So how did Trinidad carnival start? Let's look briefly at the history of the 'Greatest Show on Earth'.
T&T carnival as well as other Caribbean carnivals come from a mix of cultures. While it is commonly assumed that the Europeans brought carnival traditions to the New World, this is only part of the truth. One only has to observe carnival celebrations to notice the heavy influence of ancient African traditions.
European/religious Influences on Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
Track back in time to the Middle Ages in Southern Europe and you come across masquerades and processions that were part of catholic traditions. Caribbean carnivals were derived from these traditions and carnival is often associated with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox christians. From this standpoint, carnival is the period before the catholic Lent, right before Ash Wednesday. The word “carnival” means “goodbye to meat”. Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent.
African Influences on Trinidad Carnival
But to say that carnival is strictly based on European or christian traditions would be incorrect. The street parades, rhythms, masks and feathers of Trinidad and Tobago carnival can all be traced back to ancient African festivals. Many of these ancient festivals are still being celebrated.
Carnival was introduced to Trinidad around 1785, as the French settlers began to arrive. After 1838 freed Africans began to host their own carnival celebrations in the streets and they became increasingly elaborate. Trinidad and Tobago carnival has been influenced by the different immigrants who came to the island from Europe, Africa, India, and China.
Traditional carnival characters include Dame Lorraine or Dame Lorine, Moko Jumbie, Midnight Robber, Burrokeet, Pierrot Grenade, Jab Molassie, Jab Jab, The Masque, Cow Bands, Fancy Indians and Bats.
If you haven't experienced carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, you've missed out. Start making preparations for the time of your life.