The first night of the new moon in the month of Kartika is greeted with fanfare anywhere with a large Hindu community. On Divali — the Hindu festival of lights, celebrated this year on 14 November, and commemorated as a public holiday in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname — people venture from far and wide to enjoy the spectacle of tiny deyas — clay lanterns — arranged in hundreds or even thousands, to symbolise the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Hindu families prepare traditional vegetarian feasts and sweets such as gulab jamun, khurma, and barfi, much to the merriment of neighbours and friends. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic means typical large celebrations must be scaled down, but every observant Hindu household will perform time-honoured prayers to the goddess Lakshmi, light their deyas, and look forward to the time when their doors can once again be opened to guests for the season of joyful sharing.
Word of Mouth
Trinidad and Tobago’s rich biodiversity is a nature-lover’s dream, and the annual Bioblitz — running this year from 21 to 22 November — is a chance for naturalists both professional and amateur to learn more. UK-born Amy Deacon, a zoologist at the University of the West Indies, explains how we can develop a new appreciation for the biodiversity in our very own backyards
The ninth annual T&T Bioblitz will be a backyard edition. What types of species are likely to be seen?
Representatives of almost all the taxa we usually find at a regular Bioblitz are in backyards. The main exception might be marine species, unless any of our bioblitzers live on a boat! Hopefully some of our participants will have ponds, ditches, or even streams running through their gardens. Mammals will also be a challenge, as we usually detect these using camera traps and bat nets.
Everyone has birds in their backyard. Look up and spot more unusual birds, such as hawks, flying overhead. Most people will also have their resident geckos. Iguanas and crapauds [cane toads] are common garden reptiles and amphibians, but keep a look out for other frogs, lizards, and snakes. We expect most of our species to come from plants and insects, and both are abundant in gardens. Paying more attention to the small creatures is also how to have the best chance of making new or unusual discoveries.
How can families participate?
This year, all you need is a phone with a camera and the internet to upload to iNaturalist — a free app and website that can identify species from photos. Once you upload your photo, the app gives you a “best guess” as to the species shown. Then, experts from around the world confirm or correct the suggestion. For Bioblitz weekend, we will have both local and international experts on standby to help identify all uploaded photos as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Which past Bioblitz location had the most recorded species?
Charlotteville in Tobago, in 2015, had the highest species total of all Bioblitzes — 1,044 species! This was helped by the fact that the five-kilometre radius for this location included coral reefs and other marine habitats that were well-surveyed by teams of scuba divers and snorkellers, in addition to the usual forest, urban, and coastal habitats.
Have you discovered any new species over the years?
In Charlotteville, the herpetology team discovered a lizard that had never been recorded in T&T. It is known as a twig anole, Anolis tigrinus, and was previously known only from the South American mainland.
How many species do you personally intend to observe for Bioblitz 2020?
I am setting a personal target of one hundred species. Some people might think that sounds ambitious, but I think we tend to hugely underestimate the number of species around us, even in our backyards. I know several of my neighbours will be participating, so there is likely to be some friendly competition, too!
What is a Bioblitz?
First held in the United States in 1996, and now organised in countries around the world, a Bioblitz is a biological survey done over a twenty-four-hour period, intended to record all the living species in a designated locale. Since 2012, T&T has hosted annual Bioblitzes, each in a different part of the country, involving university faculty and students, members of the T&T Field Naturalists’ Club, and nature-lovers of all ages. Anyone can join in — no special qualifications required. For T&T Bioblitz 2020, given the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, participants are invited to do species surveys in their own gardens and backyards, with the help of a special species identification app.
Classic Caribbean TV series
Did you know the invention of television has a Caribbean angle? By some accounts, Scottish engineer John Logie Baird produced the world’s earliest prototype on a cocoa estate in Trinidad, circa 1920. Within three decades, TV was on its way to being the world’s dominant medium for entertainment, education, and public influence. And without a doubt it gets even better when we hear our accents, see our surroundings, and hear our own stories being shared with a wider audience on screen. In honour of World Television Day on 21 November, here are three classic Caribbean TV series to take you down memory lane.
Royal Palm Estate
For twenty-one years, the fictional Blackburn family were regular visitors in the homes of viewers in Jamaica and around the Caribbean. Set on a former plantation, the Royal Palm Estate soap opera centred around the lives of the prominent Blackburns, symbols of an older past. Elements of mystery, comedy, romance, and even murder boosted the plot. In an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner, the series’ director Lennie Little-White once said he believed the secret of its longevity was in portraying characters at all socio-economic levels, so viewers could recognise themselves. You can find a few of the eight hundred episodes on YouTube.
