Monday, April 13, 2009

St. Thomas Carnival: A Personal Perspective

It is difficult to explain my first carnival as a newcomer to the Virgin Islands. I found it so exciting ... because I had never experienced anything similar. It was all new to me, and I drank it in like an intoxicating drink. Ten years later, I was still as enchanted as that first year.

I admit I was like a child with eyes as big as saucers; wanting to experience every bit of fun and wonder, but at the same time wanting to understand the history behind all I witnessed. I couldn't then, and still can't believe how interesting it is from a historical perspective; which made me feel something like an anthropologist, fastidiously digging for treasure.

The Caribbean carnival celebration that many credit with beginning in Trinidad, according to a number of scholars, actually has its roots in Africa. It made the transition across the ocean, and began first in Trinidad before spreading to other Caribbean islands, landing eventually in the Virgin Islands.

One of the adjustments I had to make as a new islander was the size of everything. My first carnival event at Lionel Roberts stadium, for instance was an eye-opener. I knew better than to expect anything even resembling say, Soldier Field in Chicago, but still I was surprised at the small size of the stadium.

Amazingly though, even that worked for me. There was more camaraderie and more closeness among both friends and strangers ... and believe me, that's a wonderful factor during some of the events when the crowd actually participate with the performers, as in call-and-response when the Calypsonians are singing (we'll get to that later).

Oh, amazing carnival. I can still close my eyes and and get a clear image of me at the stadium heading up into the stands for an evening of fun, ready to whoop and holler at the hilarious, the intriguing, and yes, the bawdy ... with my fried chicken leg in one hand, and my Red Stripe in the other.
The adventures ... and misadventures of a city slicker turned mellow islander.