Top Image: Phagwa.Photo: Maria Nunes
Whether you are able to experience the serenity of the smoke ceremony and feast on freshly baked cassava bread at one of the oldest celebrations on the isle, the Santa Rosa Carib Festival; or bathe in a wash of pink, purple and blue abeer at Phagwa; or watch men ‘dance the moon ‘ in the streets of St James at Hosay; Trinidad is a land of mystical celebration in the streets, parks and homes and all are welcome.
One of the ancient religious traditions brought to our shores by indentured labourers from India, who came to work on sugar cane plantations in colonial times, Ramleela, portrays Rama’s life on earth through a dramatic play. Rama, an incarnation of the Lord, is a major deity in Hinduism and Ramleela takes the story from the Ramayan, a Hindu text. Like many of the celebrations on the islands, Ramleela brings communities together, regardless of religious affinity, as many help to create props, costumes and sets for the play, which takes place three weeks before Divali. Majestic, colourful costumes are donned by actors who maintain a strict fast for the religious ten-day event. During Ramleela, the drama unfolds in communities throughout the country, culminating with a highly anticipated event – the destruction of Ravana, the evil king, through the burning of a monumental effigy. The destruction by fire represents the triumph of good over evil.
Phagwa or Holi
Today, the Hindu festival of Phagwa or Holi is celebrated by all, as Chotwal groups go from community to community sharing their songs, and celebrants joyfully spray each other with the colourful dye known as abeer. This festival of purification and fertility marks the downfall of the evil king, Hiranyakashipu, and his sister, Holika and the coming of spring. Join in the celebrations, but be sure to wear old clothing since you will certainly be drenched with the colours of Phagwa.
Date: Held over the first 10 days of the month of Jyeshtha (in June).
Today, the world’s oldest river festival is still celebrated at the Marianne River in Blanchisseuse, Arima. The river is said to have been consecrated by water and dust from over 2000 holy rivers and revered places in India. If you decide to join in the celebrations, wear white or yellow and take along coconut husk aarti boats. The pilgrimage to the river, celebrating the descent of Ganga to earth, involves thousands of devotees performing puja (prayers) and offerings. A murti (clay model) of the goddess Ganga is also immersed in the waters of the river.
Date: During the Hindu month of Bhado – usually between the months of August and September (depending on the moon)
Celebrated throughout the diaspora, Danesh Utsav has grown tremendously. Celebrated at many temples, not only in the South of Trinidad, but throughout the island, celebrating Lord Ganesha’s birthday which ends with the visarjan (immersion) of a massive murti (clay model) in rivers and seas. You can witness this at beaches across the island, including Manzanilla, Tyrico, Mayaro and several rivers.
Date: Usually celebrated in October or November
Known as the festival of lights, thousands of deyas (clay pots) are lit with the traditional oil and wick but the Hindu festival also features wax deyas and electrical lights. The community spirit is still present as many non-Hindus join in the welcoming of Mother Lakshmi into their homes, recognizing the conquest of good over evil, light over darkness, with puja (prayer) after fasting.
Ramadhan and Eid-Ul-Fitr
Date: Ramadhan falls within the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
The month in which the Holy Quran was revealed to the holy Prophet Muhammad by Angel Gabriel is celebrated by Muslims throughout the world. Locally, Muslims maintain a strict fast throughout the month of Ramadhan and at the end, await the sighting of the moon for Eid-ul-Fitr to be declared. On the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, mosques or Muslim homes welcome friends and family to celebrate the day.
Date: celebrated every year on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, which is a month on the lunar calendar.
Eid-ul-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, marks the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim (Father Abraham to Christians) to sacrifice his beloved son, Ismaeel, in obedience to the will of God. The sacrifice made by Muslims on this day is all in the emulation of Ibrahim’s willingness to end the life of his son for Allah. The meat of sheep, goats and cows are cooked and the meals shared with family, friends, and the less fortunate.
Date: Celebrated in the Muhurram month of the Muslim calendar, 10 days after the appearance of the new moon.
You may have known Hosay to be a Muslim festival but it is important to note that it was originally performed only by the Shiites (a Muslim sect) and has changed in tone and scope over the years. Many of the events take place not only in St. James, but also in Cedros and Tunapuna. Geared towards honouring brothers Hosein and Hassan (the grandsons of Prophet Muhammad) who were murdered, the festival has maintained its structure of flag night, Small Tadjah night and Big Tadjah Night.
Major events on the Christian calendar include Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, and Corpus Christi. Some of these are observed by various churches and are even celebrated through street parades. A true Trinidadian Christmas must include the musical tradition of Parang, traditional foods including Ponche-a-Crème, Garlic Pork and Pastelles, as well as gatherings after midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
St Peter’s Day
St Peter, the Roman Catholic patron saint of fishermen, is worshipped throughout seaside villages from Chaguaramas to Cedros and Moruga. The Carenage RC Church and community host an annual procession to the seaside, accompanied by the steel pan, where the fishermen’s boats are then blessed by priest.
La Divina Pastora / Sopari Mai
Siparia comes alive on Holy Thursday as thousands flock to the renowned La Divina Pastora Church, home of the precious statue. Today, La Divina Pastora is a multi-religious celebration for Roman Catholics, Hindus, Orishas and the First Nations People. It is said that she performs miracles and grants wishes to the less fortunate. From Holy Thursday to Good Friday, vendors line the streets selling their goods and the less fortunate line the compound of the La Divina Pastora RC School (located next to the church) to receive alms from the thousands who make the pilgrimage to receive the saint’s blessings. On the third Sunday after Easter, the Festival of La Divina Pastora is marked with a grand procession.
T&T’s Emancipation Day continues to grow in size and popularity, featuring lectures, workshops, concerts that are mostly concentrated around the LidjYasu Omowale Emancipation Village in the Queen’s Park Savannah. This usually begins days before the official holiday. Thousands gather on this auspicious day in T&T’s history for the Canboulay procession through the streets of the nation’s capital, Port of Spain. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade can be considered one of the greatest tragedies in human history. In 1985, Trinidad and Tobago became the first country in the world to commemorate the abolition of slavery, choosing August 1st as the date in recognition of the August 1st, 1834 enactment of the British Emancipation Act.
First Peoples Heritage Celebrations
Every October a week of festivities showcase the First People’s culture as they also embark on educating other citizens on their legacy. A trip to Arima, an Amerindian stronghold, is where you can see the smoke ceremony, performed by a shaman at the base of the statue of Hyarima, a venerated chieftain, as they honour the ancestors and the earth through prayers and song. A procession is then led through the streets by Amerindian royalty, dressed in full regalia. You can join in as feasting and celebration follows.
After centuries of African enslavement and religious persecution, those of the Orisha faith can now openly celebrate. The Ile Ijosin Otura Meji Awon Osun organizes the annual festival where sacred rituals are performed. As the spirits of the ancestors manifest through the Egungun, performers are attired in robes and masks; a lively street procession follows with dancers, drummers and singers.
Spiritual Shouter Baptist
Date: Mon, 30 March 2020
The Spiritual Shouter Baptists were banned from practising their religion in Trinidad from 1917 to 1951 by the Colonial government. Forcing the Baptists to meet in secrecy in hideaways at odd hours to practise their religion. In the 1920s and 1930s, their fight was gaining strength and leaders including iconic labour unionist, Tubal Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler came forth. March 30th, 1951 Grenadian-born Elton George Griffith worked long and hard to have the Prohibition Ordinance repealed. In the year 1996, the Spiritual Shouter Baptists were granted an annual public holiday. Today, Baptists in T&T celebrate their religion on this day.