Need to know | Events calendar (Nov/Dec 2019)

Essential info to help you make the most of November and December across the Caribbean — parang in Trinidad, Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize, Sugar Mas in St Kitts, and more

  • Photo courtesy St Kitts Tourism Authority
  • Photo by Maria Nunes
  • Photo courtesy Belize Tourism Board
  • Photo courtesy Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.
  • Illustration by James Hackett
  • Photo by Adam Heisig, courtesy Taisha Carrington
  • Taisha Carrington
  • Photo by Adam Heisig, courtesy Taisha Carrington
  • Taisha Carrington
  • Photo courtesy Moda Market

Don’t Miss: St Kitts Sugar Mas

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Carnival season falls before Lent, or at the traditional end of the sugarcane harvest. In St Kitts, traditional Christmastime celebrations dating back to the seventeenth century have evolved into a Carnival that spans the end of the old year and the start of the new, today called Sugar Mas. With hallmark festivities like calypso and soca monarch competitions, a Carnival queen pageant, steelpan and extempo, the pace is hot and exhaustion is a real possibility. J’Ouvert opens Boxing Day on 26 December, and for the first few days of January, life is literally a song and dance at the Grand Parade and Last Lap events.

How to get there? Caribbean Airlines operates daily flights to V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua, with connections to St Kitts on other airlines


On the Beat: Trinidad parang

From October to early January in Trinidad, the strumming of the guitar, cuatro, and mandolin, mixed with the shakes of the maracas and the beat of the box bass, herald the island’s traditional Christmas music, parang. Derived from Venezuelan folk music and sung in Spanish, the vibrant sound of parang reverberates from the hills of Paramin in the north to Lopinot and Arima in the east and San Fernando in the south. Traditionally, parranderos — parang performers — went door to door in their communities, serenading each household. Steffano Marcano is well known as a Carnival masquerader, portraying the blue devil character, but during parang season he also performs with the Paraminiños parang band. He explains why crowds from near and far ascend the steep hills to his village to enjoy the music.

How did you become involved in parang?

I got involved because of my community in Paramin. It is such a culturally enriched place. I really looked up to parang icons like the people in my village, also the Lara Brothers and Daisy Voisin. I see a generational change now, because we give our children the maracas and other instruments at very tender ages. As soon as you can hear or understand music, or maybe even mumble it, you are introduced to parang. It clings to you and you grow with it.

Do you remember your first performance?

I was five years old. My sister Shauntel and I learned to play the toc-toc for timing, then the maracas, cuatro, and a bass bucket for a bass box. We improvised using a bucket with a string and a stick on it. We’d go to four or five neighbours’ houses and play parang for them. We could only play three songs. 

People loved that we were trying to sing a song and entertain. They encouraged us, and over the years we got better and better by doing it for the love of it. To this day, my band and my family, including my parents, still do house-to-house parang.

Tell us about Paramin.

There are many cultures in Paramin, and the Spanish is one of them. We grew up with parang instilled in us. During the year, neighbours play parang music. We pick up instruments at any point, on any given day, because we love to hear it. I believe that’s why we are one of the main hubs for parang. We don’t wait for people to tell us when to play, and we keep it authentic most of the time. 

Can anyone join in house-to-house parang?

You either plan to go with a group, or you listen for a band and join the band with your instrument and help them play. If you’re playing in time, and they like you, they allow you to stay in the band. I’m not fluent in Spanish, but if I memorise the songs, I can sing them perfectly. If I only hear a song and try to freestyle, that’s a different story.

What is your role in Los Paraminiños?

I am the “marac man” and a backup singer. Performing parang is a stress-reliever. I adore playing and singing. It’s not always in Spanish. We also do patois parang. We literally did a song called “Patois Parang” — written by my uncle and sung by the band. I love seeing the joy on people’s faces, and to watch them dancing. Other than the great sound, it is their joy that makes it worth it.

Are Paramin Carnival characters ever incorporated in parang performances?

We have never mixed moko jumbies and blue devils into our performances. I love to enjoy the parang season, and let it flow and finish before I do my major blue devil performances. I love to let the seasons have their time. 

What style of parang do Los Paraminiños perform?

Our sound is traditional parang with a modern, alternative twist. The focus has always been on performing the traditional nativity songs. However, as one of our goals is to generate more interest in parang by the youth, the band covers popular songs in the traditional parang style. We also covered some of Machel Montano’s smash soca hits. Even if parang is not your thing, we have something for you.

As told to Shelly-Ann Inniss


All About . . . Garifuna Settlement Day

Commemorated in Belize’s southern Stann Creek District since 1941, and nationally since 1977, Garifuna Settlement Day on 19 November marks the arrival of the first members of the Garifuna community in what was then known as British Honduras, in 1832. The Garifuna — once called Black Caribs — are descendants of indigenous Caribs who intermarried with escaped African slaves in St Vincent, in the late seventeenth century. This proud, determined people resisted both British and French colonial forces until finally defeated in 1797 at the end of the Second Carib War, whereupon the British exiled thousands of Garifuna from their native island. Many settled the Caribbean coast of Central America, with communities in Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.

