylist. “They were impressed with the way he dressed, and he said, I have someone I have been with for eight years. And for the first time, I got paid. They signed three other artists — Raymond Ramnarine from Dil-E-Nadan, Bunji Garlin and the Asylum Band, and Machel Montano. I got the opportunity to design for Traffik and Bunji’s band, and that is how my name made its rounds,” Elie recalls. The payment he received from bMobile was Elie’s first major source of income, and with it he bought his house and first car. Since then, Elie has continued to design for the men of soca. For Carnival 2019, he outfitted four of the top artists in the Groovy Soca competition: Swappi, who won the title; St Lucian singer Teddyson John, who placed second; Grenadian singer Vghn, who placed third; and Antiguan singer Ricardo Drue. Then in November Elie flew to Sint Maarten to dress the 2019 Groovy and Power Soca Monarch, King James, who opened for the Buju Banton concert there. Outside of soca, Elie has dressed reggae artists such as Jah Cure, who visited the designer’s atelier to be outfitted for the annual Redemption concert in Trinidad in 2018. “I am known for quality and paying attention to detail when it comes to the artists, getting in their mode and their mind. I could talk to twenty-five
“I am known for quality and paying attention to detail when it comes to the artists, getting in their mode and their mind”
artists, and each of them will come on stage looking unique,” he says. “I meet with them, listen to their music, watch videos, watch social media to see who they are, find out what direction they want to go in, the crowd they are appealing to,” he explains. He describes Vghn’s sparkling, sequinned outfit from the 2019 Soca Monarch competition as his most extravagant and challenging design to date. “I used four different types of fabric for the pants. Vghn likes to do splits, so the pants had lycra and spandex to stretch, so it looks neat. I had to build that pants on him . . . he had to split and dance for us to do the outfit.” Elie says Carnival 2020 will be one of his busiest, but he’s up for the challenge. “Soca is me. I feel like it is a part of me and my culture. When King James put on my outfit, he said his self-confidence went through the roof, and that is the effect my clothing has. That is worth more than they will ever pay for the outfit. I am about building people, inspiring people, making a difference,” he says.
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“Carnival can’t be the way it used to be” For a quarter-century, the literal voice of mas at Port of Spain’s Piccadilly Greens stage has been Thora Best, the official MC and announcer who presides over the bacchanal from her platform above the stage. Georgia Popplewell meets the woman behind the “clear, commanding” commentary that a generation of masqueraders have come to expect 58
he Carnival parade route in Port of Spain leads from the downtown stage on South Quay, continuing east along Independence Square and turning into Piccadilly Street. Here the road narrows, then widens again between the United Brothers Masonic lodge and the Queen Street Masjid, and eventually fans out into a triangle bordered on one side by buildings, including a pair of fine old gingerbread houses, and the East Dry River on the other. This is Piccadilly Greens, one of the stages where Carnival masquerade bands are judged. As mas bands assemble on the stretch leading to the Greens, they must organise themselves into sections and turn down the volume on their music trucks. And then they must wait. For a band may not burst onto the Piccadilly Greens stage until the clear, commanding voice of Thora Best, perched on her platform above the stage, announces its arrival over the PA system.
preparations and in the early years only one or two bands would pass. We used to have to encourage people to come Behind the Bridge,” she says, using the name by which the area east of the East Dry River is known in local parlance. Culturally significant — the area is the setting for literary works such as Earl Lovelace’s novel The Dragon Can’t Dance, and the Canboulay Riots of 1881 are re-enacted there every Carnival Friday — and acknowledged as the birthplace of Carnival, east Port of Spain has an only partially deserved reputation as a place to venture at your own risk. But Port of Spain’s Carnival is eternally shifting, in search of spaces in the city where its energy can flow. And when Vijay Ramlal, current chairman of the Uptown Carnival Committee, hit on the idea of moving the judging point to Piccadilly Greens, the bands started coming. “We feel it is the best place to play mas, because it is so wide,” says Best. Masqueraders agree. The stage at the Savannah, long considered the mecca of Carnival, is massive, but masqueraders’ time on stage is strictly limited, and the crowds in the stands aren’t what they used to be. At Piccadilly Greens, you can take your time, and for small and medium-size bands, especially, it’s the perfect arena to showcase their presentations.
Culturally significant and acknowledged as the birthplace of Carnival, east Port of Spain has an only partially deserved reputation as a place to venture at your own risk
Best has been the announcer at Piccadilly Greens on Carnival Monday and Tuesday since 1995. When the then-two-year-old Uptown Carnival Committee, the organisation responsible for proceedings at the Greens, decided they needed an MC, Best was the natural choice. A teacher at nearby Rose Hill Primary School, she had the gift of gab. As a child, she performed on the legendary Auntie Kay’s radio show, and she was an advocate of using local art forms such as calypso and Carnival in education. Her father Winston Best, then chairman of the Uptown Carnival Committee, recruited her for the job. So, if there’s anyone who’s witnessed the rise and rise of Piccadilly Greens as a Carnival parade venue, it’s Thora Best. “We started off very . . . I would use the word lame,” she says. The judging point in those days was at Lucky Jordan corner, at the intersection of Prince and George Streets. “We’d make all our
Best’s Carnival starts on Carnival Sunday afternoon, when she MCs the children’s masquerade competition. Then she’s back at the Greens around 10 am on Monday, in time for the traditional masquerade competition. She gives welcome comments around 12.30 pm, and individual masqueraders and bands pass steadily until about 8 pm. Then she’s back on spot again at 8 am on Tuesday for a full day of mas. Best’s job is to announce Carnival presentations as they come on stage, giving title, bandleader, and designer, a description of the band’s concept, and announce each section of the presentation as it appears. It’s a bit of an art, perhaps akin to Test cricket commentary, where one is often called upon to conjure up a narrative out of thin air, as not all presentations lend themselves to deep scrutiny. Once masqueraders are on stage, you’re basically providing commentary on a big street party. One might joke that a good Carnival band announcer should be versed in the nuances of colour and be skilled at identifying materials such as swansdown, lamé, different varieties of braid and sequins and feathers. A good Carnival presenter will also, of course, have a sound knowledge of Carnival and its history. Best has been known to express faux-shock at mas portrayals that skirt the edge of good taste, but don’t be mistaken: she’s no prude. Nor is she merely a Carnival bystander: back in the day, she’d go to work on Ash Wednesday in bedroom slippers after excessive revelry rendered her feet unfit for shoes. Best’s is a job you couldn’t do if you didn’t have a deep appreciation for everything about Carnival. Don’t look at her for any of that nostalgic naysaying about the ways the festival has changed. “Carnival can’t be the way it used to be,” she says. “There has to be change. And it has a rich heritage that people often dismiss. Carnival is also a very productive time that brings out our cooperative spirit, our Trini-ness, and expresses the joy of just being alive.” n
On morning ground Early each Carnival Friday morning, before dawn breaks, crowds assemble at Piccadilly Greens in east Port of Spain for a re-enactment of a key event in the history of Trinidad â€” and of Carnival itself. Attillah Springer gives an intimate account of Kambule, when the spirits of the ancestors are invoked in a ritual of memory, story, song, and resistance Photography by Maria Nunes
Kambule performers re-enact the beginning of the 1881 Canboulay Riots Right Tamboo bamboo musicians provide the soundtrack for the performance
arnival Friday morning, moments before Kambule starts, I am looking for a dog. It is not an active search, rather a hope in the back of my mind that a dog will turn up again, like one has been turning up the past few years. Sometimes I’m busy running back and forth between the tents that form the makeshift backstage area, stopping maybe to talk to a photographer, a member of the public, a friend who has come there straight from whatever fete they have been wining at since early Thursday night. Sometimes I am up in the stands talking with the sound engineer, warning them to get the music cues right. And then I see it. The dog is always unbothered by the crowds, running about, sniffing the drums, the flambeaux set in the corners. The dog runs up and down Piccadilly, the staging area for the play Kambule that my family company Idakeda has been staging every Carnival Friday for more than a decade. You could say that Trinidad has lots of stray dogs, and it’s simply a coincidence that this dog has sauntered this way. I prefer to believe that the dog, being one of the symbols of the Orisa Ogun — the hunter, father of metal and the steel pan, remover of obstacles — is an unscripted part of the ritual re-enactment of the 1881 Canboulay Riots. It fits a narrative we are trying to reconstruct: that this community at the foot of Laventille, once known as Yoruba Village, is the spiritual source of another version of Carnival. Not the one we know to be valuable and marketable and moneymaking, not the one that is shininess and feathers, package-deal mas and rope security, that is all-inclusive and weewee trucks and the fodder for slick American reality TV. Instead, this Behind the Bridge Carnival sees Trinidad as a place of magical coincidences, a nonlinear understanding of time, unintended rituals, jumbies that are both moko and micro, the ability to move between sacred and scandalous with ease.
