Caribbean Trinidad & Tobago

Guide to Trinidad & Tobago Carnival

Trinidad & Tobago Carnival – The Greatest Show on Earth!

On February 12th-13th, 2018 my home country, Trinidad & Tobago (T&T), will celebrate Carnival – our most spectacular national festival. Second only to Brazil in terms of sheer size, the T&T Carnival season begins the day after Christmas and culminates in a wild 2-day street parade that takes place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, in February or March, just before Lent. T&T Carnival is not only a celebration of costumes and revelry but also the creativity, culture and history of our diverse nation. My Guide to Trinidad & Tobago Carnival, will help all first-timers learn about how we celebrate this fantastic festival every year!

 Origins

Carnival was brought to T&T in the 18th century by the ruling French elite who settled in the country after the exit of the Spanish. The French brought with them their cultural traditions, language, and dress. One annual tradition included masquerade balls and parties – called fetes, at the plantation owners’ houses. These balls required guests to dress in elaborate costumes and disguises. The African slaves who were forbidden from participating in these events, celebrated in their own quarters – mocking their masters’ behaviour and dress, which led to the creation of some of the earliest traditional forms of masquerade or ‘mas’ for short. Let’s take a look at some popular ones below!

The Dame Lorraine

This character imitates the 18th-century French planters who would dress in the styles of the French aristocracy. The slaves  re-created these costumes using available materials, exaggerating the dress and proportions of the French ladies.

Jab Jabs & Jab Molassie

The word Jab is French patois for Diable (Devil), and Molassie is derived from Mélasse (Molasses). These are 2 forms of devil ‘mas’ played at Carnival time. The costume consists of cut-off shorts,  horns, chains with locks and keys and a pitchfork. Bodies are covered in mud, black grease, or red and blue dyes. The devils dance to rhythms beat on tin pans by imps. An imp holds the chain and tries to restrain the Jab Jab as he intimidates and terrorizes spectators with his screams and fierceness!

Image Source: Warren Le Platte

Image Source: Maria Nunes 2017 Photography

Wild and Fancy Indians

This mas is based on the native tribes of North America. The Wild Indians dress in leather and animal skins.

The Fancy Indians dress in costumes with brightly coloured feathers.

 

Moko Jumbies

My favourite traditional form, the moko jumbie is a West African creation portrayed by masqueraders mounted on stilts up to 12 ft. high. The word Moko is derived from an African god and Jumbie means ghost. Image Source: Maria Nunes 2017 Photography.

As I mentioned, the Carnival season begins right after Christmas, up to the parade days on Monday and Tuesday. During this time, you can participate in a range of activities. Music lovers can enjoy visits to various steel pan yards around the capital city, Port-of-Spain, and attend the Panorama competition – a battle of the top steel pan bands in the country. There are also competitions for local music art forms such as calypso, chutney and soca.

 

History buffs can attend the re-enactment of the Canboulay Riots of 1881, at Piccadilly on the Greens, Port of Spain on the Friday before Carnival Monday. This event showcases the origins of the Carnival street parade. Canboulay (Cannes Brulees), signifies the period of burning sugarcane during slavery. Visitors can view a skit depicting the clashes between colonial security forces and the parade participants.  Stick fighting, jab jabs and African dance and drumming are also shown.

Major costume competitions before the Carnival Monday and Tuesday parades include the Kings and Queens of Carnival and Kiddies Carnival. See below for shots of the Carnival Queens and Kings Competition by talented local photographer and my friend, Damian Luk Pat !

Queens

 

Kings

 

Party! Party! Party!

Party animals can choose from a wide range of Carnival parties called fetes to attend. These fetes range from all-inclusives – where you have premium food and drinks for a set price or fun cooler parties where you walk with your own drinks in a cooler, no glass bottles allowed. Trinidad Carnival Diary provides a comprehensive guide to help you choose the fetes of your choice, including tips on how to dress!

Learn to dance! Practice “wining”i.e. gyrating your hips and bum to soca music. You’ll feel sexy and your significant other will thank you as well. For a fun demo click here!

 

Come Join the Fun!