With a distinct language and sense of historical identity, today’s Garifuna community includes a sizeable diaspora in the United States, in particular Los Angeles and New York City. And internationally the Garifuna may be best known for their music, thanks to the breakthrough of the late Andy Palacio — activist, musician, and cultural ambassador — whose 2007 album Wátina won fans around the world while drawing deep on Garifuna tradition.

That Garifuna Settlement Day has a place in Belize’s calendar is thanks to the efforts of Thomas Vincent Ramos, a Garifuna activist, teacher, and preacher brought up in Stann Creek. In 1940, Ramos and other elders approached the governor of British Honduras requesting a public holiday to commemorate the significance of the Garifuna in the history of the colony. Originally called Carib Disembarkation Day, and observed only in the southern districts with sizeable Garifuna populations, the holiday was extended throughout the colony ahead of Belizean Independence in 1981.

A week of festivities — parades, music, a food festival — culminates in a reenactment of the arrival of the first Garifuna in small boats. And for many in the community — plus other Belizeans of all backgrounds — the highlight is the annual Battle of the Drums in Punta Gorda, an exhilarating three-day celebration of traditional Garifuna drumming, where dozens of troupes compete for audience acclaim and official prizes — while invoking the ancestral rhythms that have led Garifuna survival over the centuries.

For more information on the Battle of the Drums festival, visit www.facebook.com/battleofthedrums


Great Outdoors: Run Barbados

Come December, the feet of devoted runners from around the world will pound the historic roads of Bridgetown at the annual Run Barbados event. Three days of races, including 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon, and one-mile runs, and a 5K walk, have brought repeat participants to Barbados’s shores for over three decades. The 2018 winner of the women’s marathon, Fanja Felix of Martinique, will be back this year to defend her title at Run Barbados 2019 (6 to 8 December).

Why did you choose to participate in Run Barbados?

I had been doing half marathons for a few years, and we were living in Martinique, which is geographically very close, so it was the perfect opportunity to try out the marathon.

What makes Run Barbados different from other events?

It’s really one of a kind. The welcome, the warmth, and fantastic organisation from the organisers and the volunteers make it special. I appreciate the hospitality and the way Barbadians love life. 

How many times have you done the marathon?

I have done the Run Barbados marathon for the last two years, and have been the female winner both times. I’m now on the road to the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

Did you enter Run Barbados with a running partner? 

I have always come alone. But I would really love my husband to accompany me so that he can experience the ambiance of the race.

Tell us about the marathon route.

The course is quite rolling, despite the heat, which adds a bit of pepper. The main difficulties are at the 7 km and 14 km marks, where we have to be quite careful, as a marathon is a strategic race — especially with the heat. I’d rate it seven out of ten.

What methods do you use to make marathons easier? 

I don’t really listen to music during my race, because I like to live my race to the fullest. I concentrate on myself and my environment, the public, and the supporters. I believe in what I do and in God. I move forward because I have the mental strength to do so.

What are the keys to a successful marathon? 

Preparing for a marathon is not easy, as one must constantly motivate oneself. It requires a lot of time and dedication. You have to manage your race: don’t start off too fast and drink lots of water. Staying hydrated and taking advantage of the feeding points is very important. Most of all, enjoy yourself. I was quite surprised at my win, but once I tasted victory, I wanted to come back to defend my title. I’m aiming for a triple win.

What are your parting words to future Run Barbados participants?

I will continue to fight, as a race is never won before the finish line. Whether I am the favourite or not, may the best woman win. 

As told to Shelly-Ann Inniss


Top Five: Green resolutions for the new year

For most people, the end of each year is a moment of both celebration and reflection — an opportunity to bask in the company of family and friends, but also to contemplate how to navigate the coming twelve months more happily, healthily, and responsibly. And maybe your new year’s resolutions ought to include an attempt to live with a lighter environmental footprint. At this point in the twenty-first century, the dangerous effects of climate change are no secret to anyone. The small island states of the Caribbean will be among the first places in the world to suffer from changing weather patterns and rising sea levels. The magnitude of the threat is understandably daunting — but there are practical, everyday steps we can all take to start making a positive difference. And there’s no need to wait for 1 January, either.

Eat less meat

Some scientists argue it’s the single most environmentally impactful thing the average person can do. Livestock account for 14.5 per cent of greenhouse emissions globally. Tropical rainforests are clear-cut to grow feed for cows and other animals. By some estimates, it takes 15,000 litres of water to produce a kilogramme of beef. Going full-fledged vegan is more than most people are willing to consider, but even just one or two meatless days per week would make a difference, if enough people committed to it.

Carry your own bag . . .

Single-use plastic bags are one of the most wasteful features of today’s consumer societies. Get in the habit of keeping a couple of sturdy cloth or canvas bags in your car, so they’re always accessible on supermarket trips — or if you duck into a shop to buy a single item, carry it out in your hands!

