Discover Trinidad & Tobago


Picture the world's biggest, most colourful party, and you will probably have a fair idea of Trinidad's Carnival. This annual pre-Lenten celebration is an explosion of music, dance, incredible costumes and incomparable good cheer.


A blending of European and African traditions, Carnival grew originally of the masked balls and parades with which the French settlers celebrated the Mardi Gras period, before the austerity of Lent. Imitating (or parodying) their elegant masters and mistresses, the slaves held Carnivals of their own, wearing masks and tattered costumes.

Emancipation came to the islands on August 1, 1838; the ex-slaves celebrated the day joyously with parades, music and dance. This annual festivity became known as Canboulay (patois for cannes brulees, or burnt cane) Drums boomed, torches flared, stick-fighters clashed in violent rivalry. The colonial administration did everything in their power to suppress the bacchanalia, prosecuting dozens of blacks each year - to no avail. The Canboulay lived on, eventually changing its date to coincide with the Mardi Gras.

During the 1880s, Canboulay found itself under serious threat of being extinguished by the authorities. There was a bloody confrontation between revelers and police in 1881; in 1883 drumming was banned, and the flaming torches were outlawed in 1884. Still, Canboulay refused to die; and by 1890 the festival had undergone an amazing rehabilitation, with most of the violence and brawling become a thing of the past.

Today Carnival is a stunning display of colour and creativity, with hundreds of thousands of costumed masqueraders "jumping up" in the streets to the music of steel and brass bands. The festival's French influence can still be traced in the names of some of its component parts:

Dimanche Gras (the Sunday before Carnival);
J'Ourvert (the pre-dawn hours of Carnival Monday, when the celebration officially begins);
Mardi Gras (literally, Big Tuesday, when the festivities reach their climax).

Carnival celebrations actually start weeks before the event itself, with fetes (parties), competitions, calypso shows and general merriment. Costumes are painstakingly put together in dozens of "mas camps"; and in the pan yards, the steelbands practice nightly.

The visitor should not miss the Panorama Steelband competitions; the King and Queen of the Bands competitions at the Dimanche Gras show; or the Children's Carnival, which now takes place on the Saturday preceding the main festival. All of these happen in or around the Savannah.

De rigueur is a visit to the Calypso tents, where experienced and neophyte calypsonians create the music that is so crucial to Carnival. Growing out of a tradition of witty, social commentary, the contemporary calypso may be either sardonic in tine or riotously bawdy; its popular, party-oriented cousin is known as soca. A visit to the panyards, where the steelbands translate this music into the sound that keeps thousands of people dancing for hours on end, is also highly recommended.

On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, the experience is an unforgettable one. Every street in every city and town, is crowded with celebrants - some costumed, others not. This is a festival that crosses all barriers: age, class, race, and gender. At Carnival, for two brief and glorious days, locals and visitors come together as one, joyously celebrating the Greatest Show on Earth.

Carnival Bands | SteelPan | Pan Yards to Visit | Stick Fighting

Some information provided courtesy the National Carnival Commission (NCC) of T&T


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