Carnival Monday

J’ouvert , or daybreak from the French (jour-day, ouvert-open) marks the official start of the 2-day Carnival street parade that starts at 2am and ends after sunrise. Revelers smear their bodies in mud, clay, chocolate and coloured paints and dance to the soca and calypso music. Your package would include a band tee-shirt that you can customize anyway you want. See the video below from the band Clay J’ouvert for a taste of the action! A list of popular bands can be found here. If you think you have what it takes to play J’ouvert, clean up, then head out to the Monday parade at 10am, power to you!

Do I wear my entire costume on Carnival Monday?

Traditionally no. The full kit is worn on Carnival Tuesday. Many bands issue what is called “Monday wear” to their masqueraders in addition to the full costume.  If your band does not give you any, ladies can always wear parts of the main costume with a pair of hot shorts. Guys can wear the costume shorts and vest. Alternatively, you can purchase designer Monday wear to rock on the day! Check out Trinidad Carnival Diary for ideas.

 

Carnival Tuesday

Miss Universe 1998, T&T’s own Wendy Fitzwilliam in Harts Carnival band

Tuesday is THE big day! Everyone is in full costume and looking fabulous. Bands gather their masqueraders from as early as 6am at selected meeting points and make their way to the main stages at the Queens Park Savannah and Socadrome to parade in front of the world. The costume presentations are judged by panels at various locations around the city to determine which company will win the Band of the Year title. If you are driving, I recommend parking at the Movietowne cineplex, then making your way to the Socadrome and Ariapita Avenue to view the bands passing by!

Ladies from the Harts Carnival Band

 

Prep Yourselves!

BLISS Carnival 2017 by Damian Luk Pat

If you can’t make it for the entire Carnival season, do try to make it in time for Carnival Monday and Tuesday!

  • Book your flight up to 6-7 months in advance! Fly directly to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad from major hubs such as JFK New York, Miami, Orlando, Houston, Toronto and London Gatwick airports.
  • Book your accommodation at major hotels in Port-of-Spain such as the Hyatt Regency, Trinidad Hilton, Kapok Hotel, Courtyard Marriot, Radisson OR use Air B&B and Tripadvisor to scout for inns and bed ‘n’ breakfasts around Port-of-Spain, close to the action! Note: accommodation tends to be booked solid from as early as April of the previous year!
  • Familiarize yourself with soca music! Popular DJs such as Private Ryan, provide mixes on Youtube. Also, look up music from artists such as Machel Montano, Destra, Fay Ann Lyons, Bunji Garlin and Kes
  • Choose a Carnival band and your costume! Bands launch their presentations according to a particular theme, from July for the next year. Top bands include Bliss, Harts, Tribe, Yuma, Fantasy and Passion. Bands usually make collection arrangements for foreign masqueraders so have no fear!
  • Get your diet and fitness in gear! You will need stamina to keep up with the parties, dancing, “chipping”(shuffling in time to the music) on the road from early morning to late evening.
  • Make hair and makeup appointments as far in advance as possible OR practice doing it yourselves to save $$$
  • Get durable sneakers or matching boots for your costume. Break them in beforehand!
  • Ladies, get flesh-coloured stockings/tights to give a polished look to your costume. These can be bought at a store called Micles at all major malls in T&T
  • Home-made costumes are a definite NO. Wristbands are issued to all masqueraders to show that they belong to a particular band. No wristband = no play. Avoid the embarrassment of being ejected by security!
  • Sunblock is a must as this festival takes place in the dry season
  • Spectators, be discreet and walk with the bare essentials – some cash, your smartphone and/ or camera, photo ID. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry

 

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51 Comments

  • Reply
    Yuva
    at 5:28 PM

    Great insight into the local culture … you offer tour guide services or know of where one can procure a tour guide that can bring you close to the action if one cannot be part of the action?

    Makes me excited to play!

  • Reply
    Morgan
    at 10:10 AM

    Such colorful and fanciful costumes! I didn’t know T&T had a carnival. I’ve never been to one and definitely adding it to my list. xx Morgan

  • Reply
    Megan
    at 12:15 PM

    I vow to get to Trinidad and Tobago for this one of these days!! Looks like a crazy and epic time!

