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  • Trinidad Carnival: The Cultural Politics of a Transnational Festival
  • Katherine Borland
Trinidad Carnival: The Cultural Politics of a Transnational Festival. Ed. Garth L. Green and Philip W. Scher. Aft. by Roger Abrahams. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. Pp. vii + 254, acknowledgments, introduction, glossary, works cited, index, contributor list.)

Pan, calypso, soca, 'mas—the central elements of the Carnival in Trinidad have all attracted abundant attention from scholars. In Trinidad Carnival: The Cultural Politics of a Transnational Festival, editors Garth L. Green and Philip W. Scher have gathered a thought-provoking collection of essays that extend our understanding of Trinidadian festivals and festival arts at home and abroad. Emphasizing the particularly forceful way in which local and global histories are intertwined in the Caribbean, the editors identify crisscrossing cultural influences operating between Trinidad Carnival and the related festivals and activities that have emerged wherever large populations of Trinidadians have settled. The strength of the collection is its attention to patterns of outmigration and return, changes in the social identities of revelers, and questions of nationalism, heritage tourism, and commercialization. This collection will be useful to students and scholars interested in the political economy of festival and festival arts.

The introduction provides a brief overview of earlier scholarship on the subject, as well as a succinct and useful history of Carnival in Trinidad from the nineteenth century to the present. The editors conclude that Carnival's current "crisis of authenticity" results not simply from its commodification but more centrally from the nationalist assumption that Carnival constitutes and represents Trinidadian culture. Such an ideology provokes increasing institutionalization, both at home and abroad, making Carnival, as Roger Abrahams notes in his afterword, more an assertion of ethnic pride and identity than a subversive critique of the status quo.

The first three chapters address the changing nature of Trinidadian Carnival and how scholarly perspectives have influenced participants' conceptions of their practice. In chapter 1, Pamela Franco examines the gender bias inherent in definitions of authentic masquerade. She simultaneously identifies men's and women's divergent masquerading preferences and the legacy of post World War II nationalist scholarship, which validated the former as traditional and rendered the latter as inauthentic by comparison. In chapter 2, Patricia Freitas uses self-reflexive techniques to compare the perspectives of "native" and "outsider" scholars of Carnival. Emphasizing the structural advantages that the "outsider" enjoys in the production of anthropological knowledge, Freitas argues for the necessity of promoting the voice of [End Page 335] "native" Trinidadian scholars in a postcolonial anthropology. Green tackles the thorny question of nostalgia for Carnivals past in chapter 3. He argues that differing kinds of nostalgic representations exhibit contrasting politics of memory. Nevertheless, performances that may once have been resistant lose their countercultural power when they become restaged as cultural heritage. In a complex manner, such performances shape Trinidadians' notions of what contemporary Carnival is and is not.

Chapters 4 through 6 examine the influence of transnational Trinidadian communities on Carnival practice at home and abroad. In chapter 4, Scher discusses the formative role of nostalgia in contemporary Carnival. He attributes the recent revival of the 1960s-era steel band and sailor masquerades to returning migrants who restage the Carnival of their youth. State-sponsored nostalgic enactments feed these returnees' longing for wholeness and simultaneously commodify and fetishize particular cultural forms. Lyndon Phillip in chapter 5 explores the diasporic sensibilities of Toronto's Caribanafestival, as they are articulated in the 1997 debate over the appropriateness of featuring big-name, African-American hip-hop artists. Documenting the various stages of festival organization, Phillip identifies ongoing tensions between inclusiveness and insular islandism, and between entrepreneurial development and cultural purity. In chapter 6, Victoria Razak documents a different set of tensions in Aruba's Carnival—those that exist between the socially and economically marginalized British West Indian transplant community who brought Carnival to the island and a native Arubian population who have embraced the festival and nativized its aesthetic. Ultimately, Razak contends that playing Carnival in Aruba provides an opportunity for social integration and belonging.

Chapters 7 through 9 deal specifically with the music of Trinidadian Carnival. In chapter 7, Shannon Dudley examines experimentation in the steel...


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