Barbados Crop Over: A Biased Primer – or – Sex & Rock’n’Roll, Caribbean-Style

Barbados Crop Over: A Biased Primer – or – Sex & Rock’n’Roll, Caribbean-Style

My take-aways from Trinidad Carnival:

First, the Trini people are as spirited a bunch as exist on this planet.  They’re also talented, friendly, and welcoming.

Second, Carnival is primarily for the young – and not just because of the 24/7 adrenalin on tap.  More on this later.

Trinidad Carnival

Trinidad Carnival

No Crying in Beer

While most of the world cries in its beer these days, Trinis dance in the streets.  More than one person told me that February’s paycheck — for those who still get them — went to pay for Carnival costumes, fetes (the parties surrounding Carnival), and a good pair of walking shoes for the street dancing that officially begins at 4am on Monday and ends around midnight on Tuesday.  Of course, hard-core carnivalites begin partying two weeks ahead and then spend the day after its end, Ash Wednesday, recovering at the beach.

I flipped over the color, creativity, and spirit of Trinidad’s Carnival.  These alone made the experience a treat for me. You can see from my photos how much I enjoyed myself.

Sex & Loud Music (and giving away my age by complaining about it)

However, I would have had a better time if my expectations at the outset had been more realistic.   To that end, I submit my own (admittedly, highly subjective) primer for Crop Over or any Carnival celebration in the Caribbean, in the event you’d like to go:

1.  Carnival in Trinidad is the celebration before the 40 days of the self-denial of Lent begins.  Our carnival in Barbados began in the 1780s when Barbados was the world’s biggest sugar producers.  Crop Over celebrates the end of the sugar cane harvest (hence the name) and occurs on the first Monday in August each year.

2.  Barbados’ celebration is a fraction of the size of Trinidad’s. If you’re interested in Trinidad Carnival, you might use Barbados’ as a set of training wheels.

3. The making of costumes is a huge cottage industry.  Sometimes, the basic bikini is imported from China and then decorated. Feathers, beads, sequins, and other decoration are used for elaborate headpieces and gorgeous, if skimpy, costumes and amazing creations that are attached to a person and wheeled along behind.

The beauty of Carnival

The beauty of Carnival

4. Last year, feathers were difficult to get because of the bird flu activity in Asia.  This year feathers were plentiful.

5. Anyone can join a ‘band’ and ‘play mas.’  A band is a group of people all costumed the same way and dancing together in the parade; playing mas is dressing up and dancing in the street – which you do with your band.

6. Joining a band costs around $300US, which includes costume, food, and drink and, I believe, attendance at the band’s ‘fetes,’ or parties.  You can join a band and pay online, offering your dimensions for your costume.  Some bands have thousands of members.  The ‘in’ band in Trinidad this year was called Tribe.

My favorite: Kiddies' Carnival

My favorite: Kiddies' Carnival

7. If you go, attend events such as the King & Queen festival, the steel pan competition, the children’s parade, and other specialty offerings.  These events are lots of fun and a way to appreciate up close the artistry of music and costumes.

8. Be mindful of your safety.  Barbados is far safer than Trinidad in general and certainly during celebrations.  Still, don’t be stupid: leave your jewelry at home; carry little cash; walk in well-lit, peopled areas.

The Sex Part I Alluded To Earlier …

9. ‘Wining’ (rhymes with ‘whining’) or ‘wining up’ (“winding up”) is a highly sexually suggestive movement of a woman’s behind.  It can be done on its own or by grinding their fannies into the crotches of men.  I hold a PhD in human sexuality and even I was amazed by this overt public display of simulation of copulation.

To me, wining is a misguided “I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” expression of sexual power.  True sexual power is that which is not given away to any Tom, Dick, or Harry whose crotch happens by; true sexual power is held in confidant reserve and parceled out. Remember, girls, that which is rare is valued more highly.

Now, the Music Part …

10. Music the bands dance to is sometimes performed by steel pan musicians on huge flatbed trucks that drive along with the revelers. They’re wonderful, but these live musicians are too few.  More often, the flatbed trucks carry speakers blaring recorded ‘soca’ music.  Soca, with its heavy bass beat, (d)evolved from the traditional calypso music I anticipated.

The simplification of melody and lyrics of soca (“Raise your hands, raise your hands, raise your hands, raise your hands, raise your hands, raise your hands, raise your hands, raise your hands” .. you get the idea) is, in my opinion, coarse and a far cry from the cleverness and melodic fun of calypso.

Each island wants its own musical identity.  Calypso originated in Trinidad, reggae originated in Jamaica, and soca is claimed by Barbados.  (By the end of Carnival, I was wishing Frank Sinatra was the music of choice in Barbados.)

Yep, Carnival is primarily for the young.  If the music had been back-to-back calypso or steel pan, I would have stayed up all night.