Preparing to face Captain Baker and his officers, the jammettes and their allies arm themselves with bois, the tradition weapon of stickfighters
Actors portraying colonial police march onto the Kambule stage
There is always the moment when the cast knows this is not just a play. It is usually when the drums are fast and loud The journey to Carnival Friday morning is long and sweaty and challenging. It starts sometimes on a Saturday in January in the Hall of St George’s, where my mother Eintou once rehearsed plays with her theatre mentor Slade Hopkinson. It starts with women turning up from some far place with a ten-year-old child, asking please if the child can be part of the play. The child is always beautiful, always black enough to be teased at school. The child does not know the date of Emancipation. When you see that child dance kalinda on Carnival Friday morning, you will see no trace of the shyness and the selfdoubt that once made his or her shoulders droop. There are always more women than men. The women are strong in ways they do not know, and at least one or two have lived the life of or know one of these jammette women they play — formidable women from beyond the diamètre, the East Dry River that historically divides Port of Spain geographically and socially — terrified of being vulnerable, searching for acceptance and visibility.
he rehearsals start with history lessons. The rehearsals are never just about lines and blocking. One of the lessons is about why we continue to fight with the National Carnival Commission on the spelling of Kambule. Yes, we know the idea that Canboulay is a French Creole version of cannes brulées — the burning of the canes. But we also know that the scholarship of historian Maureen Warner-Lewis cites kambule as a Kikongo word meaning “procession.” We reflect on the conflation of the two terms: the idea of the burned cane as a symbol of plantation life and death, and the idea of the early morning procession that became J’Ouvert, in which the ex-enslaved would recount the horrors of that time, while protesting against current injustices. And still in the midst of all that shrieking pain and profanity, they would find time for ritual. There is always the moment when the cast knows this is not just a play. It is usually when the drums are fast and loud. When the chantwell is singing a stickfight lavway that segues into a chant for the Orishas. In that moment, the power will take hold of someone and ride them to tears, and
when they come back to themselves, not remembering the way they danced, it is time to remind the cast again that this is really a ritual for the Carnival to not get totally lost to the shininess. The Babalawo, the Yoruba priest, says this is ancestral work: you are talking about them, re-living their lives, they will come to remind you that they are real.
arnival Friday morning comes faster than we expect. We arrive around 2 am to find that the stands are already full of bleary-eyed audience members, the ones who are operating solely on bad-mind, their faces crumpled by a few weeksâ€™ worth of long nights in panyards and mas camps and kaiso tents. They guard their seats in the bleachers jealously â€” the space can hold no more than three thousand people. It is full long before we begin. Things get lost and found again on Carnival Friday morning: a cast member, a conch shell, a piece of costume.
The air is cool and still, and I imagine that the late, great John Cupid, who first had the idea to do a Canboulay Riots reenactment, is watching us from up in a tree, like the boy whose eyewitness account of the fight on a morning cool like this in February 1881 was documented by J.D. Elder. The people Behind the Bridge are gracious, accommodating, gentle with us in these darkest hours before dawn. The drummers and the drinkers and the mas players and the pan men are there at the snackette, drinking rum and sweet coffee, recalling their glory days.Â If you come to Kambule on Carnival Friday morning, know that you are part of a community ritual that makes way for the Carnival to happen. If you are there in the audience, sing the songs with us, lend your voice so that it will echo in those old wooden houses long after we have all left this plane. And if you see the dog, let it pass: it is part of the magic of the morning. n
One morning in 1881
The version of Kambule staged since 2004 is written by playwright, poet, and activist Eintou Springer, who also participates in the performance
Carnival Friday morning comes faster than we expect. We arrive at 2 am to find that the stands are already full of bleary-eyed audience members
The infamous confrontation between the jammettes of Port of Spain and the Police Constabulary that we remember as the Canboulay Riots was a watershed moment in the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. It was a few years in the making. After full Emancipation was declared in Trinidad in 1838, a three-day Canboulay celebration around 1 August became an annual feature. By the 1850s, the late-night into early-morning procession became fixed to the Christian pre-Lenten Carnival, as this was the only time of the year it was legal to wear masks in the streets. Commentators of the time railed against the displays that took place early on Carnival Monday morning, describing them using such grade-A Victorian insults as “barbarous din,” “unbridled licentiousness,” and “obscene and disgusting buffoonery.” Captain Arthur Baker was appointed Inspector Commandant for the British colonial government in Trinidad in 1877, and quickly made it is his mission to eradicate Canboulay and stickfighters from Carnival. In 1880, Baker made the first strike against the jammette bands, taking them by surprise and arresting several stickfighters. In the face of this humiliation, the stickfighters began to plot their revenge. The lead strategist is remembered as a stickfighter by the name of Joe Talmana. Although there were deliberate attempts to stamp out the jammette revelry, documents claim that the riot that broke out on the morning of Monday 28 February, 1881, was actually the result of a drunken bet that Captain Baker made late on Sunday night, when he rounded up 150 officers to go and confront the jammettes. The confrontation took place on the corner of George and Duke Streets in downtown Port of Spain, now the home of the venerable All Stars Steel Orchestra. It was at this spot that John Cupid, a researcher and organiser with the Regional Carnival Division of the National Carnival Commission, staged the first Canboulay re-enactment with the assistance of playwright Tony Hall, along with Norvan Fullerton and members of the Malick Folk Performing Company. In 2004, Eintou Springer’s pageant script was first performed at the historic site. Within five years, the crowd outgrew the space, and the National Carnival Commission identified the staging area at Piccadilly Greens as the new site. The play Kambule opens on the Sunday night at the Governor’s Ball. Governor Freeling expresses concern to the ball attendees about rumours that the stickfighters are planning to resist any efforts by Captain Baker to stop their Canboulay. The governor disagrees with another strike against the jammettes by the Constabulary. The action then moves to street level, as the jammettes meet in a barrack yard to discuss the state of affairs. They talk tactics, recount past battles with the police, and of course all the latest bacchanal in a mix of Trinidad English and French Creole. The story is narrated by the wordsmith masqueraders: two Pierrot Grenades provide history and humour. The story is also told in the songs of the chantwells and the stickfighters themselves. The production brings together a number of community cultural groups, university and high school students, professional actors and musicians. The play also features several elements of Yoruba ritual, including the passage of the egungun masquerade. For much of the twentieth century, ancestral masquerades of this kind were frequently chased off the streets. Aside from private festivals at Orisa yards, this is the only time you can see egungun masquerade on the streets of Port of Spain.
Mas requires a costume, but a costume alone isn’t mas. The masquerade tradition at the heart of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is a hybrid artform that combines visual spectacle with the narrative of theatre and the ritual of dance — a living, breathing, art in which both masquerader and spectator are equally crucial, energy and recognition passing from one to the other and back. It is, in its quintessential nature, ephemeral: a surge of emotion — whether joy or alarm, familiar or surprising — like an electrical charge, leaving traces in onlookers’ memories — and in photographs.
