Address by Her Excellency Mrs Reema Carmona at the 60th Anniversary and Media Launch of The Red Cross 2016 Carnival Launch

Her Excellency Reema Carmona, as a Patron of the Red Cross Society, delivered the feature address at the 60th Anniversary and Media Launch of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Children’s Carnival at the VIP Room of the Hasley Crawford Stadium on January 6, 2016.

Sixty (60) years of Children’s Carnival is no mean feat and is indeed, an unrivalled legacy of cultural vision in action. There is no better way to celebrate this milestone by this year’s motif of Children’s Carnival, “The Greatest Children’s Show on Earth.” The Red Cross Children’s Carnival Committee has been the mainstay and pivot of Children’s Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago and we owe them a debt of profound gratitude, for not only keeping this spectacle alive but also raising the bar with every passing year.  As we celebrate this Diamond Jubilee of the Red Cross Carnival Committee, it is important to keep to the forefront of our minds, the stellar contribution this organisation is making, to mould the tone, originality, and vivacity of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, both now, and for many years to come. As an organization, you have been resolute and uncompromising in your quest to ensure that the Children’s Carnival environment, best portray and demonstrate a package of creativity, artistry, innovation and originality, supported by enforceable standards of conduct and rules set by the Red Cross Children’s Carnival Committee.

The dynamism found in the Children’s Mas industry is inspirational. It is often the result of unbridled enthusiasm and excitement, by stakeholders, teachers, family members and Mas producers who make personal, unpaid sacrifices working for long hours throughout the night, sewing, wire bending and engaging in artful creations. I am not patronising you all. His Excellency’s aunt and her friends are examples of what I speak about. Aunty Babsie Figueira, for some 20 years, is in Belmont with friends of hers every Carnival season. She, over the age of 80, sewing and preparing children Mas costumes for the Children’s Carnival bands and every time my husband, His Excellency, tells her, that she is getting on in age, and should consider retiring, her constant response is, (and I quote) “We don’t make money, it is not about the money, it is about the children.” That commitment (to the children) resonates among many of us here today and many of the children Mas producers. This is not to belie or trivialise the economics of the children’s Mas industry.

It is a fact that the Children’s Mas industry, genuinely fills employment gaps by creating employment opportunities for many artisans, wire benders, caterers and seamstresses. Apart from this, it also affords us genuine possibilities in nurturing and encouraging what I would term, ‘Real Mas’. Children’s Mas is a veritable storyteller in form and substance and it often tells a human and environmental story that adult Mas rarely do. In that regard, it reminds us of what Mas is and really should be, either a human tale, an animal tale, a historical tale or a literary tale, a tale that luxuriates and feeds the imagination from the sublime to the ridiculous, and those great themes are still to be found in Children’s Mas and it therefore represents great hope for the future of ‘Real Mas’ in Trinidad and Tobago. The producers of children’s Mas, create wonderful magic in the lives of both adults and children at Carnival time and I pray, that you do not fall victim to economic pragmatism, wholesale copying of Mas from outside and a lack of imagination. Children’s Mas helps to safeguard the creativity and originality of our Mas. We must believe in ourselves because our Mas is the best and we must not become second to anyone in the art of making costumes or our originality, innovation and artistry.

Carnival, with its inherent energy, has always offered us endless possibilities and we have often dropped the baton in tapping in to such possibilities. We are experiencing a downturn in our economy and this must not lead to a downturn in the quality of our Mas because we have the creativity and innovative acumen to ensure, that it simply does not, and will not happen. The downturn in our economy could further be made into an upturn. It is common knowledge that before Carnival, many adult Mas costumes are imported either fully or partly constructed. The Children’s Mas industry is often a good example of making do with what you have. There is however, a wider issue and we must engage more comprehensively in the economics of mas. We need to start creating and manufacturing our own artificial feathers, head pieces, beads, glitter and costumes. We simply have been talking about it too long. We need to and can create a manufacturing industry that provides for Mas exclusively in Trinidad and Tobago and worldwide. It is a copout, to resile to tired explanations and platitudes that we always need foreign material and input to produce our costumes. The artificial feather, glitter and beads have always been constant staples in our Mas culture yet we do not have factories producing these items for Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean region and the world. Think of the foreign exchange this would generate and the consequent employment. Millions of dollars are spent yearly importing these items. This is not rocket science advice. For example, why can’t we produce Mas footwear with our own Trinbago brand suited to our climate and the requirements of Mas rather than buying these boots and runners outside of Trinidad and Tobago? Can we not collaborate and partner with international brand names/designers to produce defining singular Mas footwear exclusively for Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and the world? Simply put, we need to take control of our Mas and Carnival in real terms.

I have noticed that DJs are used to accompany Children’s Mas Parade and I am not against DJs, but can’t we have Steel Bands and even Tassa bands playing music during those parades? We must perpetuate and cement the identity of Pan and even Tassa in the psyche of our children as belonging to us because culture and the appreciation of our culture can be shaped by our indigenous rhythms and music.

A period of sixty (60) years of positively contributing to our nation’s development, enhancing our society and molding the minds of our youth, is truly worthy of celebration and commendation. The street theatre of Children’s Mas displayed on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago, offers a variety of benefits, both socially and economically, and holistically allows us to have a constant reminder annually of what is truly Trinidad and Tobago. The cultural heritage of the Red Cross Children’s Carnival as displayed by the parade evokes a deep sense of National pride, unity, cohesion and togetherness.

I wish to implore the members of corporate Trinidad and Tobago, to continue supporting this cultural initiative by the Red Cross Society.  Your involvement in the success of this signature event, ensures the trans-generational passage of our own cultural products. I also wish to commend the media on the extensive coverage over the years of Children’s Mas, showcasing to the Nation and now even the world, the singular spectacle that is T&T Children’s Mas and Carnival and encourage you to continue lending your sterling support.

‘Real Mas’, with its magnificence and beauty, is a tantalizing and mesmerizing phenomenon. Seeing our children dressed in manifestations of our cultural products and symbols, brings us a sense of relief that Children’s Carnival and Mas are still portrayed with tradition, depth and a sense of history. Every one of us, I am sure, celebrates the magic of Children’s Mas and when we all see those glorious costumes, passing on the big stage, the big broad smiles of children, the vitality, the myriad colours and costumes of great splendor, it brings to mind, words from that classic song by our great Calypsonian Lord Kitchener, and I quote,

“Mama this is Mas,
I say, is Mas of class.”

As the Patron of this good and honourable organization, I stand before you proud of the invaluable and indispensable contribution of the Red Cross Society to this great Nation. Congratulations on your 60th Anniversary and I wish you all the success in the years to come and do have a safe and wonderful Carnival 2016.

I thank you.