But then, as with all generations, it’s ultimately the music that separates us, isn’t it? The young partied on into the wee hours, while my husband and I headed out for a blessedly quiet dinner and a good night’s sleep.



5 Responses to “Barbados Crop Over: A Biased Primer – or – Sex & Rock’n’Roll, Caribbean-Style”

  1. Jane I read your piece about wining and discussed it with my partner, he’s Bajan, I’m English. He said it’s all part of the culture and doesn’t automatically assume promiscuity. Having wined with more than a few in his life – he says most of the time you don’t even get a phone number never mind a date/sex! We were in a club last week in Reading UK, where all the Jamaican girls (Engligh born) were dancing clutching their crutches – it must be a new phase – I won’t be joining in!

    xx

  2. planetbarbados says:

    Hahaha … crotch-grabbing?… flashback to Michael Jackson. I wonder if this behavior is similar to wining in that the woman doing it is showing off her powerful sexuality as well as teasing men who bear witness — in effect saying, “I know you want this … ” and, of course, following up with, “Well, you can’t have any…”

    I am not saying the act of wining (or crotch-grabbing) indicates promiscuity, although I can sure see how anyone might assume that it would.

    My point is that public displays of the potency of one’s sexuality are actually not as powerful — or as sexy — as the women who perform them think they are.

    I’m speaking in broad strokes here about sexuality … I’m well aware my arguments would fail to convince a horny man whose, ahem, tongue is hanging out over a wily, wining woman dancing toward him.

  3. Real Bajan says:

    Few comments and corrections on the primer. Glad you had fun at Trini Carnival. I, too have gone and enjoyed myself.

    1) Trini Carnival comes from the Catholic tradition and was brought over by the Grenadians… it is as old as Barbados Crop Over. As such, Grenada Carnival is equally as old; but smaller and much, much lesser known.

    2) Trini Carnival is much times larger because Trinidad, in size and population is much times large.

    3) The real beauty of Trini Carnival is in the Old Mas of the Midnight Robber, Sailor Mas, Bats, Jab Moalssie, etc.. that you wouldn’t find in Tribe.
    (skipping down to number 6…)

    6) I have played Tribe… (best-run large band in my opinion) A Tribe costume will cost you about $600 USD. Next year… who knows. For a new person, it’s worth it for a safe all-inclusive experience, but really way over-priced for what you can get taking in Carnival in a small band.

    (skipping down again… to number 9…)

    9) Winin.. or wukkin up (Baje style), peltin waist, spin pooch… all is an expression of AFRICAN ROOTS to the music. It is NOT about sex– literally. And more times than not, its JUST a dance nothing more. In Barbados, especially, dance is competition, with men as limber as women, waist-wise. It’s about fun, not Women’s Lib.
    Listen to the Might Gabby “Wuk Up” for an understanding. Or watch a few African music videos.

    10) It’s probably good Trinis haven’t read this, LOL. To try to keep it simple, Calypso’s roots are real West Indian. A Mix of African tradition for melody and rhythm with those of the English and French for song composition and even language. Soca, if you believe legend, was invented by Lord Shorty (who became Ras Shorty I) in the 1960s-70s by blending Calypso with Indian rhythms in Trinidad. But, all islands, have different origins for their form of Soca and Calypso… Bajan soca is based on the Tuk Band Tradition that mixes African rhythms with Irish and English drum traditions. So, no, Barbados doesn’t “own” soca.. but we make the best :-D

    Lastly, Carnival is certainly not for the young, as I’ve seen plenty sagaboys on the road Carnival Monday Tuesday and Tanty Eulyns enjoyin the mas :)

    Anyways, glad to see that you enjoyed Trini Carnival and reached back safely. I still prefer Crop Over (for obvious reasons :D) but Trini Carnival will see me again next year. But not for $600 a costume….

  4. planetbarbados says:

    With this fabulous dissertation, Real Bajan, you live up to your name. Thank you. I’ve read through it a number of times, trying to absorb and learn from all you’re telling me. You will be making my experience at Crop Over more enjoyable, having this knowledge.

    Can I ask you a favor? Which soca music would you recommend to a person who felt banged up by soca at Trini’s carnival? Is there any “mellow” soca? Or is it by definition music with a bass beat that can be heard for miles around? I adore Calypso … the fun of it, the cleverness of the lyrics, the social and political commentary. Calypso is smart, a thinking man’s music. The soca I’ve heard drives me to distraction … lyrics consisting of four or five words and a bass beat that would wake the dead. Yet I may be able to learn to appreciate it over time. I’d like to try, if you’d give me a tune or two I might begin with.

    I thank you warmly for your time and the sharing of your knowledge, Real Bajan. Your words were a joy to read.

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