For many people in today’s audiences, the most vital energy of mas is to be found in the performance of traditional characters like Fancy Sailors and Indians, Midnight Robbers and Dame Lorraines, moko jumbies and the multiple varieties of devil mas. In the thick of Carnival Monday and Tuesday, such characters can seem lost and outnumbered, but the performers keeping these time-hallowed masquerades alive come into their own at the annual traditional mas competition in the final week of the Carnival season. In 2019, photographer Jason C. Audain set up a makeshift outdoor studio to document traditional masqueraders just offstage at the competition venue in Port of Spain. The portraits in the following pages record details of their intricately designed and crafted costumes, but above all they record — in the faces and gestures and stances of these masmen and maswomen — the human energy and personality that are the true medium of mas WWW.CARIBBEAN-AIRLINES.COM
Susan Leung-Yuen placed first in the Dame Lorraine category of the 2019 T&T traditional mas competition with her portrayal of The Invincible Power of Who I Am — “paying homeage to our women ancestors and women of today — working hard, swizzling the pot, taking care of children, and still taking time to take care of self”
Sandra A. Morris Bell placed fourth in the African history conventional mas category with her portrayal of Queen Nzhinga of Angola. Bell is a third-generation Carnival designer from the talented Morris family of Belmont, Port of Spain
Anderson Patrick, portraying Wadaga Raja Oltanaga, has performed Black Indian mas for over thirty years. Outside of Carnival, he is the Chief of the Warriors of Hurrican, part of the First Peoples community
Tekel “Salti Lingo” Sylvan, king of the moko jumbie band Moko Somõkõw, also competed in the 2019 traditional mas competition, portraying Blazing Moko
Wicked grin, curving horns, redtipped wings: Nemai Aliâ€™s character Satan is a longtime mainstay in traditional devil mas. Part of the band Gulf Inferno, produced by visual arts students at the University of the West Indies, Ali made his traditional mas debut with this portrayal
The title of Nelly Josephâ€™s Dame Lorraine presentation, Madame Picong, suggests a tongue as fiery hot as the orange of her costume
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The return of the Baby Dolls With a frilly dress and bonnet, carrying a replica of an infant, the traditional Baby Doll is a playful Carnival character with a serious message about the social roles of women and men. A new generation of activists have adopted the Baby Doll as form of feminist intervention, write Amanda T. McIntyre and Jarula M.I. Wegner â€” like the masqueraders behind the Belmont Baby Dolls band
arnival Monday, 2019, in Port of Spain. Two young women in full costume are sitting on the pavement, glancing down the street. They seem exhausted, but their tired looks turn into smiles bursting into laughter, as they see two striking characters approaching, masqueraders from the Belmont Baby Dolls band. The Baby Dolls wear short, lacy Edwardian-style dresses, white with black and pink details. The hems barely cover their white bloomers. Accessorised with bonnets, bows, flowers, and parasols trimmed with lace and ribbons, they chip to the music in stockings and boots. Their faces covered with black gauze,
one of them visibly bearded, they playfully move towards the pavement where the young women sit. The first Baby Doll carefully opens a red handbag speckled with white polka dots and the other takes out two small cards, decorated with red hearts and white lace. Gazing at their gifts, the women slowly turn them over. Handwritten in red letters on the back of each card are the words You are worthy.
he theatre expert Errol Hill, in his seminal book The Trinidad Carnival, describes the Baby Doll as â€œa gaily dressed doll: bonnet tied under the chin, a frilled dress reaching to her knees, coloured cotton stockings, and strap shoes.
Patrick Rasoanaivo/ CULTUREGO MAGAZINE
Her face was hidden under a wire mask, her hands gloved, and the back of her head and neck covered by a hood, so that it was impossible to identify the masker.” These Baby Dolls did not so much portray babies themselves — rather, they addressed the theme of single motherhood by carrying a small toy doll, stopping male passers-by, and accusing them of being the child’s father. They would allow their victim to leave only if he would pay a small donation “for the baby.” According to Hill, Baby Dolls in Trinidad “were loose and loud, aimed at attracting a great deal of attention, which would naturally embarrass the person accosted and prompt him to pay quickly.” Ironically and absurdly, Baby Dolls were often portrayed by men, who addressed passers-by in a falsetto voice —
The Belmont Baby Dolls band made their debut at Carnival 2019
By 1972, Errol Hill reported that the Baby Doll “is now extinct” in Trinidad and Tobago, but since then the character has once more become a regular sight WWW.CARIBBEAN-AIRLINES.COM
Patrick Rasoanaivo/ CULTUREGO MAGAZINE
an early Trinidadian example of a complex play between female and male performances that both criticised and participated in the transgression of social norms. The Baby Doll masquerade is not unique to Trinidad. As early as 1888, it was documented by the journalist and writer Lafcadio Hearn at the Carnival of Saint-Pierre in Martinique. And possibly the Baby Doll masquerade travelled from one of the islands to New Orleans. The city near the mouth of the Mississippi delta in the southern United States is often described as
For the women — and, occasionally, men — who portray contemporary Baby Dolls, the performance addresses the historically gendered disenfranchisement of women and girls 80
part of the Caribbean in terms of its migrations, cultures and, of course, Carnival. The historian and Carnival expert Samuel Kinser argued that, apart from the queens on floats, Baby Dolls were the first women to march in New Orleans Mardi Gras. These performers often came from the city’s racially mixed and black creole French Quarter. Throughout the year, many Baby Doll performers earned a livelihood with sex work, but for Mardi Gras they dressed in “tight, scanty trunks, silk blouses, and poke bonnets with ribbons.” Around the year 1910, these performers took to the streets, for instance, as Million-Dollar Baby Dolls, lighting their cigars with dollar bills. Baby Dolls were first recorded in Port of Spain as part of working-class jammette culture in the late nineteenth century. By 1972, Hill reported that the Baby Doll “is now extinct” in Trinidad and Tobago, but since then the character has once more become a regular sight in traditional mas presentations. And in recent years, the Baby Doll character has also become an important figure for the Caribbean feminist justice movement — deployed by the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women, the Single Mothers Association, the Family Planning
Authors Jarula M.I. Wegner and Amanda T. McIntyre on the street during Carnival 2019
Association, and independent activists, for feminist interventions that negotiate performances of sex, gender, and sexuality. The Baby Doll can be interpreted as either a parody of a toy doll, a young girl, or a woman who is dressed in a young girl’s fashion, with all three performing feminine behavioural codes. The doll, the girl, and the woman become a triad in a discourse of Caribbean femininities which is influenced by and builds on patterns of movement, speech, dress, and viewer expectations. And for the women — and, occasionally, men — who portray contemporary Baby Dolls, the performance addresses the historically gendered disenfranchisement of women and girls in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
n the street during Carnival 2019, the Belmont Baby Dolls met diverse reactions. Some small children ran away, while others were curious and engaging. Women generally responded positively, with mixed reactions from men. Confusions were outnumbered by signs of surprise, laughter, and exhilaration. Our performance had as its sonic backdrop the wildly popular soca hit “Famalay” by Skinny Fabulous, Machel Montano, and Bunji Garlin, winner of the 2019 Road March title. The toy doll we shared “parenting” duties for was called Rambo. On
The Belmont Baby Dolls mas band, which made its debut during Carnival 2019, is a project of New Waves! MAS, which is a programme of the Dance & Performance Institute, founded by Makeda Thomas. New Waves! MAS made its inaugural Carnival presentation at Brooklyn’s West Indian American Day Carnival in 2017 with Whitewash, and presented Blue Blue in 2018. Belmont Baby Dolls was its first presentation for Trinidad Carnival. With fewer than a dozen masqueraders, the band was based in the east Port of Spain neighbourhood of Belmont, a stronghold of traditional mas performance. For their 2019 presentation, Carnival Baby, the Belmont Baby Dolls collaborated with Berlin-based TrinidadianCanadian artist Shannon Lewis. The Belmont Baby Dolls’ 2020 presentation, Spirit Dolls, is a collaboration with Trinidadian artist Brianna McCarthy. As the band explains, “Materials are a mix of authentic African textiles, European lace, and fabrics commonly found in Caribbean homes — florals and cotton prints. In this way, we are interested in a ‘Caribbean’ Doll, with all those respective cultural influences, and moving towards something that is truly unique; self-defined. And while the aesthetic is strong, this mas is less about what a Baby Doll looks like, and more about what Baby Doll mas can do. “Spirit Dolls act as vessels for beings of powerful spirits — spirits of the dead, familiar-spirits, Divinebeings, a spirit-of-divination, and even spiritual entities which have never had an earthly incarnation. Spirit dolls hold intention — for reasons that can include healing, honouring ancestors, divine connection, and expressing love . . . The making of the Spirit Doll is a deeply personal ritual to bring to form a part of oneself that is emerging from the unconscious. Carnival is the performance ritual to invoke the spirit of the Doll; to open a path to the impossible.” For more information, contact New Waves! MAS at www.facebook.com/newwavesmas.
