Island Beat – Eastertime (March/April 1999)

What's hot and happening in the islands this Easter

?

April 2 and April 5 are public holidays in the Caribbean, for Good Friday and Easter Monday. It is a community-minded time, with activities like public parties, bazaars and excursions in most of the islands. Devout Christians make sure to attend church services, and it is always heart-warming to see so many people all dressed up in their Sunday best walking along the quiet roads. Kites soar above the villages and towns of many islands, and several countries have grand and colourful kite-flying competitions, among them Antigua, Barbados and Guyana. The most intriguing Easter activities, though, must be found in Tobago . . .

TOBAGO

Goatish and crabby . . .

Easter is a great time to visit Tobago; the island buzzes with activity, fetes, and special events. Among the most popular Easter traditions are the goat and crab racing at Mt Pleasant and Buccoo. Goat racing is a serious business; they might be stubborn beasts, unpredictable and hard to handle, but that’s part of the challenge.
It’s not just any old grazer that’s called upon to race, though, but the thoroughbreds of the goat world. These goats are specially trained, bred from past-winning stock, cared for with love and attention, groomed as if they were up for the Derby. Their jockeys don’t sit on them, but race alongside with sticks trying to keep their charges on course as they tear haphazardly down the fenced-in track. The atmosphere is hilarious with crowds of locals and curious visitors bawling out encouragement to their fancied goat, which is just as likely to stop and chew on an old tin can as to cross the finish line.
Crabs are plucked from the sea a few weeks before the event; what kind of training they go through can only be guessed at. On the big day, a very short course is set. A circle is drawn around the crustacean contestants who have to dash for the line, encouraged by tasty morsels waved just out of reach. The first one over the line in any direction wins.

What’s on in Tobago . . .

•Carib Beer International Game Fishing Tournament, April 27-30
•Caribbean Windsurfing Championships, Pigeon Point, April 4, 5

BARBADOS

Classical Treats

Holders Season, the southern Caribbean’s premier classical music and theatre event, gets underway on March 3 and runs until March 20.
Set at various locations on the beautiful grounds of one of Barbados’s Great Houses, the season always opens with music from the Caribbean and South America; this year there are artists from Brazil and Venezuela. Here’s a schedule of this year’s events:
March 6 and 9: The musical, Inkle and Yarico, in concert. This is the world premiere of the musical commissioned by Holders; it’s an upbeat and contemporary re-working of the 18th-century Barbadian opera rediscovered by Holders in 1997. It’s been completely updated by a leading team of players from London’s West End.
March 8: Kit and the Widow. An entertaining act synonymous with the best modern cabaret. In the Little Theatre adjoining the plantation house.
March 10: Sir Richard Rodney Bennett in Cabaret. Recently knighted for his contribution to British music, the composer, singer, and song writer draws on the great 20th century song writers, from Gershwin to Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter.
March 13, 15, 17: Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Kit Hesketh Harvey’s Caribbean Tempest; leading Shakespearean actors with music from the Caribbean.
March 16: Stewart Collins and Friends in Cabaret. An evening of surprises in the Little Theatre.
March 18: Bach and Handel — two masters of the Baroque. Featuring an ensemble from Cuba, Canadian pianist Sacha Starcevich, virtuoso violinist Patmore Lewis, and the choir of Bridgetown cathedral performing two of classical music’s greatest composers, linked together with a brand new script from Stewart Collins
March 20: Holders’ traditional finale, featuring Jamaican opera star Willard White.

What’s on in Barbados . . .