Bajan Bus Stop
Barbados, early 1990s
Aptly named after an iconic feature of the island’s landscape, this comedy offered snapshots of ordinary life and provided insight into Bajan culture, in nine hilarious episodes. No secret escaped the ears of Ms Pearly, whose curtain twitched ever so slightly during juicy conversations at the bus stop in front of her house. Sometimes she wasn’t so demure, either. Decades later, fans continue to call for a reboot.
Trinidad and Tobago, 1997–2004
Reruns and shared clips on social media are proof that some TV series never get old. Westwood Park, centring on the wealthy Du Soleil and Gunn-Munroe families, demonstrated that all that glitters is literally not gold. Manipulation and power enveloped the Gunn-Munroe family, while social conscience ruled over the Du Soleils. Against a backdrop of luxurious locations around T&T, the series intricately wove together universal topics of hate and greed, corruption and romance, and a striving for social justice into one captivating TV show. “It still has legs,” says creator Danielle Dieffenthaller. Westwood Park also aired around the Caribbean and internationally.
All About . . .
The streets of Nassau awake in the wee hours of Boxing Day and New Year’s Day to the rush of Junkanoo. Intricate costumes parade to intoxicating goombay drumming, accompanied by brass horns, cowbells, and whistles. For on-lookers, it’s almost impossible to sit still. Angeliqué McKay, founder of the Junkanoo Commandos, has taken elements of the festival to over thirty-four cities around the world. She shares her passion and thoughts about its future.
How old were you when you began participating in Junkanoo?
I started as a teenager, after I was in college. Prior to that, my mother didn’t think it was appropriate for a young lady to be in Junkanoo. On the other hand, my father Freddy McKay was actively involved and was one of the founders of the Saxon Superstars. I started as a free dancer in the Superstars.
Which Junkanoo group are you affiliated with?
I’m a member of Genesis Warhawks. I chose to join them based on the foundation that they set to be deep in the community, building the people and having a vision which ensures that their community work is bigger than just the parade.
Do you make your own costume?
I am actively involved in the production of my costume every year, from the early 1990s to now. I help with cutting out the cardboard, wiring it up, and painting it, and I paste my costumes by myself for every parade that I participate in.
How has the festival evolved over the years?
The designs have gotten more creative, detailed, bigger, and more elaborate. More women are participating, too, as it has become more socially acceptable.
How do you feel when you share the Junkanoo experience with the world?
Every time the Junkanoo Commandos perform outside the Bahamas it is just as magical as our performance on Bay Street in Nassau. Whenever we line up in our costumes, magic happens, and we attract people like moths to a flame. One of my most memorable experiences was taking Junkanoo to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial [in Washington, DC] to perform for the fiftieth anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. That put Junkanoo on the largest stage possible, and I was proud. That goes neck-to-neck with the first year my son lined up next to me to perform on Bay Street.
Junkanoo is deep in your soul. Is there anything you’d change about it?
I would extend the two days of Junkanoo parades into a two-week festival, highlighting every aspect of it. I would also split the groups to perform on different days, allowing more people to have an opportunity to view the parade and to be fully submerged.
Discussions about virtual Carnivals are going on around the Caribbean. What are your thoughts about a virtual Junkanoo?
I would jump at the opportunity for virtual Junkanoo at this time. It is nearly impossible for us to gather in the traditional way, because of COVID-19. Junkanoo is a very intimate thing. We are in close contact, and we are touching and talking and laughing, which are all of the risky activities.
If this year’s Junkanoo is cancelled entirely, what would you do?
My heart would be broken. I’d have no idea what to do with myself at Christmas time. Even before I participated in Junkanoo, my daddy had the house looking like a Junkanoo shack. I got to help with little things that I thought were big, but found out they were to really keep me from his costume. I’m wondering if I have to make and eat Christmas dinner this year, and bake cookies: the type of stuff that non-Junkanoos do at Christmas time.
Arte del Mar
The very same sea that separates the islands of the Caribbean from each other, and from territories on the Central and South American mainland, also connects them: for centuries before 1492, the indigenous peoples of the region travelled by boat between archipelago and continent, sharing “concepts of ritual knowledge, ceremonial performance, and political power.” Arte del Mar: Artistic Exchange in the Caribbean, an exhibition at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum (running until 27 June, 2021), assembles forty-two objects — from ritual artworks to jewellery — exploring connections among the Antilles and regions which today are part of Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras, predating European colonial contact. A highlight is a magnificent zemi of carved wood and seashell, depicting an ancestral figure and dating to the turn of the first millennium. Connecting the works of these early, anonymous artists to the present, the show closes with a 1950 painting by Cuban Wilfredo Lam.