Carnival Monday, a vendor on Charlotte Street asked the doll’s name and burst out laughing. On Carnival Tuesday, this same vendor greeted our Baby Doll family again “Look, Rambo! Look! Is yuh auntie!” Our performance transgressed gender stereotypes and advocated inclusion. We returned a traditional Carnival character to widespread attention, yes, but our You are worthy intervention also sought to include and acknowledge people and communities on the margins of Carnival — to draw them into the family. n
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“I want my legacy to live on” Gilbert “Dibo” Doran, Curaçao’s 2019 King of Tumba, on his decade-long journey to winning the title, the role of culture in national identity, and Carnival as a time of solidarity — as told to Nelly Rosa
was raised in a single-parent household. My parents split when I was nine months old. My father Gibi is a famous singer, musician, and composer in Curaçao. But growing up at my mom’s place, I wasn’t surrounded with music. Unlike at my paternal grandparents’ house — my grandfather Bèti Doran was an actor, a writer, a musician, and a composer. He was also an advocate for the creole language Papiamentu. The whole household was breathing music, art, and literature. My aunt had her own children’s choir, my dad and his brothers were also active in the music scene. Back at my mom’s house, I would play music on cooking pots and buckets. Instead of a bike or a Nintendo, I would ask for drums, a piano, or cymbals as a gift. Whenever I would sit in class, I would start drumming with my fingers. I got punished so many times for making sounds in the classroom. I could make music out of anything. To the teachers’
dismay, a random phrase would turn into a song. At the age of eleven, I won the Tumba Festival for kids with a composition my dad wrote. After being crowned Youth Tumba King, I joined the musical folkloric group Karabela. That’s where I got a profound appreciation for our culture, folklore, and tradition. I’m a patriot to the bone. Your culture and tradition are part of your identity. It’s your roots. Dominicans are faithful to their bachata and merengue, and Colombia holds on strongly to their vallenato and salsa di Cali. No matter the music genre — zouk, merengue, urban, salsa, and lately jazz — I always try to add some Curaçao flavour. I’ve taken it upon myself to teach my generation the value of our heritage. I’m happy to see there are producers out there who use the influences of Afro-Curaçaoan rhythms like seú and tambú in electronic music and urban styles. Curaçao’s Carnival anthem tumba has its roots in the history of slavery. In the past, tumba was played all year long. The music genre was and still is popular for ending parties on a high note. Nowadays, the Tumba Festival is the biggest music festival of the island. Local composers and musicians compete for living their culture to the max. Before the tumba, calypso was the official Carnival anthem. It’s a shame it’s no longer part of this festive tradition. Curaçao is known for its multicultural society. Calypso could have helped with expanding the festivities. Boy Dap, the first Tumba King, made references to the calypso in [his 1971 song] “Bashé”. His first win is considered a calypso-style tumba. This year we’re celebrating the fiftieth edition of the Tumba Festival and Carnival. It’s beautiful to see that the fest has been around for fifty years. It has proven its right to exist. The Tumba Festival and Carnival make people forget about everyday problems, political disputes, and economic disparities. These moments of joy unite people. The climax of my tumba “Kòrsou ta den su Gloria” (“Curaçao Is in Its Glory”) is the kick “say goodbye to problems, turmoil, and feuds.” In the intro, I sing, “I’m going to proclaim that this country is glorious, but I need everyone to pitch in to make a mark on history. It’s time to share, like a big family living under one roof. Elders say that with patience one day glory falls on you. All you need is patience and perseverance to get through. Let’s create a
courtesy curaçao Tourist board
Curaçao’s 2020 Carnival season stretches from 3 January to 25 February, with almost two months of festivities, including the Tumba Festival, a four-day musical event (27 to 31 January) where artists compete to win the Tumba King or Queen title, and have their song showcased as the official soundtrack for Carnival celebrations. Curaçao Carnival culminates in six days of parades, running from 16 to 25 February, with designated days for children, teenagers, adults, and a Grand Farewell Parade to close the annual festival. Throughout Carnival, tumba is the soundtrack. Derived from West African musical traditions brought to Curaçao by enslaved peoples in the seventeenth century, tumba has evolved through contact with other Caribbean musical genres, including merengue and calypso. Like calypso, tumba — sung in Papiamentu, Curaçao’s national language — features topical lyrics, social commentary, and double entendre. Singers are accompanied by drums, brass instruments, and traditional iron percussion instruments like scratchers and bells.
wave of positivity so we can reach victory. As tumba sounds, it will break all chains of tension.” Even though the next sentence is commonly used, I think it was one of the strongest punch lines in the song: “If God is with us, who can be against us. So, let’s live the glory of happiness and fantasy” — that’s a reference to the Carnival fest. It was ten years before I took home the crown. In the past ten years, God paved the way for me. I’ve written history as the first third-generation
“Perseverance is key. You’re not always going to get your heart’s desire whenever you want it” composer to win best lyrics. I’m the only Youth Tumba King who has also been crowned Tumba King in the adult competition. And I’m the recordholder for being the composer who finished in the top five more than anyone else. One top of that, one of my dreams came true. I’ve always wanted a double win with the title and the Bèto Doran Award for best lyrics and melody — the award is named
after my grandfather. Lyrics and melody carry the most weight in the total score. I strive to be an example. I truly believe no one is ever outlearned. There is so much more to obtain. When I’m gone, I want my legacy to live on. A great composition will forever be a great composition. Same with poems. A great poem will stay a great poem for eternity. Just like many singers and composers before me, I want to leave my mark on the Tumba Festival. Perseverance is key. You’re not always going to get your heart’s desire whenever you want it. It’s my duty as leader of the band ONE to continue to deliver music of the highest quality. Even if I don’t participate with my own composition this year, the band will participate in the festival and Carnival. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll defend my title. I haven’t written any lyrics. I’m not going to beat myself up. The inspiration has to come naturally. I was sixteen years old when I first started composing songs for the Tumba Festival. For eleven years in a row, I’ve been the youngest composer competing in the festival. That’s one of the reasons why I support the Youth Tumba Festival. I want to contribute to the longevity of the festival. Without new blood, tumba goes extinct. n
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Destination 88 Choose your own Tobago
Explore 104 Back to the Bahamas
Neighbourhood 102 St Elizabeth, Jamaica
Bucket List 112 The Pitons, St Lucia
Colourful baskets are a typical souvenir on sale at the famous Straw Market in Nassau, capital of the Bahamas
Choose your own Tobago 88
The stunning view across Pirateâ€™s Bay, just north of Charlotteville
Everyone has a different idea about what makes a dream vacation. Whether youâ€™re looking for quiet time or an adrenaline hit, to explore pristine nature or the stories of history, to get pampered or get wild, Tobago has something for you, writes Nixon Nelson
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Time to unwind — or seeking adventure? For most visitors, I’d wager, the main attraction of Tobago is its relaxed vibe. The broad expanse of sand at Pigeon Point or Castara, a soundtrack of breaking waves, breeze stirring the coconut branches overhead: it’s a scene designed to soothe the nerves, as you contemplate the little puffs of cloud sailing across a brilliant blue sky, and prepare to take a saltwater dip. A certain languid informality is the vibe, and if a hammock, a book, and a beverage are your idea of a good time, there’s no better place to literally kick back and indulge in a week of delightful indolence. Still, even the most dedicated beach bums get restless once in a while. Ready to get your blood pumping? Mt Irvine is a surfer’s dream, with waves breaking at the reef at the northern end of the beach — “a fast, racy wall with pits to park in and lips to float,” according to one expert account. Reliable Atlantic breezes make Tobago a windsurfing hotspot, especially in the first half
of the year, with the strongest winds in June. And those who like their speed on two wheels head for the numerous trails crisscrossing the island, perfect for mountain biking, with several operators renting bikes and offering guided rides ranging from easy-peasy to truly challenging. Incredible views over the island’s cliffs and bays are the reward for working up a sweat. But maybe your adventure instinct is to go deep. You’re in luck: Tobago offers some of the Caribbean’s best diving, in waters teeming with life. The nutrient-rich outflow of the Orinoco River (about a hundred miles south) supports three hundred coral species in Tobago waters, and hundreds more fish species. Below the surface, you can explore reefs and canyons, plunging walls and intriguing rock formations, with names like London Bridge and Japanese Gardens. Or explore the wreck of the MV Maverick, a ferry deliberately sunk in 1997 to create a dive site for the curious, now colonised by corals and sponges.
Experience the adrenaline surge of mountain biking in Tobago
Why do some corals and sponges in Tobago’s offshore grow so big? Divers are often astonished at the size of these species, including a famous brain coral near Speyside, a whopping sixteen feet across and ten high. The plankton-rich waters are responsible, full of nourishment for marine life.
