St Thomas Carnival a big deal
From the time I arrived at the Cyril E. King International Airport on the island of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands (USVI), it was apparent that it was carnival season. Costumed dancers and stilt walkers were stationed in the arrival hall to get travellers in the mood. This was also the first time that I had heard Do It And Done by Pressure Busspipe.
Carnival is taken very seriously by the people in St Thomas, so seriously that for the climactic weekend most businesses close early because everybody is at one carnival event or another. Carnival spreads over several days and includes the J’Ouvert Tramp and the Children’s Parade and culminates with the Adults’ Parade.
Each night the Carnival Village came alive with actual carnival rides for children, as well as live musical performances well into the night. To keep you going, there were many stalls selling a variety of drinks and local foods.
The Carnival village was big. While it reminded me of Friday nights at Oistins, it is on a much larger scale. There were near 40 stalls selling all manner of food and drinks. The local Cruzan rum held pride of place among the drinks, and the local Johnny cake (very close to a Bajan bake) could be found at almost every stall.
Also available were bowls of goat water – a rich goat stew – fried chicken, fried flying fish, roasted dove (I was not brave enough to try this), conch fritters and souse. The St Thomas version of souse is not quite like souse in Barbados. This souse is served hot, in more of a light broth, but still has the pickled flavour that Bajans are accustomed to.
After spending Friday night exploring the Carnival Village, it was time for the culmination of carnival in the Adults’ Parade held on Saturday.
This was a whole-day party. The first troupes hit the road around 10 a.m. and travelled along Main Street from Western Cemetery all the way to Lionel Roberts Stadium, a distance of just over two kilometres. While this is not the longest distance, the parade made stops at Market Square and Post Office Square for judging, so the whole parade can last anywhere from seven to eight hours.
Ocean inhabitants playing mas together.
This year’s 67th edition of carnival was a riot of colour, and the theme was Culture, Fun and Flair! It’s A Carnival 2019 Affair. A range of fabrics, feathers, beads, madras-clad stilt walkers and choreography, combined to form a cacophony of colour that was truly spectacular.
Much like Grand Kadooment in Barbados, the costumes are a mix of traditional and modern. Troupes like Macislyn Bamboula Dance Company, Eagles Carnival Troupe and Elskoe and Associates flew the flag for more traditional mas. Unlike Barbados, most troupes did not separate their sections so all of the different costumes hit the road together. Eagles’ theme was Under The Sea and their mermaids and mermen, jellyfish, sea urchins, and a remarkable lion fish all played mas together.
Quick trivia: Family-run troupe Elskoe and Associates is one of the pioneering troupes of St Thomas carnival and matriarch Dorothy is still involved today, even at 93 years old.
There was also a contingent from the Dominican Republic on the road, accompanied by a live band providing them with traditional Latin music. It was great to see the troupes being accompanied by bands playing live music and I think that is something we could take on board in Barbados.
One of the standout acts on the road was the Rising Stars steel orchestra. Comprising young people who were having the time of their lives, the band thrilled the crowd with their performances, especially their rendition of Pressure Busspipe’s Do It And Done. While Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin and Skinny Fabulous’ Famalay was played many times on the road, it was Pressure who would eventually win Road march Champion.
Spectators took up every available vantage point.
Infernos Carnival Troupe was one of the bands that had a more modern take on costumes, having more of the feathers, beads and wire bras that are becoming a staple of regional carnivals. This troupe was made up almost entirely of women and they were out to enjoy themselves. In the words of one spectator, “lit is an understatement”.
St Thomas Carnival was a great experience and attracted spectators from mainland United States as well as fellow Virgin Islanders. St John and St Croix have their own carnivals so some people island hop to participate in each one.
So if you are planning a trip to the USVI, make sure you include carnival plans. You will have a great time.
Don’t second-guess like Pressure says: do it and done. (BD)