Carnival and culture - Unless you become like little children
Our late, great pope Blessed John Paul II made an incredible statement in his book about his vision for marriage and the family called The Splendour of Love. He said “The driving force which shapes history is not politics, or economics or military might. It is culture” (SL, 346).
I find this a fascinating statement, which immediately buzzed around in my head and could find no place else to rest, but on the issue of Carnival and my experience of it. I firmly believe that Carnival is not “bad”, but that people do a lot of “bad” things at Carnival time. I don’t think that their “bad behaviour” can be objectively transferred to this event, as it is not Carnival that causes them to choose such behaviour. The whole debate about whether it is part of our culture or not is moot for me, because it became a part of my life from birth.
I grew up in a family where Carnival was a big thing. Each year I looked forward to Carnival with mounting excitement and eager anticipation of the days when we would go out onto the streets and jump up and celebrate. I am not much of a drinker, and have never been physically able to “wine down to the ground” as I lack such balance and flexibility. When I got married, my husband was averse to crowds and the excessive heat so we have more or less stayed away from downtown since then. I still miss that excitement sometimes.
I was in support of the efforts of the “Catholic Band”, readily giving my opinion to all who asked, my support being a surprise to some non-Catholics. I did not play in the band, as I didn’t think I could still have that kind of stamina.
My uncle, who was visiting from Canada, encouraged us to come to the Children’s Carnival on the Saturday, as he had helped make costumes for one of the bands. I was so happy that I went.
Children’s Carnival is a joy to behold. The costumes are fantastic and the energy of the children and their unfading excitement and eagerness to cross the stage is quite refreshing. I stood at the top of Frederick St at the entrance to the Savannah for about two – three hours and what I saw gave me hope: joy, excitement, tiredness with no complaint or whining; enormous support from parents and teachers alike; even a Religious Sister in habit, with three little ones in tow, gently offering them water to drink and a treat of iced lollies. The DJs were constantly encouraging the children and all seemed to be safe and orderly. For the whole time I stood there I only witnessed one child trying to “put down a wine” as people would say. Everyone else was jumping up and having great fun.
So what does this have to do with John Paul’s statement? Well, at first glance it would seem that the history of Trinidad and Tobago, especially our future history, would be shaped by our culture. We have become famous for our excessive Internet hits for pornography and for the scandalous behaviour and debauchery (as one media house put it) that prevail at Carnival time. Will we sit by and let this be the final word?
The Church teaches us in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes #58 that, “The Gospel of Christ constantly renews the life and culture of fallen man; it combats and removes the errors and evils resulting from the permanent allurement of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of peoples. By riches coming from above, it makes fruitful, as it were from within, the spiritual qualities and traditions of every people and of every age. It strengthens, perfects and restores them in Christ. Thus the Church, in the very fulfilment of her own function stimulates and advances human and civic culture; by her action, also by her liturgy, she leads men toward interior liberty.” And also in the Catechism, CCC 1917 “It is incumbent on those who exercise authority to strengthen the values that inspire the confidence of the members of the group and encourage them to put themselves at the service of others. Participation begins with education and culture. One is entitled to think that the future of humanity is in the hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for life and optimism."
These words seem to confer a duty on us all to plant the truth of the Gospel deep in our hearts, to live this in our daily lives and search for ways to educate ourselves and those around us so that our culture will be transformed. Carnival has become too much a part of who we are as a people to hide from it, or even worse, to think that it is bigger than Christ himself.
I urge us all to believe in the power of Christ’s Gospel of Good News. Make a better name for T&T. Live a better way every day. Don’t let the behaviour of others be all that we have to offer. Offer ourselves.