  • Reply
    Jennifer Schlueter
    at 12:38 PM

    So many thanks for this! Very informative. Can’t wait to go there and dance hehehe

  • Reply
    Joy Generoso
    at 2:28 PM

    What a colorful carnival. Amazing photos! You definitely captured the moment perfectly. 🙂

  • Reply
    Shenna
    at 9:52 PM

    I have never seen such a festival like this.! 🙂 Wow for the costumes and if people would visit, they would not regret to see the festival in this area. Thanks for the bulleted tips 🙂

  • Reply
    Danielle
    at 9:44 AM

    Holy Cow this looks amazing! I have never been to such a thing and would love to go. The colors of the costumes and how extravagant they are is amazing. This is some festival! Going on my bucket list.

  • Reply
    Dave ( Silverbackpacker )
    at 7:11 PM

    Such colourful costumes. I can imagine the lively atmosphere there . It must be one carnival that can rival Rio’s.

  • Reply
    Diana
    at 11:31 AM

    Amazing! It’s celebrated already for so many centuries! That’s why it looks a bit wild 😀 I also heard their dances are the sexiest of the whole Latin America, is that true? 😀

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 11:53 AM

      Hi Diana, we’re not a Latin American country but the dancing that takes place during Carnival time when people are free gets quite wild and sexy!

  • Reply
    Geemiz Travel Guide
    at 8:12 PM

    I am so intrigued by this and looks like really fun affair. everything I think is in here colors and quirkiness.

  • Reply
    Anastasia
    at 10:52 AM

    I had no idea about the size and beauty of the festival in Trinidad and Tobago – in fact, I know so little about this country. Your pictures are gorgeous.

  • Reply
    Marvi
    at 9:24 AM

    I’ve attended several parades such as this before, but it was not the same as this! Such color and diversity! I’m pretty sure the actual parade is as good as the photos looks! 🙂

  • Reply
    D of Love C and D
    at 10:06 AM

    Wow what a great post, Absolutely stunning photos. The Carnival in Rio is on our bucket list (we visited too late last year) but I had no idea there was one in T&T. You’ve provided some great tips and really useful background information on the history and make up of the festival. Thanks for sharing.
    D of Love C and D recently posted…48 Hours in BrightonMy Profile

  • Reply
    Karen Palamittam
    at 12:28 PM

    Really amazing and colorful. Love the costumes.I have heard about the carnival in Rio but not heard about the Trinidad & Tobago Carnival before.So thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Johanna Frejoles
    at 1:07 PM

    Wow, you have great festivals there too! I’m from the Philippines and we also have A LOT of festivals here. I would love to visit Trinidad and Tobago one day. 🙂

  • Reply
    Nikki | The Traveling Ginger |
    at 8:29 PM

    How epic! I love the history behind it, mocking the masters behind their backs! Excellent. I love all the costumes, you have captured them beautifully. Sounds like an incredible few days of celebration!

  • Reply
    Alexandra Trif
    at 6:12 AM

    Don’t know when exactly I a going to make it there, but it is definitely something to remember. I did not attend any of these kind of festivals before unfortunately and I am a bit jealous. But thank you for sharing this amazing experience.

  • Reply
    Mea Wong
    at 1:33 PM

    Wow, awesome photos! The carnival parade is an awesome festival, and I’ve bookmarked this already 🙂 The costume parade for the Kings and Queens are awesome 🙂

  • Reply
    Mea Wong
    at 1:34 PM

    Lol! I’ve said awesome a lot times! it just really is. 🙂
    Mea Wong recently posted…Beauty Buffet Milk Plus Skincare Products ReviewMy Profile

  • Reply
    Amber
    at 8:06 AM

    I’d love to go to Carnival! I always see pictures, and it looks amazing to be a part of. Thanks for giving the history and background on it. Now, I’m even more excited about going.

  • Reply
    Roxana J Guy
    at 1:50 PM

    Love the vivacious colors. These pics were amazing. You really felt like you were experiencing these as you looked at these images. Great article!