•Oistins Fish Festival. A saturation of seafood in all its forms, April 2-5
•Congaline Carnival. An eight-day Carnival with the biggest congaline in the world; centred around St Lawrence Gap. The climax of Congaline is the May 1 Carnival parade of T-shirt bands, April 21-May 1

ANTIGUA

Sailing Fest

Some of the world’s most enjoyable and fun-filled yachting can be found around Antigua. It’s really the sailing capital of the Eastern Caribbean. With a choice of 365 beaches to anchor off, Antigua’s natural beauty and nautical know-how guarantee sailing enthusiasts the holiday of a lifetime afloat.
The highlight of the sailing year is the Antigua Sailing Week, but a month before that week of events gets underway, yachts people from all over the world descend on the island for the annual Antigua Classic Regatta. Organised by the Antigua Yacht Club, there’s entertainment and parties after every race, and what racing it is.
Anyone can enter: you need an entry form, and to register your boat by 5 p. m. on April 14. Contact Antigua Yacht Club, tel./fax: (268) 460-1799 or 460-1879; e-mail: antyacht@candw.ag April 15-20

What’s on in Antigua . . .

• West Indies v Australia, 4th Test, April 15-20
• Antigua Classic Regatta, April 3-7
• 32nd Antigua Sailing Week, April 25-May 1

GRENADA

What’s on in Grenada . . .

• International food and drink bar. Flavours from around the Caribbean and beyond, May 6
• Carib Grenada Power Boat Regatta. See the sleekest, pointiest boats in the Caribbean power over the waters at Grand Anse at breakneck speeds, April 3-4
• West Indies v Australia, one day international cricket, April 14

JAMAICA

Jam down Carnival

– Nazma Muller
It is a sacrilege for Trinidadians to speak of their Carnival and any other in the same gloating breath; so let’s just say, Jamaica’s is decent. In the 11 years since a group of Trini-Carnival-loving Jamaicans were prevented by Hurricane Gilbert from making their annual pilgrimage and therefore just had to produce their own version at home, carnival in Jamdown has exploded.
Those same Oakridge Boys are still slugging the Appleton down Trafalgar Road in sequins; but now there’s a band in front and a band behind. Revellers, D Masqueraders and Mudders International are now considered veterans to the three-year-old Soggae which introduced the novel idea of roping the skeptical masses into the bacchanal by playing a mix of soca and reggae in their fetes and on the road.
Marketing of Jamaica Carnival has been so successful there is now a full week of ritual worshipping. There’s the expected feteing which starts in January with band launches, followed by Byron Lee’s Blowouts at the mas camp on Trafalgar Road in March. And there’s special feteing — beginning on Sunday, April 4 at Chukka Cove in St Ann to launch the brouhaha, and then again on Monday at the Mineral Spa in Rockfort.
But there’s also a top pan side playing at Countryside Club on Tuesday; a Tribute to the Greats — like Sparrow — on Wednesday; a tent with the best of this year’s Trini calypsonians on Thursday; the inevitable sound system clash (in Jamaica, that is) on Friday; a Junior Road Parade on Saturday; and the finale on Sunday, which includes a version of Las Lap — a final way-lay-lay into the night in New Kingston.
What about J’ouvert? Ah. Confession time. J’ouvert in Jamaica is — brace for outrage — almost as good as Trinidad’s. Since Raiders made their debut in 1996, body paint manufacturers have doubled their profits. By the following year, another posse — including a Trini, of course — had launched their own J’ouvert band. Between Raiders and Jokers Wild, whole sections of Kingston were smudged blue after the devils —cavorting to the sounds of 3 Canal — had passed through. Last year, Pirates and Wenches, Silver Devils (Raiders), Bandits and Convicts (Jokers Wild), added dashes of red and silver. This year, they just might be black.
That’s in Kingston. Out in the boondocks (“across the water”, as Jamaicans say) the largest housing estate in the Caribbean did its own thing. On Easter Monday, a whole week before Kingston got its groove on, Portmore residents paid Tribute to the Reggae Boys, and played Goddess of the Sky and Jewel of the Nile. Thousands appeared on a live broadcast; with miles of road all to themselves, they jumped until they got tired, then walked home.
While Jamaica House may never declare Carnival a public holiday, Kingston shuts down as effectively as Port of Spain when the bands parade. This year, as Jamaicans celebrate more than a decade of carnivalling, they will be wining (now a popular addition to their vocabulary) quite proudly to the songs of their own top DJs. Beenie Man and Red Rat have both teamed up with Machel Montano and Xtatik in duets that first shocked then rocked the Carnival capital; Capleton, Merciless and Lady Saw have all taken a ride on the successful Pigtail Rhythm; and Mr Vegas couldn’t say no to a (sound) bite of the soca pie. To predict what will happen between April 4 and 11 in Jamaica could mean committing blasphemy.