. . . and your own bottle

Bottled water is another unnecessary and environmentally wasteful product that’s become a daily habit. An insulated metal flask that keeps beverages cold is an investment that quickly pays off: fill it at home, have a cool drink always at the ready, save money, and generate less garbage.

Walk

Let’s face it, many Caribbean cities have substandard public transport, and many of us have no choice but to drive to work. But for routine nearby errands and neighbourhood visits, think about keeping the car parked and relying on your own two feet. Save gas, get some exercise, and emit less carbon into the atmosphere.

Recycle

Some Caribbean countries already have fledgling glass, paper, and even plastic recycling programmes. Find out the location of the nearest dropoff point, keep a recycling bin or box in your kitchen, and get in the habit of not tossing away recyclable waste. If you’re feeling specially ambitious, you could even help organise a community recycling drive, and bond with your neighbours.


Ready to Wear: Most precious

At first glance, many of the pieces in Barbadian Taisha Carrington’s Woke in the Wake jewellery collection seem to invoke organic forms: flowers, leaves, sea anemones and other marine creatures. And along with precious metals and stones, they do incorporate organic material, but a type not frequently found in jewellery nowadays: human hair.

“Human hair has actually been used in jewellery-making for millennia,” Carrington explains. “It’s quite durable.” In Victorian times in particular, there was a vogue for “mourning jewellery” made from the hair of deceased beloveds. But these pieces, now collected by museums, never used black people’s hair — “Afro hair,” as Carrington calls it — an absence which reminds us that even today, and even in places like the Caribbean with majority black populations, black hair remains a source of insecurity and contention. Carrington says she grew up in Barbados “experiencing and observing the prevalent self-vilification by black women about their features.” Her response? These breathtakingly beautiful objects of jewellery that use black hair as their “most precious material.”

Carrington sources hair from herself and her friends — “It’s always shed hair, not trimmed hair,” she says — and prepares it for use using treatments that recall the hair-care rituals that are “an integral part of deep bonding among family and friends in black communities.” Shampoo and conditioner treatments felt the hair, condensing and strengthening the fibres, after which Carrington bleaches and dyes it to create the desired effect.

“I always made art, from as young as three years old,” Carrington says. “Art was my way of exploring and understanding my world. I touched everything, smelled everything, and if it could be glued to something else, I glued it.” Deciding to study art formally as a teenager, she began as a sculpture major. Then a professor recommended she try a jewellery class. “She saw that my sculptures were highly detailed, and I focused heavily on craftsmanship — two great skills to have for working on a smaller scale . . . I also realised it was a great way to leave art school with flexibility: I could be employed as a metalsmith or jewellery designer, but also work for myself as both.”

There’s a clear continuum between Carrington’s jewellery, like the Woke in the Wake series, and her larger, more conventionally sculptural works. “Getting jewellery to be recognised more as wearable sculpture in the Caribbean has been challenging,” she says, “but my use of non-traditional materials and the size of the pieces tend to set the foundation pretty well for me to have that conversation . . . Persons approach sculpture expecting a concept or idea — the beauty of jewellery is that it’s worn, so the person wearing it carries the story to share.”

In the case of the Woke in the Wake collection, that story includes the history of Carrington’s primary material, and its tangible resonance: the transformation of otherwise discarded black women’s hair into a substance of intricate adornment. Her intention, she says, is to “evoke commentary, eye contact, and acknowledgement of the wearer’s presence.” The effect is bold, unapologetic, and undeniably regal.

For more information on Taisha Carrington’s Woke in the Wake collection, visit taishacarrington.com or contact the artist at info@taishacarrington.com. Pieces from the collection are available for purchase, and customisation is also possible — including the use of the client’s own hair.


Datebook

More highlights of November and December across the Caribbean

Miami Book Fair 

17 to 24 November
Hundreds of authors and even more readers — including many from the Caribbean — gather in downtown Miami for the love of literature and imaginative expression. miamibookfair.com

MoDA Market

22 to 24 November, Kingston, Jamaica
Celebrate some of the best of fashion and design from “the land of wood and water,” as the Collection MoDA team create an platform for innovation and inspiration. thecollectionmoda.com

Gemonites Moods of Pan Festival

30 November and 1 December, Antigua
Music lifts your mood and provides an escape from your worries. So release your cares at Antigua’s annual steelpan festival, where the lineup ranges from regional and international artistes to primary and secondary school students, creating music from steel at the Dean William Lake Cultural Centre.

Junkanoo

26 December and 1 January, the Bahamas
The streets of Nassau jolt to life with enthusiastic revellers in extravagant costumes, rushing to the rhythms of brass, whistles, cowbells, and drums, as spectators crowd the streets, balconies, and bleachers.

Les Bocans de la Baie

30 December, Martinique
Melodies and plays of light intermingle in harmony at a magical fireworks show in Fort Saint Louis. Mark the close of the year at this “pyromusical rendezvous” at heritage sites, museums, and restaurants, plus a buzzing Grand Market.