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Nature lover — or history buff? Tobago boasts one of the world’s oldest protected nature reserves: since 1776, the rainforest of the Main Ridge, which runs along the length of the island, has been protected by law. It’s the habitat for over one hundred bird species, including the rufous-vented chachalaca — better known locally as the cocrico, Tobago’s national bird — most of them relatively accessible to birders. Add the shorebirds found along the coast and in the stretches of mangrove near Bon Accord, and you’ve got a respectable number to add to your life list. Serious birders shouldn’t omit a boat trip out to Little Tobago, close to the main island’s northeastern tip, home to breeding colonies of both red-billed and white-tailed tropicbirds, and three species of booby. And even the most natureblind tourist can hardly avoid spotting bananaquits or hummingbirds in their hotel grounds — even venturing up to their breakfast table. But maybe human history is your thing. Tobago holds the record as the Caribbean island which changed hands among European colonial powers the most times — thirty-three, over three centuries — with the British, French, Dutch, and even Swedes competing for possession. The Courlander Monument in Plymouth commemorates one of the least remembered events in Caribbean history, when the Baltic Duchy of
Courland, predecessor of today’s Latvia, made several (ultimately fruitless) attempts to establish a colony here. For a broad overview, head to the Tobago Museum, located in the grounds of Fort King George on the hill above Scarborough. From preColumbian artefacts to military paraphernalia, the small but fascinating collection documents the island’s centuries of colonisation and the plantation system which brought thousands of enslaved Africans to Tobago and shaped its landscape and human society. The fort itself — begun by the British in 1777 and continued by the French after they captured the island in 1781 — with its restored buildings and collection of cannon, is a reminder of a bloodier time. And as every guidebook will tell you, your exploration of Tobago’s history isn’t complete without a pilgrimage to the celebrated Mystery Tombstone of Plymouth, final resting place of one Mrs Betty Stiven, who died in 1783. “She was a mother without knowing it,” reads her riddling epitaph, “and a wife without letting her husband know it except by her kind indulgence to him.” What exactly does it mean? That’s the mystery, unsolved after more than two hundred years.
A brown booby in Little Tobago, known to birders for its seabird colonies
Not an outdoorsy type? You can glimpse Tobago’s national bird, the cocrico, on the T&T ten-dollar bill. Ortalis ruficauda, as it’s known to scientists, is also found in Venezuela and Colombia — but not in nearby Trinidad.
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Windward or leeward? So you’re ready to head out on a Tobago road trip. The island’s long, narrow shape, tapered at each end, suggests two obvious routes, along the leeward (or western) and windward (or eastern) coasts. Let’s say you’re starting from the area around Crown Point in the south. Past Store Bay, Pigeon Point, and Bon Accord, the leeward route along Shirvan Road takes you through Black Rock and Plymouth before it begins to climb the foothills of the Main Ridge. At Mt Irvine Bay, turn off towards Bethel to visit the Kimme Museum, a castle-like structure which houses the work of the late German-born sculptor Luise Kimme, who made her home here for decades and depicted the folk culture of her adopted island. As you head further up the coast, the villages get smaller, the bays less crowded, the forest even more lush. Halfway along, Castara is an increasingly popular destination for tourists looking to get away from the Crown Point crowds, with a series of small guesthouses and villas. After Parlatuvier, the drive gets a touch more adventurous, as you negotiate vertiginous hairpin bends, until you descend towards Man o’ War Bay and the village of Charlotteville, near the island’s northern tip —
one of Tobago’s most memorable panoramas. The windward coast, open to the Atlantic, is more windswept and rugged. Passing through Scarborough, Tobago’s capital, you’ll skirt Bacolet Bay with its cluster of small hotels. Roxborough brings the turnoff for Argyle Falls, best known and tallest of Tobago’s numerous waterfalls — the perfect place to stop for a short hike to the three cascades and their plunge pools, waiting to offer you a refreshing dip, as kingfishers flit through the bamboo groves. Not far above Argyle is the Tobago Cocoa Estate, where a tour takes you through the stages of cocoa farming and harvesting and chocolate production — and, of course, ends with the chance to sample delectable confections. Eventually you arrive in Speyside, the island’s true diving epicentre. Many of Tobago’s most celebrated dive sites are right offshore, and here’s where you can catch a glass-bottomed boat to Little Tobago, marvelling at the undersea reefs you glimpse along the journey.
Exploring a small wreck off Speyside
Looking for a high? Consider making the hike to the top of Tobago’s loftiest point, Pigeon Peak. Various accounts give its height as ranging from 1,720 to 1,800 feet — blame the difficulty of accurate surveying in thickly forested terrain for the uncertainty. The trail starts along the road between Speyside and Charlotteville, and the hike takes roughly half a day, with an open trail in the early stages and some bushwhacking required as you approach the summit.
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Get pampered — or go partying? If a visit to Tobago is good for the soul, there’s no reason it can’t be good for the body also. More than half a dozen hotels and resorts offer spas on site, with treatments of varying degrees of elaboration. Pilates? A yoga class? A muscle-relaxing, stressdispelling massage? They’re all available, whether you’re a guest at a fancy hotel or staying at a more modest guesthouse. The healing effects somehow seem more pronounced when you’re surrounded by tropical gardens, or within earshot of the sea. And there’s always the entirely free and all-natural foot massage you get by just walking along a sandy beach as warm water gently laps at your ankles — and the serotonin hit that comes when you fill your lungs with that delicious sea air. Or maybe meditative serenity isn’t your game at all. Perhaps your favourite activities happen
after dark, somewhere with pumping music, flowing drinks, and bodies in rhythmic motion — well, Tobago’s got that covered too. Live music, stylish nightclubs, bars with exotic cocktails: all are on offer. And if you’re visiting in February, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Carnival action happens only in Trinidad. All the major soca stars pass through Tobago during the Carnival season, performing at fetes as sizzling hot as anything you’ll find in the sister island. So cut loose, jump and wave to your heart’s content — secure in the knowledge that tomorrow you and your wining bone can recuperate while dozing on the beach at Pigeon Point.
After dark, Tobago’s party scene comes to life
Carnival isn’t the only time to experience amazing music in Tobago. Every April, the Tobago Jazz Experience brings international stars and top Caribbean talent to the island. And the Tobago Heritage Festival in July, a longtime staple of the cultural calendar, features two weeks of performances in villages and communities across the island, as traditional arts take centre stage.
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Top River Falls are nestled in the forest of Tobagoâ€™s Main Ridge
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St Elizabeth, Jamaica Tucked away in Jamaica’s southwest, St Elizabeth Parish is a laid-back alternative to the bustle of Kingston and the all-inclusive resorts of the north coast A rum time St Elizabeth’s Nassau Valley is home to the Appleton Estate — the very place where Jamaica’s internationally celebrated rum is distilled, using cane grown on the 11,000-acre property. And a carefully curated distillery tour gives visitors a chance to learn all about the history, technology, and art of rum — and to taste the fiery spirit. In fact, your palate gets to experience every stage of production, from fresh cane juice to molasses to a dozen different rum blends sold under the Appleton label. This is one excursion for which you’ll definitely need a designated driver.
Unhidden treasure Southeast of Black River, the stretch of coast known as Treasure Beach is probably no longer Jamaica’s best-kept secret — not after it’s been profiled in umpteen travel magazines! — but it remains one of the island’s most genuinely relaxed and almost unspoiled tourism spots. Every other May, Jake’s Hotel is the venue for the Calabash Literary Festival, which draws writers from around the world and crowds of sophisticates from Kingston, but the rest of the time you’re likely to have the beachfront almost to yourself. Private villas, rustic guesthouses, and down-home restaurants are the prevailing fare. For one of the most memorable beverages you’ll ever consume, hire a fishing boat to take you out to the celebrated Pelican Bar, a shack on stilts built on a sandbar half a mile offshore, where the sea view literally surrounds you, 360 degrees.
What’s in a name Whatever name the indigenous Taíno had for this region of Xaymaca has been lost to history, but it was given the name St Elizabeth in the late seventeenth century, soon after the British seized the island from the Spanish. The Biblical St Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist, but the parish was actually named in honour of the wife of English Governor Sir Thomas Modyford. Once extending all the way to Jamaica’s westernmost point, the parish was divided in 1703, with much of its western portion becoming the parish of Westmoreland.
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The best way to explore St Elizabeth is by car, and on a very relaxed schedule. Driving north from Black River, you’ll soon come to the village of Middle Quarters, known across Jamaica for the pepper shrimp (below left) — actually highly spiced small crayfish — sold at roadside stalls. Crayfish have been caught in the river here for centuries, using skills brought over from West Africa generations ago. After Middle Quarters, look out for the sign marking the turnoff to YS Falls (below), in the middle of a cattle and horse farm. Seven low cascades alternate with natural swimming pools along the river, with a platform for jumping and rope swinging at the top. Alternatively, take the road towards Lacovia to experience another of Jamaica’s postcard-photo locations, Bamboo Alley (left) — a two-mile-long stretch of the main road shaded by towering bamboo trees on either side, said to have been originally planted in the seventeenth century to provide shade to travellers.
