History of Carifesta

Carifesta is for and about the people of this region; the ‘folk’ who remain the foundation and the driving forces of our collective nations. These are the unsung ones, who remember the solid values, the respect, the honesty and the simplicity. They make it their purpose, their raison d’etre to behave as true elders do, and bestow their knowledge and experience on the younger ones. As such, every time this region holds a Carifesta it is deepening its commitment to its people and reaffirming its understanding of the value and power of our collective cultures.

The Carifesta celebrations which we are about to enjoy, first took place in this post-independence format in Guyana in 1972. However, the very first celebration of Caribbean Arts had taken place twenty years prior in Puerto Rico in 1952. Only Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were represented from among the then British Caribbean Colonies. The possibility of a regional federation in the late 50’s, spawned another festival hosted by the University of the West Indies, Trinidad campus. Unfortunately, the non-starter Federation project also meant the demise of any region-wide idea of cultural sharing. The celebrations which were held to commemorate the independence and republic status of Guyana between the latter part of the 1960s into the early ‘70s, led to a great deal of discussion among the artistes who were involved. Critical to this discussion were two of the region’s most senior artists, novelist George Lamming and acclaimed Guyanese poet, Martin Carter. The then Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham supported the idea of a new Caribbean Arts Festival and offered to host the event; and so, Carifesta as we know it, was born.

That first Carifesta in Guyana lasted for three weeks. The next Carifesta was held in Jamaica in 1976 and lasted eleven days, while the third took place in Cuba in 1979 and lasted for two weeks. Carifesta was not held for eleven years after this, though it resumed in Barbados in 1981. Since then the festival has been held fairly regularly.

It is important to understand that though we look forward to the ‘celebration’ of ourselves, this regular coming together of well established and up-and-coming artistes and performers of the Caribbean is important for our own development as a regional force and presence. It is indeed unfortunate that we remain so isolated from each other, and are still strangers in our own archipelago. These cultural interminglings and exchanges are meant to break down some of the knowledge and information barriers and open us up to ourselves.

The two Carifestas held in Trinidad and Tobago have widely been acknowledged as two of the most exciting. In fact, the concept of the Community Festival began out of the T&T experience, marshalled by the ultimate community activist, John Cupid. These Carifesta ‘generalled’ by Lester Efebo Wilkinson and Alfred Aguiton were ably assisted by the insights of Earl Lovelace and the hard work of people such as Janet Stanley Marcano, Eric Butler, Clarence Moe and a host of cultural workers and ambassadors.

The artistry of Carifesta is further supported by the Symposia which take place as part of the celebrations. Indeed it is in Trinidad and Tobago that Symposia became the central force in “introducing new topics, perspectives and outlining strategies for the future”, to quote former Symposia Director, Poet Laureate of Port of Spain, Eintou Pearl Springer. She further describes the symposia component as ‘the intellectual womb, creative crucible, catalyst for vision’.

These fora for discussion and recommendations have been led by some of the most significant minds in the region – Professor Kamau Braithwaite of Barbados, Ravi Dev of Guyana, Dr. Maureen Warner-Lewis of Trinidad and Tobago, George Lamming, world renowned Caribbean author and intellectual, Dr. Joseph Palacio of the Garifuna people of Belize and Professor Rex Nettleford, founder of the Jamaican Dance Company – to name a few.

For Carifesta 2006, the youth component of Carifesta will include Symposia as well, incorporating such topics of regional interest and concern as HIV/AIDS, cultural identity and preservation of indigenous traditions. For the first time too, school children will play an active role in the continued evolution of the festival, important for deepening the experience and relevance of Carifesta. At this stage in the evolution of the Caribbean, the pressures of existing in the global economic system, increasing demands on the average family and heads of households and the need to keep the region viable amidst all its challenges, make it even more difficult for Caribbean people to articulate a common vision.

Carifesta affords us with an opportunity to not just look at ourselves, but create another level of development that is set apart from the political directorates of the region. The words of Carol Lawes in the last century are still apt:

“We must use the impetus of Carifesta to form the basis of regional organisations of dancers, of theatre artists, of visual artist, to provide support for each other in a consistent manner … and encourage young people to develop their talents and foster their own sense of “Caribbeanness”.

The truth is, we already know what needs to be done. The test will come in whether we can actually make the vision come to fruition.

Objectives of Carifesta

  • Reaffirm the importance of the arts as a unifying force in building a wholesome society
  • Deepen awareness and knowledge among peoples of the Caribbean Region of the cultural aspirations of their neighbours by exposing them to each other’s culture through creative activity
  • Develop the content of our regional culture as well as its aesthetic forms
  • Foster maximum people participation in the culture and in the arts of the region
  • Inspire organisation of on-going activities such as local festivals, thus constantly improving standards

Courtesy Carifesta Trinidad and Tobago Committee
Dara Healy (darahealy@yahoo.co.uk)
http://www.lacult.org/lacult_en/docc/Carifesta3_history_Ing.doc

Themes of the previous Carifestas

I – The Artist in Society with Special Reference to the Third World
II – A Hallmark of Cultural Extravagance
III – A Rainbow of Peoples Under One Caribbean Sun
IV – Living Images of the Sun
V – Together is Strength
VI – The World’s Best Cultural Mix
VII – Caribbean Arts and Culture…Reflecting, Consolidating, Moving On
VIII – Many Cultures: The Essence of Togetherness of;The Spirit of the Caribbean.
IX – Celebrating our People, Contesting the World Stage