  • Reply
    Rosalie
    at 1:11 PM

    How exciting! I love how you’ve captured the all of colours and vibrancy of the carnival 🙂

    Rosalie // rosaliegoes.co

  • Reply
    Olivia
    at 6:22 PM

    What an amazing experience. very elaborate costumes too!

  • Reply
    Richelle
    at 10:29 PM

    Wow this is amazing! I’ve always wanted to go to Carnival, and now I REALLY want to go. Great photos!!

  • Reply
    Caroline
    at 5:39 PM

    Wow, I had no idea that it was so big! It looks so festive! I love the ornate details of all the costumes and floats – would love to see it all in person one day. Thanks for sharing insight into the history and culture behind it!

  • Reply
    Anna
    at 5:40 PM

    I love the way you write! It really felt like I was in the middle of the carnival 😀
    It certainly looks like a riot of colour and music – I’d love to visit one day. Thanks for the advice!

  • Reply
    ada
    at 6:32 PM

    I read before that TRINIDAD & TOBAGO carnival is one of the best one in the world! I would love to go there one day and experience it! It must be amazing! Dancing, music, colourful outfits! Just amazing! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful tips! I love all those photos!

  • Reply
    Kris
    at 8:26 PM

    All of these costumes are fantastic! I particularly like the ones that are modeled after the fancy French dresses. I didn’t even realize that Carnival was celebrated here, but now I’d really love to experience it.

  • Reply
    Karlie
    at 12:07 AM

    Very informative, thank you! The colours are so fabulous!

  • Reply
    Orangewayfarer
    at 3:22 AM

    This is beautiful beyond words. Such colorful pictures with new experiences. I am from India and never knew about this festival. I want to go there. Now! Thanks a lot for this much appreciated blog post

  • Reply
    Louise
    at 6:04 AM

    Wow, what colourful, eye-popping photos! Such great costumes. I love a good carnival – I’ve been to Rio and Notting Hill but am always eager to hear about new ones. I love your tips at the bottom too, very useful!

  • Reply
    Natasha von Geldern
    at 9:14 AM

    Wow how amazing, I would love to do this!! I’ve been to the Notting Hill Carnival in London but this looks like something on another level entirely!

  • Reply
    Alice Ford
    at 11:01 AM

    Wow. This looks like a ton of fun. It’s definitely on my radar now for a Post Christmas Holiday.

  • Reply
    Jasmin
    at 3:49 AM

    This carnival looks like so much fun! I love the costumes and the fire breathers. Gotta admit that I had never heard of it before but would definitely want to visit after reading this.
    Jasmin recently posted…Is It Worth Travelling Central America During the Rainy Season?My Profile

  • Reply
    Megan at Lush to Blush
    at 8:22 PM

    This looks like so much fun!! I’ve always seen pictures from Carnival and thought it looked so cool. I’ll have to make it there one of these days!

  • Reply
    Stefinia
    at 5:04 AM

    Wow!! … splendid costumes at the Trinidad & Tobago Carnival, it’s mind blowing. I was laughing when the slaves wear costumes exaggerating the proportions of the french ladies(: … the Jab costume, especially the horned one blowing fire is so splendid!! And the Native Indian costume loved the colourful feathers!! … It’s definitely a fun carnival parade, spectacular. You have explained the history behind this well, it’s a very interesting read and photos just give us the full picture of this amazing Carnival!!
    Stefinia recently posted…How To Get Softer Skin Naturally By Using Home Remedies For Softer SkinMy Profile

  • Reply
    Nina
    at 7:13 PM

    Wow, the costumes at this festival are amazing! They’re so vibrant!

  • Reply
    graphics designing
    at 12:12 PM

    Thank you very much Jamie for your article.

  • Reply
    Sarah
    at 3:26 PM

    Your photography for this is outstanding! Thanks for allowing us to see such culture!

  • Reply
    Julianne
    at 3:16 PM

    Wow – your photos in this post are so colorful and vibrant! I’ve known about Carnival in Rio for a long time, but didn’t know much about the one in Trinidad & Tobago. It looks incredible!! Oh boy, another event to add to my bucket list. 🙂

  • Reply
    golden goose
    at 3:11 PM

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