Topography St Elizabeth’s 468 square miles — making it Jamaica’s second-largest parish, by a whisker — range from the mangrove forests of the Black River Great Morass to the rugged slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which bisect a broad plain at the foot of the Cockpit Country. The Black River itself, the island’s broadest, and its associated wetlands, provide a habitat for numerous species of bird, fish, and crustacean, a population of American crocodiles, and even the occasional rare manatee — many of which you can spot on a boat tour. Over a hundred caves have been charted in the limestone areas in the north of the parish, and you can find one of the most dramatic views in Jamaica at Lovers’ Leap, a lookout point on a cliff a sheer 1,700 feet above the sea, site of what’s said to be the highest lighthouse in the Western Hemisphere.
Coordinates 17.9° to 18.2º N, 77.6° to 78º W From sea level to 1,229 feet (highest point in the Santa Cruz Mountains) JAMAICA St Elizabeth
A town with history Nowadays the town of Black River, at the mouth of the self-same river, has a decidedly sleepy atmosphere, but this was once a bustling boomtown, thanks to its sheltered harbour. Founded sometime prior to 1685 — when it first appeared on a British map — Black River prospered as a port for the export of sugar and the import of enslaved Africans. Farquharson Wharf, the original venue for slave auctions, survives as a reminder of this brutal era. Later, the town’s fortunes floated on the lucrative trade in logwood (sometimes called Jamaica wood) from forests in the interior of the island — exported to Britain to produce dyes. By the end of the nineteenth century, Black River was second only to Kingston as a commercial centre in Jamaica. In 1893, it was the first town in the island to install electricity, and a decade later Jamaica’s first automobile landed here. A handful of Georgian and Victorian townhouses survive from this time, such as Waterloo House and Invercauld House (now a hotel), alongside Victorian brick warehouses.
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Back to the Bahamas When the Bahamas was hit by Hurricane Dorian last year, the images of destruction horrified people around the world. But, severe as the damage was, only a small part of the archipelago nation was affected, and one of the best ways to help with recovery efforts is to spend tourist dollars there, explains Nazma Muller
Forty miles northwest of New Providence, the Berry Islands are relatively undeveloped and slightly off the beaten track â€” perfect for visitors looking for unspoiled seclusion. Itâ€™s a coveted spot for big game fishing, while scuba divers and snorkellers explore the shallow waters teeming with marine life
here’s a reason six million people visit the Bahamas annually. Well, seven hundred reasons, really — that’s the number of islands in the Bahamas, surrounded by the clearest water in the world. The archipelago’s stunning beauty has made it one of the most famous vacation destinations on the planet, and the island chain was on track to celebrate one of its best years in tourism, when Hurricane Dorian hit in September 2019. The strongest recorded storm ever to hit the Bahamas, Dorian wreaked havoc on the northern end of the archipelago, first making landfall in the Abaco Islands on 1 September before moving westwards over Grand Bahama, location of the country’s second-largest city, Freeport. At least sixty-five people were killed and as many as seventy thousand left homeless. The cost of this devastation is estimated at US$7 billion — a catastrophic blow to the national economy.
Th e Bahamas Freeport
Berry Islands Nassau Andros Island
Simply booking a vacation is one of the most effective ways to support post-hurricane recovery, say industry insiders Full recovery will take years, but for a country so heavily dependent on tourism, rebuilding and repairs to hotels and other tourist facilities is a priority, alongside houses, schools, and vital infrastructure. Progress has been particularly quick in Grand Bahama — according to a report at the start of November last year, just two months after the hurricane, more than seventy percent of the island’s hotel rooms were ready to receive visitors, and locals hope the start of the tourism high season will bring an infusion of income needed to fund further repairs. “Please keep travelling to the Bahamas,” implored tourism deputy director-general Ellison Thompson in the immediate aftermath of Dorian, unveiling a campaign to promote fourteen destination islands unaffected by the hurricane. “Please come and enjoy your stay, and if you can, please spend an extra US$50 a day to aid with the reconstruction of the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama.”
Harbour Island Eleuthera
Cat Island San Salvador Island The Exumas
Crooked Island Ragged Island Acklins
courtesy the bahamas ministry of tourism and aviation
Eleuthera, accessible via a fast ferry from Nassau, is known for its broad pink sand beaches and the natural wonder known as the Glass Window Bridge. Here a narrow peninsula, just thirty feet across at one point, divides the deep blue of the Atlantic from the turquoise shallows of the Bight of Eleuthera
courtesy the bahamas ministry of tourism and aviation
For a laid-back experience, Exuma is ideal. Famous for its swimming pigs, it also offers world-class boating and sailing, secluded cays that could take you a year to explore â€” and celebrated Thunderball Grotto, a submerged cave system where the 1965 James Bond movie was filmed
If you already have a booking for a trip, please keep it. If you’re considering a trip, go ahead and book it. The Bahamas needs you now more than ever
Caribbean Airlines operates direct flights to Lynden Pindling International Airport in the Bahamas, with connections to other destinations in the Caribbean and North and South America 110
Christopher Parsons/alamy stock photo
Simply booking a vacation is one of the most effective ways to support post-hurricane recovery, say industry insiders. As Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar put it, “Travellers can do something for the Bahamas by doing nothing on one of our beaches. Plan a trip to Nassau, Paradise Island, and the Out Islands. Our beautiful island nation is ready to welcome you.” So has there ever been a better time to visit? Acklins and Crooked Island, Andros, the Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Eleuthera and Harbour Island, the Exumas, Inagua, Long Island, Mayaguana, Nassau and Paradise Island, Rugged Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador are all open to welcome you. And your weekend escape, business conference, wedding, honeymoon, reunion, retreat, or family vacation will help the country’s efforts in rebuilding Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands. With so many options, where should you start? The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism has an online Island Finder tool to help you narrow it down: bahamas.triptuner.com/islandfinder/en. Flip the toggles to say what type of vacation you’re looking for — relaxing or action-packed, flip-flops or high heels, popular spots or hidden gems, family or couples, boutique lodge or resort — and your recommendations will pop up. So if you already have a booking for a trip, please keep it. If you’re considering a trip, go ahead and book it. The Bahamas needs you now more than ever. And with every fun activity you tick off your itinerary, you’ll be sure you’re playing a part in helping this Caribbean nation along its path to recovery. n
Near the centre of the Bahamas archipelago, Cat Island boasts the countryâ€™s highest point, Mount Alvernia, all of 207 feet above sea level â€” and is one of the best places in the world to experience a close encounter with the rare Oceanic Whitetip Shark, via a dive tour
The Pitons, St Lucia R
ising abruptly from St Lucia’s southwestern coast, the twin Pitons — volcanic spires, formed aeons ago — are landmarks, visual icons, and repositories of history, as well as forming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gros Piton (2,618 feet high) and Petit Piton (2,438 feet) are both climbable, though the taller peak is the easier challenge, with a more accessible route and tours available from local guides. From the summit, on a very clear day, you can see not just St Vincent to the south but Barbados to the east and Martinique and Dominica to the north.