What’s on in Jamaica . . .

• Jamaica Music Industry Awards, March
• West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Sabina Park, March 13-17
• Jamaica Carnival: a feast of fetes, concerts, costumes, reggae, dub, dancehall, and more soca than ever before, April 4-11

LONDON

The Elders: Brother Everald and Stanley Greaves

– Anne Walmsley
Recent exhibitions in Britain of Caribbean art have been of work from one country alone: Barbados (1997), Jamaica (1994, 1995-6), Trinidad (1992, 1997). But a show opening at the South London Gallery on March 10 demonstrates something of the range and depth of contemporary visual arts in the anglophone Caribbean as a whole.
Titled The Elders, it focuses on work by two of the region’s leading — and senior — artists. Brother Everald Brown, born in Jamaica in 1917, is a self-taught visionary artist, long active in the Rastafarian movement and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; he makes paintings, sculpture, and carved, decorated musical instruments at his home in a remote hill district of St Ann. Stanley Greaves, born in Guyana in 1934, trained in fine arts in his home country, then in Britain and the USA, and is a thoughtful, widely informed painter, sculptor and ceramist; he worked for most of his life in urban Georgetown before moving to St Michael, Barbados, 12 years ago.
The Elders is an initiative of the 198 Gallery in Brixton, and in particular of the show’s curator, Godfried Donkor. Donkor, born in Ghana and an artist himself, has travelled extensively in the Caribbean in search of its art. With The Elders he hopes to challenge, to show the irrelevance of western art categories in which these two artists tend to be confined: Brown as an intuitive, primitive or naive artist in the African-Jamaican tradition; Greaves as an academic artist working in an outdated European metaphysical or surrealist style. The Elders shows work which exemplifies the polarities of an aspect of visual practice in the anglophone Caribbean today, and at the same time reveals affinities which are surprising and — as the poet Kamau Brathwaite would say — submarine.
The Elders shows at the South London Gallery from March 10 to April 11, then tours to galleries elsewhere in Britain.

ST MAARTEN

Carnivals on any Caribbean island are worth checking out. Try the Dutch island of St Maarten where Carnival is as joyously celebrated as everywhere else. But unlike everywhere else, its hotel rates actually drop during the Carnival period; between 30% and 70%. It’s a good kick-start to the year’s tourist-based economy though: visitors tharrive in large numbers for St Maarten’s partying and fine food.
Carnival celebrations traditionally follow Easter, peaking on the birthday of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on April 30th. There are grand parades and floats, live bands, big trucks, heavy bass, Jouvert, a T-shirt jump-up. The Grand Carnival Parade features extravagantly costumed masquerade bands driven by soca and rum.
The food is fabulous: lobster, fish, conch, ribs, barbecued chicken. Try the island aphrodisiac known as sea moss; yep, seaweed, but mixed with brandy and other special ingredients. Carnival ends when the straw-filled carnival leader King Momo is ignited and exits in a blaze. April 15-May 3

What’s on in St Maarten . . .

• 9th Annual Heineken Regatta, March 5-7
• Queen Beatrix Birthday and Grand Carnival Par, April 15-May 3

GUYANA, TRINIDAD

Painting it pink

Phagwa is an uplifting, fun-filled Hindu celebration of the new year and the arrival of spring, normally held around the first full moon of March. In Guyana and Trinidad, with large Indian populations, Phagwa is a major event with a carnival atmosphere all its own. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, happiness over suffering.
Phagwa is characterised by the spraying of abir, brightly-coloured powder dye which is mixed with water and squirted from plastic bottles on to one another’s white clothes. It symbolises the blood of the tyrannical King Kiranya who was burnt alive for his misdeeds by his sons. Visit any Hindu community at Phagwa and you’ll find a huge coloured-water fight in progress. Grandparents, youngsters and adults all take part, and soon most people get completely covered in a pink and purple mess, with splotches of green, orange, yellow and white on their clothing and bodies. Nothing could be more fun. In Trinidad massive outdoor parties are staged with chutney-soca and folk songs and classical Indian singing; there’s delicious food and entertaining contests. Everyone is welcome — remember to wear light coloured clothing, preferably not your best designer duds. Phagwa is on March 2 this year.

