In alphabetical order, here are some of the island’s most treasured festivals. For a full 2017 calendar of events, click here.
Bocas Lit Fest
The five-day Trinidad & Tobago Literary Festival brings together readers, writers, poets, and publishers from the Caribbean diaspora each April for book launches, discussions, performances, readings, workshops, and the presentation of annual prizes for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Outreach events continue through the year, both at home and at overseas book festivals. bocaslitfest.com
The Carnival season is massive (from just after Christmas until the end of February in 2017) — like one very large buffet. You can sample all of it over multiple courses; just some of it, by confining yourself to a few things which appeal to you; or none at all (which means leaving the restaurant altogether, to keep the analogy going). And it’s too much to cover here, which is why we have a whole separate article introducing you to Trinidad Carnival 2017. Play yuhself!
The public holiday is celebrated on 1 August to commemorate the end of slavery in the British colonies (1838), but events take place before and after the big day. Enjoy art exhibitions, film screenings, lectures, performances (music, dance, and theatre), religious observances, trade shows, and a vibrant street procession. The Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village at the Queen’s Park Savannah is the centre of the activities. Emancipation Support Committee: emancipationtt.com, 628-5008
This Trinidadian incarnation of Islamic Muharram observances takes place over three nights (Flag Night, Small Hosay, Big Hosay). The festival commemorates the martyrdom of Hussain (the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, from whom the festival’s name comes), and the later murder of his brother Hassan. In a lively procession on the final day, ornate tadjahs (replicas of Hussain’s tomb) are first carried through the street, then cast into the sea. St James is perhaps the most popular venue for Hosay observances, but festivities also take place in Cedros, Couva, Curepe, and Tunapuna. The date varies each year according to the moon, but is expected to fall in October for 2017.
Indian Arrival Day
This national public holiday (30 May) commemorates the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India on the Fatel Razack in 1845. More than 140,000 Indians were recruited over the next 70 years to work Trinidad’s plantations after Emancipation (1838). Communities re-enact the arrival of this first group on beaches around the country. There are also awards ceremonies; cultural shows and performances; religious services; and more. The Divali Nagar site just outside Chaguanas hosts many of the key celebrations. National Council of Indian Culture: ncictt.com, 671-6242
La Divina Pastora & Siparee Mai
In a church of the same name in Siparia stands a dark-skinned statue of the Virgin Mary as La Divina Pastora (the Divine Shepherdess). Many miracles have been attributed to her by ardent devotees. For her feast day (the third Sunday after Easter), the “Miracle Mother” is decorated by Catholics with flowers, dressed in white, and processed through the streets, followed by celebrations open to all. On the Thursday night and Friday before Easter, Hindu pilgrims visit the church with acts of devotion — recognising her as Siparee/Supari Mai (mother of Siparia), Kali, Durga, and Lakshmi. Most of all, she is just “mother”. The church welcomes all wishing to pay their respects.
Each March, the Hindu community recognises the beginning of the Indian spring and the Hindu New Year in a joyful explosion of colour. Participants — Hindus and non-Hindus alike — spray each other with different shades of the vegetable dye abir. The Aranguez Savannah is a popular venue for this celebration of birth and renewal.
Prime Minister’s Best Village Competition
Culminating each September, this national competition keeps folk traditions alive in local communities as counties vie for various titles. Some of the nation’s finest performing arts professionals make their start here. The competition encompasses indigenous arts and crafts, Carnival traditions, cuisine, dance, drama, folklore and storytelling, music, sports, and the selection of a Best Village Queen, La Reine Rivé.
Ramleela and Divali
Ramleela is a nine-day, outdoor festival dramatising the life of Rama, with colourful costumes … and an explosive finale! The best-known productions are held in Couva and Felicity. Soon after, Hindus honour Mother Lakshmi — goddess of light, beauty, riches and love — and commemorate the return of Lord Rama from exile. The beautiful flickering deyas, which are lit across the country by Hindus and non-Hindus alike for Divali (a public holiday), illuminate his path. Though dates are set according to the moon, celebrations are expected to take place in October for 2017. Many events are held at the Divali Nagar site near Chaguanas.
Santa Rosa Festival and First People’s Heritage Week
With origins in both Trinidad’s First Peoples and Catholic traditions, the Santa Rosa Festival in Arima commemorates the death of Santa Rosa de Lima, the Roman Catholic patron saint of the “New World”. It begins with the firing of a cannon on 1 August from Calvary Hill, and ends with a procession on the Sunday following the feast day of Santa Rosa (23 August). A statue of the saint is carried through the streets by members of the island’s Santa Rosa First Peoples Community (led by the Carib Queen), alongside Roman Catholics. Other observances include sharing traditional Amerindian foods, cultural and spiritual rituals and commemorations, as well as church services. In October, the Community celebrates First Peoples Heritage Week across the country, which includes academic conferences, ritual smoke and water ceremonies, street processions, and other events recognising and celebrating the island’s First Peoples. santarosafirstpeoples.org, 664-1897
Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival (ttff)
Now the second largest of its kind in the region, the ttff showcases a range of dramatic, documentary, short, and animated films from or about Trinidad & Tobago, the Caribbean, and the diaspora. It also hosts educational initiatives and development programmes (like the Caribbean Film Mart and producer’s lab), plus community film screenings all year long. ttfilmfestival.com