Caribbean Airlines operates daily return flights to George F.L. Charles International Airport in St Lucia from Trinidad, with connections on other airlines to destinations in the Caribbean and North and South America 112
These twin volcanic peaks are the most recognisable icon of the island sometimes called “the Helen of the West Indies”
S t l u cia Petit Piton
Design Pics Inc/Alamy Stock Photo
Inspire 114 All creatures great and small
On This Day 118 Guide and prejudice
When disasters like last year’s Hurricane Dorian strike, human victims are the priority — but animal welfare activists say pets shouldn’t be forgotten
All creatures great and small Last September, Hurricane Dorian devastated the lives of thousands in the Bahamas — and not just the human residents of the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahamas, but their pets as well. As Erline Andrews learns, in the aftermath of the storm, animal welfare organisations have stepped in to save hundreds of domesticated animals and reunite them with their owners Illustration by Shalini Seereeram
hadow, a five-year-old Labrador–pit bull mix, lost some weight in the three weeks he was separated from his human caregivers after the devastating passage of Hurricane Dorian across the Bahamas last September. Now he appears to have gained it all back, says his “mom,” Barbara Bethel, laughing fondly. Through WhatsApp, she shared a recent photo of the dog lying on his side, her almost two-year-old granddaughter Margaret climbing on top of him. The two showed no sign of the trauma they both experienced as rising water filled their home in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, and turned their neighbourhood into a raging river, separating the members of the family. Barbara and her daughter Lisa were pulled in one direction, Margaret and Margaret’s father, Marquis, in another — and Shadow was swept away on his own. “When I got out the back door,” Bethel recalls of that frightening experience, “there was already four feet of water in
the yard. Shadow got on my back. That’s something [he does] when we go swimming. But when I got round the corner, the wind and the waves took him and washed him off my back, and he was gone.” The humans, soaked and shaken, reunited within hours. But they had given up Shadow for dead until Bethel, who’s currently staying with a friend in Florida, was surfing the Internet one day. “We’re on Facebook and BAARK” — the Bahamas Alliance for Animal Rights and Kindness — “comes up. It shows all the dogs that had been rescued, and here comes a picture of my Shadow!” Over the phone, Bethel sounds like she was in tears. “I said to my daughter, ‘You gotta go get him!’” Bethel, a fifty-six-year-old divorcée, lost her home and ever ything in it to a hurricane for the third time. Dorian, the worst natural disaster the Bahamas had ever experienced, also took relatives and friends. The official human casualty count is sixty-five, but hundreds of people are still missing. “I don’t know if you saw the video that
“You have to take care of your entire community when a disaster strikes, and that includes domesticated animals”
was circling round where they found a body and they poked it with a stick,” Bethel says. “Well, that was my very good friend who was sitting next to me when I went to grade school. When I seen that, it just tore me right up.” Again, she sounds like she’s in tears. After the harrowing experience, the impact of finding her beloved canine companion was huge. “It means we still got hope,” she says. “There’s still hope that something good can come out of something bad.” Bethel is in Florida until medication she needs is once again available in commerce-crippled Abaco. She expects to move back in early 2020, when she’ll finally see Shadow. Until then, he’s being cared for by Lisa and other relatives still in the island. “That dog is family. That’s like one of my children,” says Bethel. “I will give my last dollar to buy dog food before I spend that on me.”
eunions like that of Bethel and Shadow are partly why BAARK and other animal welfare organisations, Bahamian and US-based, came together in the aftermath of Dorian to execute search and rescue missions for animals. Their efforts led to some amazing stories. An emaciated pit bull was found in Marsh Harbour almost a month after the storm passed, stuck under air-conditioning units and other heavy debris. The rescuers called the dog Miracle. “The reason Miracle survived was that there was a water source and he was able to drink,” explains Laura Kimble, president of BAARK, an organisation whose main purpose is to promote spaying and neutering. The post-Dorian animal rescue was a first for them. Pet owners began asking for help getting their animals off Abaco. “It started with the search and rescue of specific animals,” says Kimble. “Then you get there, and there are other animals in need.” BAARK, based in New Providence, has no permanent shelter, and set up tents in Nassau to temporarily house the animals rescued from Abaco, which — along with Grand Bahama — was hardest hit by Dorian. The Abaco pet shelter lost its roof, and the islands were in chaos, many buildings flattened by the storm. More than 280 dogs and cats were transported via light aircraft and boat from the Abaco Islands to Nassau, which was not seriously affected by the hurricane. BAARK’s Facebook page shows photos of rescued animals, looking despondent, some with wounds, broken bones, or fur loss. Other photos and videos show happy pets and owners reunited. Miracle, who’s since been adopted by a family in Florida, was found using an infrared camera attached to a drone operated by California cinematographer Douglas Thron. He’d previously used drones to find pets after wildfires last year. “I knew with the giant piles of rubble that they’d be exceptionally hard to find,” Thron told NBC News, referring to animals in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas. Kimble says a few people have questioned putting such time
and effort towards animals when humans were in need. Her response to that: “You have to take care of your entire community when a disaster strikes, and that includes domesticated animals.” Some owners who lost homes were forced to leave their pets behind because shelters didn’t allow animals. “We would love to see a shift in hurricane relief across the Caribbean, for hurricane shelters to be pet friendly,” says Kimble. “There are so many people with pets, and those pets are family members.” The Dorian rescue team has so far been able to reunite more than seventy animals and their owners. Others have been fostered or kept at the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau, because their owners are still in no position to take them. Animals who have not been claimed have been adopted by locals or flown to shelters abroad to be adopted there. About six hundred cats and dogs from the Bahamas have been flown to shelters in Florida, New Jersey, Colorado, Maine, and other parts of the US and Canada. More than two hundred of the pet evacuees came from the Humane Society of Grand Bahama, which is recovering from a horror no one expected after the shelter had withstood previous hurricanes. About ninety dogs and seven cats — some of them left there by owners who thought it would be safer than their homes — died when waves of water filled the building before the caretakers had time to rescue all the animals. No human lives were lost, but about half the staff of nineteen later found their homes were seriously damaged. One woman lost her house entirely. Despite the staff’s trauma and the loss of medical equipment, electricity, potable water, and the shelter’s two vehicles, it didn’t stop operating. In the days following the hurricane, executive director Tip Burrows and her team arranged for the surviving animals to be reunited with their owners or flown to the US, and for donations of pet food and medicine to be sent to Grand Bahama by air or boat. The donations were shared with pet owners around the island. The Grand Bahama team also rescued animals, particularly from the East End of the island, which was worst hit. Part of the reason animals were sent abroad was to make room for those being rescued and those brought in by owners no longer able to take care of them. “The need for our services is greater than ever,” says Burrows. Asked when she thinks the shelter and Grand Bahama will be back to normal, she replies, “This is not going to be a quick recovery, by any means. Grand Bahama in particular was pretty depressed economically before the storm. There are a number of businesses that will not be reopening. So that’s another blow. Both for jobs and our overall economy. We’re looking at years of recovery. Not weeks and months.” But later, she strikes a more upbeat tone. “Island people are pretty resilient,” she says. “I think the majority of people are determined to get through this and come back better than ever.” n
“We would love to see a shift in hurricane relief across the Caribbean, for hurricane shelters to be pet friendly,” says Laura Kimble of the Bahamas Alliance for Animal Rights and Kindness
Surrender to the Beat Do you feel it? Letâ€™s go!
on this day
Guide and prejudice Few things get outdated faster than a guidebook, but one century-old guide for Caribbean travellers reveals much about old stereotypes of the region — and what has and hasn’t changed, writes James Ferguson
Illustration by Rohan Mitchell
resh fish aside, what reaches its use-by date quicker than a guidebook? Almost before it is published, parts of it are already obsolete — hotels and restaurants have closed and new ones opened, airfares have gone up, and tourist attractions have closed indefinitely for restoration. Keeping a guidebook up-to-date is like painting the proverbial Forth Bridge: it never ends. No wonder, then, that the printed guidebook dominates the sad shelves of the local charity shop, shunned by the young in favour of constantly updated digital travel advice. But people of a certain age like old guidebooks, precisely because they are so interestingly out-of-date, recalling a bygone era when francs, marks, and lire had yet to give way to euros, and when hotels boasted of hot water and electricity rather than Smart TVs and spa facilities. The further back in time they go, the more exotic they seem, as they describe places that may be familiar to us today, but through the prism of the past appear almost unrecognisable in their day-to-day detail. I recently came across a guidebook to the Caribbean published exactly a century ago, in 1920. It was written by one
Frederick Albion Ober, an American naturalist and travel writer who was the author of many books on the region. Slightly mysteriously, he is recorded as having died in 1913, so it can only be supposed that an earlier edition of A Guide to the West Indies, Bermuda, and Panama was updated by an unacknowledged contributor. And what a job that was. The book is 542 pages long, crammed with details of train and ferry
ting from A to B takes ages, and — in the specific case of the Caribbean — it is just too hot for a non-local. Grumbling of this type will never go out of fashion. “These are abnormal times,” states Ober, and he was probably thinking of the volatile political situation in the Caribbean in the first decades of the twentieth century. The Spanish-American War of 1898 had occurred only twenty years previously, and signalled the end of Spanish control in Cuba and Puerto Rico and its replacement by US dominance. American troops were keeping a fragile peace and encouraging American investment by occupying both Haiti (from 1915 to 1934) and the Dominican Republic (1916 to 1924), while the Danish West Indies became the US Virgin Islands in 1917. The First World War had fuelled US fears of German aggression in the Caribbean, directed especially at the Panama Canal, which opened in 1914, and Washington wanted to defend its vulnerable backyard at all costs. The Caribbean islands were hence of huge strategic interest to the US. But they were also of interest to those increasing numbers of Americans who could afford a holiday in the sun. The end of the war, together with a brief economic boom preceding the 1929 Wall Street Crash, saw a
“These are abnormal times,” states Ober, and he was probably thinking of the volatile political situation in the Caribbean in the first decades of the twentieth century
timetables, recommendations for accommodation, and a plethora of historical and practical information, much of which had to be checked and refreshed. Ober’s work, as we will see, is very much of its time, but some of his remarks carry an eternal quality that will resonate with travellers of any period anywhere. Prices are surprisingly (in a bad way) high, service is slow and grudging, get-
surge in tourism — both cruise tours and hotel stays — and the favourite destinations were Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. Tourists wanted sun, sand, and whatever else was on offer, particularly after Prohibition in 1920 banned the legal sale of alcohol in the US. Ober’s book, though, is less interested in encouraging the hedonistic tastes of his compatriots than in emphasising the benevolent role of US intervention in the region. Referring to the 1898–1902 occupation of Cuba, he writes, “Millions of dollars were poured into the island, as American blood had been poured out in its defence, so that the Cubans were in a better state than ever before, their neighbouring republic having sacrificed herself for their betterment.” Of Puerto Rico, he observes, “It has been the aim of the American administration to instruct the natives in every department of local government, in order to make them independent and self-reliant.” Haiti, he insists, should be “guided and moulded with patient firmness under American tutelage.” Such paternalism turns to explicit racism in the case of Haiti, where from 1915 onwards the guerrilla cacos were fighting the occupying US Marines. Anyone planning a visit there “does it solely upon his own responsibility, and not through any representation of the writer,” Ober warns, shuddering at the thought of “voodoo” rituals that he imagines to be “the grossest forms of debauchery.” In general, all that is African-descended — the Jamaican Maroons (a “body of wild blacks”), Guadeloupe’s Creole language (“an uncouth patois”), Dominica’s popular architecture (“a mere collection of shanties”) — is painted in negative terms, while all that is European or American — Barbados as “Little England,” the exclusive country clubs of Puerto Rico, French cultural influence — is commendable.