LIAT Reunion

Attention all LIAT flight attendants, past and present. Forty years of flying the skies with LIAT is being celebrated in style and all for a good cause, but you need to be there to make it happen. The 1959-1999 flight attendants’ reunion will be an early Millennium party — from April 26 to May 3.
Whatever era you flew in, you’ll be sure to enjoy the talent show and dance, gala dinner, boat cruise, and lots more. For more information, contact Gillian Lewis at: Tel. (268) 460-6787, fax (268) 461-6402, e-mail lewis@candw.ag or geoksue@candw.ag

TRINIDAD

Night of the turtle

– Mark Meredith
The first leatherback turtle broke through the surf at 9 p.m., a hundred feet from the dining room. Excited cries and waving flashlights announced her arrival down in the darkness, interrupting our meal and the rhythm of crashing waves and chirruping crickets. We left the baked kingfish sitting on our plates and raced across the sand to the sea.
A huge turtle was heaving herself clear of the surf and drag of the tide sweeping down the steep slope of Grand Rivière beach. Slowly, painfully, she was inching her way uphill over the coarse sand, each movement accompanied by an exhausted burp or grunt as she pulled herself forwards on two enormous front flippers in a laborious breastroke. She moved into the faint light fingering its away across the sand from the dining room and bar of Mt Plaisir Hotel and, ignoring the noisy guests and onlookers standing in her way, headed straight towards our bedroom.
About 15 feet from our door she stopped, burped loudly, and began digging in the soft, dry sand. The light from our bedroom illuminated a creature about five feet long, who must have weighed some 500 lbs. The head was large and broad with a beak-like face; a great shell encrusted with barnacles swept down her back in streamlined ridges which narrowed above two small rear flippers.
Ignoring the shouted whispers around her, the turtle began digging, sweeping her front flippers violently backwards like two huge spades, sending showers of sand over the feet of her audience. She dug for an hour, grunting, until a neatly excavated hole some two feet deep appeared. Placing her rear-end over the hole she began laying her white eggs, about 100 of them, which fell like soft, slightly squashed golf balls in one-minute intervals.
Already exhausted, the turtle began to fill in her nest; her flipper work slowed to one painful sweep of sand a minute. It was impossible not to feel for her, and wonder how many of her tiny turtles would survive the perilous race to the sea and the hunters which fed there. At last she decided enough was enough, and with a final dusting of sand over the nest, turned and headed back down the slope as fast as her flippers could carry her. There was a brief battle with the surf and she disappeared under the waves.
Up along the crescent sweep of Grand Rivière beach, away from human voices and barely discernible in the dark, more turtles were arriving; boulder-like shapes picked out by the moon and the flickering lights of village houses dancing through the coconut groves. When the sun came up there would be no evidence of the agonies and energies of the night before; nothing but the tractor-like tracks leading down the sand to the sea.
The nesting ritual of the leatherback turtle can be seen on several North Coast beaches in Trinidad at this time of year, chiefly Grand Riviere and Matura; you can also see them on west coast beaches in Tobago. For information on turtle nesting sites and permits, contact the Wildlife Division, Forestry Department in St James, Port of Spain (tel: 622-7476). You don’t need a permit while staying at Mt Plaisir, or if using a local tour specialist.

