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A Tobago festivals calendar for 2017

Etienne Charles performs at the Tobago Jazz Experience. Photo courtesy Toucan/THA

Etienne Charles performs at the Tobago Jazz Experience. Photo courtesy Toucan/THA

In alphabetical order, here are some of the island’s most treasured festivals. For a full 2017 calendar of events, click here.

Blue Food Festival

Dasheen and other root crops take centre stage each October, as the villages of Bloody Bay, L’Anse Fourmi, and Parlatuvier on the northeast coast pay homage to the versatility and utility of “blue food”. What is blue food? Some varieties of dasheen can turn blue or indigo when cooked, hence the term — which now is used to describe all root crops, including sweet potato, cassava, and yam. During this Blue Food Festival, all of the dasheen plant is used to prepare a range of items — bread, cookies and sweets, ice-cream, and even lasagne! A culinary competition and cultural shows are also highlights of the festival.

Carnival

The Tobago Carnival pre-season kicks off early, before Christmas, with a launch featuring a street parade in Scarborough of traditional mas characters (including speech bands — a cast of costumed characters who speechify in rhyme).

The first party is the Soca Spree, typically with Machel Montano as the headline act, followed by events like Soca Under the Samaan Tree; the Tobago House of Assembly’s Inter-department Queen and Calypso Show; and the Roxborough Afro-Queen & Windward Calypso Show. If nothing else, once you’re in town long enough, make sure to visit the panyards of Tobago’s top steelbands, like Dixieland, Redemption Sound Setters, and Katzenjammers.

Come J’ouvert (very early Carnival Monday morning) in Scarborough, mud mas is the focal point. The mud is said to be therapeutic for the skin, as no doubt is taking a refreshing dip in the ocean after to cool and wash off! Later in the day and on Tuesday, “ole mas” and costumed bands take over the streets of Scarborough and Roxborough.

Meet Linda MacArthur “Calypso Rose” Lewis

Born in Bethel, the first woman to win the national Road March title in 1977 (“Tempo”) and 1978 (“Soca Jam”), forcing the Calypso King competition to be renamed Calypso Monarch when she danced away with the 1978 crown. In 2016, she was also named Artist of the Year at the prestigious World Music Expo (WOMEX) in Spain. A documentary film has been made about her: Calypso Rose: Lioness of the Jungle.

Carnival Regatta

Held at Pigeon Point Heritage Park near to Carnival (typically February), it’s also known as the “festival of wind”. It is a combination of four sailing categories: Optimists and Bum Boat sailing, as well as the more dynamic Windsurf and Kite Surfing classes.

Culinary Festival

Each May/June at the Pigeon Point Heritage Park, this free event offers up dishes and signature cocktails from around the world, especially those native to Tobago. The island’s best chefs, cooks, and bartenders demonstrate their skills in culinary and mixology contests. You are invited to sample all!

Dragon Boat Festival

Each year on a weekend in mid-June at Pigeon Point, senior and junior teams from both islands compete for dragon-boating supremacy. As with most events on the island, count on good food and music.

Fisherman’s Festivals

Fisherman’s festivals take place in the coastal villages during the year, with the most significant on St Peter’s Day (29 June); he’s the patron saint of fishermen. Like the harvest festivals, they begin with church services in the morning and end with eating, drinking, and partying into the night. The biggest celebration takes place at Charlotteville’s Man-o’-War Bay, with smaller festivities taking place up and down the coast. Visitors are always welcome!

Goat racing is popular at Great Fete as well. Photo by Stephen Broadbridge

Goat racing is popular at Great Fete as well. Photo by Stephen Broadbridge

Goat & Crab Racing Festival

Each Easter, Buccoo hosts the Family Day and Goat & Crab Races. The animals hurtle down a special 110m (160ft) track to the finish line, hustled on by barefoot “jockeys” who sprint behind their charges, holding the colourfully attired goats on long ropes, and the crabs on short strings. The showdown happens each Easter Monday and Tuesday at Mt Pleasant, as well as Buccoo (the main location). There’s a repeat later in the year at the Heritage Festival.

Very special goats

Alpines, Toggenburgs and Saanens are the types of goats raced each year. To prepare for the events, they are given special diets (oats, vitamins, pigeon peas for iron) and months of training; stamina is built by taking the goats swimming.

Great Fete

Originally tied to the Great Race festivities (see below), Great Fete Weekend (July/August) is now a separate five-day beach party at Store Bay, Pigeon Point, and Mt Irvine that attracts Trinidadians to Tobago in droves.

Great Race

First held in 1969, each August this speed-boat race of about 185km (115 miles) starts at the Port of Spain waterfront early in the morning and ends in Scarborough, Tobago two to three hours later. Naturally, a rollicking beach party ensues — and is yet another excuse for Trinidadians to flock to Tobago.

Harvest Festivals

One Sunday each month, one or more villages in Tobago host a Harvest Festival. Once an annual thanksgiving for the year’s harvest, in many ways these vibrant celebrations are the core of community life. Days begin with church services, followed by preparing and feasting on delicious local dishes.

Heritage Festival

Running from mid-July to Emancipation Day (1 August), this is one of the biggest events on Tobago’s calendar. Celebrating 30 years in 2017, its mandate is the preservation and celebration of Tobago’s folk traditions and culture. Each year there is a new theme. The festival takes you from village to village each evening, with communities showcasing dance, drama, music, and culinary traditions. Drag yuh bow, Mista Fiddla!

Signature presentations include:

  • the Ole Time Tobago Wedding in Moriah, featuring groom in stovepipe hat and tailcoat and bride with trousseau on head, processing slowly with the distinctive three-step “brush back”
  • Folk Tales & Superstitions in Golden Lane and Les Coteaux — learn about the Les Coteaux jumbie, and about Gang Gang Sara and the Witch’s Grave in Golden Lane
  • the Plymouth Ole Time Carnival, featuring African stick-fighting and a cast of masquerade characters, Ju Ju warriors, Jab Jabs, and devils
  • the Pembroke Salaka Feast, which also features African-derived sacred dances (like the reel, jig, and salaka) which are indigenous to the area.

Jazz Experience

Each April, jazz is everywhere in Tobago: on the beach, in bars and lounges, in parks, all around. Speyside, Signal Hill, Scarborough, Castara, and Pigeon Point are key venues, some of which host free events. Showcasing some of the best in local and regional jazz, soca and world music talents, alongside pop, R&B, hip-hop, soca, and soul stars from around the world, the Jazz Experience is normally held during the last week of April. Previous stagings have attracted headliners like John Legend, Jill Scott, Jennifer Hudson, Kool & the Gang, Angie Stone, Janelle Monae, Chaka Khan, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige, Sting, Diana Ross, Erykah Badu, India.Arie, George Benson, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell.

By 

A team of of writers discovering Trinidad & Tobago for 25 years and counting!

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