ut if Ober is predictably dismissive of the Caribbean’s multifaceted cultural identity, he is impressed by aspects of its history, leading his readers through Santo Domingo’s crumbling (now restored) colonial heart, Havana’s Spanish architecture, and the melancholic ruins of Martinique’s Saint-Pierre, the
town destroyed in the volcanic eruption of 1902. His anecdotes invariably concentrate on the exploits of French buccaneers or English pirates, and rarely concern those originating in Africa or India (the word “slave” features six times in the entire book), but what really fascinates him are natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and eruptions — perhaps not guaranteed to reassure more nervous travellers. As a naturalist, his main enthusiasms are confined to landscapes and flora and fauna. St Lucia’s Pitons are “absolutely unique in conformation, and beautiful beyond description,” and even the south coast of Haiti, where human habitation is sparse, is “paradisiacal.” He is entranced by the Blue Mountains of Jamaica (less so by Kingston), and waxes lyrical over Port of Spain’s great expanse of greenery, the Queen’s Park Savannah, “one’s ideal of what an earthly paradise should be.” Less charmingly, however, he advises travellers in Trinidad to enjoy the “exciting
adventures” of shooting alligators in the Caroni Swamp. My favourite part of Ober’s guide is the advice he dispenses to tourists. “Avoid getting wet,” he insists. “It is no disgrace to carry a raincoat at one’s saddle.” That is good to know, as is his reminder that “women are advised not to wear taffeta dresses.” Cruise ship clients, meanwhile, are told that “life on board ship, without exercise, is not conducive to good digestion.” A hundred years old, Frederick Ober’s guidebook may not be much use to the contemporary tourist seeking out the region’s varied cultural attractions. But it certainly tells us a great deal about how some people viewed the Caribbean at the beginning of the twentieth century. In this sense, it reveals not only how far the modern Caribbean has changed in a digital, global world, but also how much further our perceptions of its places and people have moved on. n
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Sunshine Snacks Nuts Spot the Difference There are 10 differences between these two pictures. How many can you spot?
by James Hackett
Sun Mix Caribbean Crossword
Across 1 These mountains in Jamaica’s St Elizabeth Parish have a holy name  6 Cuban dance  9 Every year  10 High singing voice  12 This traditional Carnival character walks with an infant  13 Alternatively  14 Room for improvement?  17 T&T Carnival’s music title is a popularity contest  19 Powerful person  20 Labour group  21 This fabric has a shiny finish  22 Goes with “cry”  23 Not yours or his or hers  24 Little devil  25 Duo plus one  29 Goodwill  31 Grass as tall as a tree  33 Curaçao’s Carnival music  34 A Carnival music truck needs this for volume  Down 1 Tobago’s capital  2 Sandpaper’s antonym  3 Trophy  4 In relation to, concerning  5 Intense enthusiasm  6 Guyana’s Republic Day celebration  7 Yoga surface 
8 11 14 15 16 18 26 27 28 29 30 32
“So that’s it!”  Busy person on Valentine’s Day  Leg of lamb or mutton, if you’re a French chef  Various shades  Drummer’s creations  Unhealthy preoccupation with one thing  Synagogue leader  Continent with the biggest population  Ride from the airport, maybe?  Tool set  ___ de plume, pseudonym  Jump where? 
If the puzzle you want to do has already been filled in, just ask your flight attendant for a new copy of the magazine!
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Spot the Difference
Word Search N H M L G C A
The bucket of the woman in front is a different colour; the woman in the middle has a pattern on her headtie; the man’s hair is different; the man has more paint on his right leg; there is more paint on the ground in the right image; the woman in front has bracelets on her right wrist; the woman in the middle is wearing leggings; the pants of the woman in front have different details; the man’s pants have different details; there is more paint in the air near the bucket in the right image.
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did you even know
T&T Carnival You think you’re an expert on Carnival history and lore? Prove it: here’s a chance to test your knowledge of T&T’s annual festival, in the first instalment of our new trivia column. Be warned: the questions get harder as you go on, but the answers are at the bottom of the page.
1. The saying “You can’t play mas and ’fraid powder” refers to which traditional masquerade in which talcum powder is aimed at spectators? Sailor Burrokeet James hackett
Midnight Robber Dame Lorraine
2. This small community in Trinidad’s Northern Range is known for its blue devil competition on Carnival Monday evening. Lopinot Brasso Seco
Paramin Santa Cruz
3. What song did soca superstar Machel Montano win his
8. Who is the only calypsonian to date to win all three
of the Calypso Monarch, Soca Monarch, and Young King titles?
first Road March title with? “Big Truck” “Toro Toro”
“Band of the Year” “Jumbie”
Black Stalin David Rudder
Shadow Kurt Allen
4. In Peter Minshall’s 1983 mas band River, who was the
adversary of the King, Man Crab?
9. What was the name of the masman remembered for creating elaborate tableaux, including the famous One Penny (1948), a giant coin with a life-size Britannia?
Wilfred Strasser Wilbert Holder
Madame Hiroshima Tan-Tan
Leon Payne Harold Saldenah
5. Which of these 1990s soca hits did not win a Road
10. Who was “the man with the Hammer” in David Rudder’s 1986 calypso “The Hammer”?
Superblue’s “Get Something and Wave” Nigel Lewis’s “Moving”
Elliot “Ellie” Mannette Patrick Arnold
Preacher’s “Jump and Wave” Colin Lucas’s “Dollar Wine”
6. Belmont masman Ken Morris was celebrated for his
Rudolph Charles Jit Samaroo
11. Which steelband has won the most Panorama titles, with a total of 11 wins as of 2019?
creations in what medium? papier-mâché copper
aluminium bent wire
All Stars Exodus
7. Why was Carnival postponed from February to May in
12. What mas designer’s 1960 band Ye Saga of Merrie England unleashed a royal carriage with four white horses and a masquerader portraying Queen Elizabeth I?
social unrest bad weather
George Bailey Cito Velasquez
a catastrophic fire a polio outbreak
Irvin McWilliams Edmond Hart
Answers: 1 Sailor 2 Paramin 3 “Big Truck” 4 Washerwoman 5 “Dollar Wine” 6 copper 7 a polio outbreak 8 Kurt Allen 9 Wilfred Strasser 10 Rudolph Charles 11 it’s a tie, and a trick question! Desperadoes and Renegades 12 George Bailey
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