Getting ready for Miss Universe

– Robert Hoffman
It’s big, it’s old, it’s ugly, it’s dilapidated and it’s practically useless, but it is about to be transformed into one of the most glamorous venues on earth.
The World War II American flying-boat hangar here, once home to about 60 US Navy aircraft and part of the largest Navy base outside America during the defence of the Western Hemisphere between 1942 and 1945, the “Chag hangar,” as it called by everyone, is the place from which Miss Universe 1999 will emerge to begin her year in the sun.
The hangar sits hard by Chaguaramas Bay, bristling with the masts of thousands of yachts that visit the gorgeous natural haven throughout the year. Trinidad – whose favourite daughter Wendy Fitzwilliam, a stunningly beautiful and lanky law student raised in the western town of Diego Martin, just a half-dozen miles from Chaguaramas, is the reigning Miss Universe – won the right to stage the pageant from the Donald Trump-owned producers of the event.
The 50,000-square-foot edifice, with its exposed superstructure and row upon row of classic small-pane factory windows reminiscent of a time long past, stands on a macadam surface of about 20 acres. It was one of a dozen or more buildings put up by the Navy in the early days of the war, buildings that included barracks, officers’ quarters, boathouses, an administration center, a huge modern (at the time) hospital and even a handful of subterranean ammunition bunkers. The hospital was later turned into the Chaguaramas Convention Center, but much of it is in disrepair today.
The hangar was home to some of the Navy’s legendary airplanes, like the single-engine Kingfisher, the bulbous Grumman PBY, the Martin Mariner and Marlin and the famous Grumman Albatross. The Navy base was decommissioned in 1967, when the Yanks went home.
According to Gaylord Kelshall, curator of the Chaguaramas Military History and Aviation Museum located on the edge of the hangar’s ramp, an identical hangar was being shipped to the spot in 1942 but was sunk by German U-boats just off the coast of the island. “All the Navy’s hangars throughout the world were of identical design,” Kelshall revealed. “We should have had two, but the twin was sent to the bottom.”
The hangar itself spent the post-war years in relative desuetude, and only recently was leased by a company contracted to refurbish run-down Trinidad Coast Guard PT boats.
For one brief shining moment in May the old hangar will be under the gaze of 2.5 billion TV viewers as Miss Universe 1999 is crowned. It will then slip back into almost total obscurity. “When the pageant is over, the hangar will revert to its current use,” Kelshall said. “Boat building and repairs.”

Drink that Howler down

Should you find yourself on the 4th or 5th holes of Chaguaramas Public Golf Course shortly after it’s rained, you might hear a sound so blood-curdling and downright unearthly it would make your golf swing crumble in mid-stroke; like a T-Rex with indigestion roaring in the rain forest. But it’s only the red howler monkeys telling you they’re around.
But, there again, it could be a bunch of Trinis liming in the forest with Trinidad’s newest brew — Howler Lager Beer. Concocted by beer-loving brewmasters in a tiny brewery at the Fernandes compound in Laventille, Howler is an elusive elixir only found in some 10-15 liming spots in western Trinidad. Like the monkeys, you need to look for this lager; you might hear its tell-tale signs belched out in the odd bar; a Bavarian full-bodied brew broadcast to those with an ear for good old-fashioned beer. Unfortunately the red howler monkey is an endangered species; hopefully, Trinidad Select Brews’ liquid namesake will raise the animal’s profile. It certainly doesn’t look endangered.
If you want to see how they make this monkey howl, you can visit Trinidad Select Brews. They’ll be pleased to show you around. Ask for Deborah; telephone (868) 625-3359.

Look out for . . .

Hosay, the Islamic festival which is a three-day cultural event, full of colour and rhythm. There are street parades during the day and night, starting with Flag Night, with flag dancers, tassa drummers and decorated tadjahs (symbols of early Islamic martyrs’ tombs). Visit the western town of St James, the most popular venue for Hosay. April 27-29

What’s on in Trinidad . . .

