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The world ends at Carnival

MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, February 11 2013

Long time Carnival season began on January 7. It followed Christmas. The taking down of Christmas decorations on January 6 ensured that no one would be busied from that house in the New Year.

The All Saints Epiphany candle lit procession through the streets, assured us that Christmas was over. The Carnival Season could begin. So could the warnings. They came from a consortium of Ministers and Pastors, ie from Adventists, “Small Churches”, Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists. Jehovahs were yet to burst on the scene. Pentecostals were cantoned in Gallus Street. The solemn warning was that the world would end at Carnival. The Lord would descend to divide the sheep from the goats. The goats would be sent to burn in hell fires (we were yet to have that fashion bequeathed to us by Eric Williams, ie the crematorium), the sheep would be taken up into a heaven of milk and honey.

The goats were those who “played mas”. Those days are far away from our own. Then, the only tangible sins within Carnival were for the Consortium of Doomsdayers low class calypso tents forbidden to decent women, drinking rum in the streets, wearing a mask or playing mas’. The mask was not only of Carnival. It was, like women talking politics, a class symbol. Upper class women wore dominoes, went around on trucks or in roped-around bands and threw confetti at the crowds.

The working class wore full masks, usually very pink and very false. The middle class wore neither. They were as ambiguous about their women playing “pretty, pretty mas” as they were over living in Woodbrook or Newtown. The Dominoes were usually subject to Finbar Ryan’s razor tongue and lived in St Clair.

Hitler’s Moustache

The Second World War undermined what became known as “traditional’ mas’, although we didn’t realise it at the time. There was no Carnival during the war years. We celebrated the victory over Germany as our own victory over those who wished that the Carnival was ended forever. We wanted Hitler’s moustache. We wanted it to order. That last was a veiled obscenity in the way that it was done in the calypsos of the time and we damned Mary Ann down by the seaside. Half of Woodbrook claimed that they knew who she was. The few hours’ colonial notice that we could celebrate by “playin’ we mas” left no time to prepare pretty, pretty mas’. For the first time, with a cacophony of noise, the pans hit the road. A certain world had ended. The transition to a new world had begun although we didn’t know it then. We only knew that it was the time of Sparrow, of Carlisle Chang, of Saldenah, McWilliams, Bailey and Strasser’s “Penny”. The New World was there as the Savannah became the judging centre, ushering in mammoth bands which could be major commercial ventures. It was this commercialisation of pretty, pretty mas’ which had within it the bikini and beads. As early as the late 1970’s, even as Vietnam raged and Chile exploded, it was whispered that Kitchener did not permit anti-American calypsos in his tent. It was the beginning of today’s calypso decline. Today, calypso writers are not always calypso singers. Most tents are now subsidised by Government. It is a long way from Carnival, the Popular Culture, when kings and queens came alive, we thumbed our noses at power and lampooned a Tall Tall Governor. Yes, it is the End Times. The time when Mammon takes over and the popular culture becomes spectacle for tourists.

Apocalype Now

It is there throughout history: those to whom the revelation of the future granted to St John at Patmos is not for the “perhaps” nor never-never, but for the immediate and often dated. We have had years of expectation of the End: we were living in the End days with wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, pitching stars and sins never heard of. Few countries have had reason to believe in the End as has our own.

It is within this background that the rumour that the world would end on December 21, 2012 took off and travelled around the world. It began as a book: The Maya Factor, written by José Argüelles, a fervent New Age believer, ecologist convinced from certain calculations on the Mayan Calendar that December 21, 2012 would mark the end of this materialist world. His prophecy was enriched by revelations from the Bible and the Koran, travelling around the world first class thanks to blogs, e-mails and satellites. Well, he died nearly a year ago, the world did not end on December 21, last. With Carnival today and tomorrow, we can comfort ourselves with the words of Our Lord: You do not know the time when — only the Father knows.

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