•Spiritual Baptist Liberation Shouter Day, public holiday, March 30
•Cable & Wireless 1999 cricket series, West Indies v Australia, First Test, March 5-9
•T&T Yachting Association races, March 5-21,  April 10-25
•West Indies v Australia. Back-to-back one-day internationals, April 17, 18
•Artist Susan Wiltshire exhibits her work at the Alliance Française, Pembroke Street, Port of Spain. April 13-30

Cool kites

Kite flying has always been popular in the Caribbean. Around Easter, when the trades are blowing strongly, parks, gardens, and beaches become launchpads for a colourful display of kites in all their forms. Perhaps the most spectacular kites to be found anywhere are those of oriental design. Though you won’t see many in the skies above the blue Caribbean, you can see their beautiful, and sometimes scary, designs at ground level at the Japanese Embassy’s Exhibition of Kites and Tops at the National Museum and Art Gallery in Port of Spain, Trinidad. March 14-27

INTERNATIONAL

Write around the world

So you enjoy a good radio drama? Ever thought you could do better? Like to become a radio writer? Well, here’s your chance. The BBC World Service, in conjunction with the British Council, is inviting budding writers to submit a radio play of about 60 minutes on the subject of their choice. The play should have a maximum of six central characters.
There’s a first prize of £2,000 for the overall winning playwright and a trip to London to see the play being recorded for the BBC World Service. The winning entry will also be considered for future publication.
A prize of a short-wave radio goes to the best radio play from each of the following geographical areas: Americas; Europe; Africa and Middle East; South Asia; former Soviet Union; Asia and Pacific. There’s also a short-wave radio prize for the best radio play written by a writer for whom English is not a first language and BBC Radio Collection cassettes for all dramatists whose plays reach the judge’s final short list.
The contest is open to any writer not normally a resident of the UK. The play must be the original, unpublished work of the person submitting it. It must not have been previously produced in any medium. It must be written substantially or entirely in English, and accompanied by a completed entry form.
Send entries by Friday, April 2, 1999 to: The British Council, c/o British High Commission, 19 St Clair Avenue, Port of Spain, Trinidad or c/o the British High Commission Building, Trafalgar Road, Kingston 10, Jamaica.
If you feel a play is beyond you, have a go at a short story. It should be about 500 words long, typewritten, and should be sent to: The Commonwealth Short Story Competition 1999, CBA, 17 Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 1AA, England.
First prize is £2,000. The deadline for receipt of stories is May 1, 1999. Send it with your name and address. It should not have been previously published elsewhere. By October 1999, the winner will be announced at a press conference at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Cape Town.

Lest We Forget

The world is filled with monuments to the dead: the cannon fodder of the Somme and Ypres; the unknown soldiers from World War 1 and II, Korea and Vietnam; the victims of the Holocaust. Yet the crimes committed against African people between the 15th and 19th centuries in the age of slavery which, perhaps, dwarfs all the misery of the 20th century combined, barely gets a mention in this era of anniversaries; far less monuments in brick and mortar.
But, at last, a fitting memorial to a terrible and tragic period of history is set to take place.
Of the many millions of men, women and children who died in Africa and the New World, countless numbers perished on the voyage west in the slave ships — the Middle Passage. On July 3, 1999, a monument commemorating the victims of slavery will be ceremonially lowered below the waters of the Middle Passage, 427 kilometers off New York’s harbour. In the words of the organiser, Wayne James, The Middle Passage Monument Project will finally enable “the entire Black race to close the chapter on slavery, relegating it to a mere footnote in the context of our entire history.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan endorsed the project, saying it is an opportunity to “help broaden the understanding of African cultures and the heritage of people of African descent”. The ceremony will be attended by scholars, clergy, political leaders, entertainers, and ordinary citizens. Though the monument may never be seen again, replicas will be placed in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, North America and South America.
Wayne James hopes that many thousands of black people will join the pilgrimage to the Middle Passage. After the ceremony they will continue on to West Africa. For those who can’t make the voyage, a series of events will be held in New York.
For further information on the Middle Passage Monument Project and related events, contact Wayne James, (whj@cais.com) Middle Passage Monument Project: www.middlepassage.org