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Trinidad’s most cherished festivals | Roundtable

In addition to helping our readers find the perfect Carnival itinerary, we talked to our roundtable — Nigel Campbell, Maria Nunes, Penelope Spencer, Franka Philip, Ardene Sirjoo, and Laura Dowrich-Phillips — to learn which of Trinidad’s festivals they recommend everyone experience


NIGEL: Islamophobia is a new wave in Western countries, but in Trinidad, the Muslim remembrance of Muharram, or Hosay, is a celebration that all partake in. The Trinidad version is one of drumming, ornate tadjahs (mosque-shaped model tombs) and dancing of the handcrafted moons, which when observed, primarily in St James, becomes a manifestation of the Caribbean assimilation experience of far-flung peoples. The rhythms echo an African pulse, the detailing of the tadjahs follow a carnival design aesthetic. It is Trinidad from another perspective, and the accompanying food is a small celebration that is recommended at least once.


Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez preparing for the smoke ceremony at the First People's Heritage Week. Photo courtesy Santa Rosa First People's Community

Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez preparing for the smoke ceremony at the First People’s Heritage Week. Photo courtesy Santa Rosa First People’s Community

MARIA: I’d say that everyone should attend the First Peoples Heritage Week activities at least once in their lifetime — the water and smoke ceremonies in Arima, along with the procession around the Red House where the remains of First Peoples ancestors were discovered in 2013. Experiencing parang in Paramin is really special. It’s a place everyone should go at least once. In addition to that:

  • Obatala Festival — January (Ita Oosa, Woodbrook)
  • Annual Ancestral (Egungun) Festival — February (Ile Isokan, Febeau Village, San Juan)
  • Phagwa — February/March (Hindu Prachaar Kendra, Longdenville, and also around the island)
  • Emancipation Day parade — 1 August (Independence Square, Port of Spain)
  • Annual Emancipation Steelband Street Parade — first Saturday in August (Laventille Steelband Festival Foundation, Eastern Main Road, Laventille)
  • Pan on d’ Avenue— August (Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook)
  • First Peoples Heritage Week — October (Santa Rosa, Arima)
  • Divali — November (Felicity, Chaguanas, and around the island)
  • Parang festival — December (Paramin).
A young member of the Laventille rhythm section plays during the Laventille steelband Festival. Photo by Maria Nunes

A young member of the Laventille rhythm section plays during the Laventille steelband Festival. Photo by Maria Nunes


PENNIE: Phagwa is a Hindu festival — our most colourful, fun ritual that takes place in different areas of Trinidad…recommended for the whole family! In Blanchisseuse, we have a new jazz festival (North Coast Jazz) that is gaining steam — lots of local acts in a country setting with plenty local food and craft. Tobago Heritage Festival is very entertaining with lots of colour and culture, storytelling, shows, historical lessons, workshops, and a street parade.

Vaughnette Bigford wows the crowd at North Coast Jazz (Blanchisseuse) last May. Her album, Born to Shine is available at vaughnettebigford.com. Photo by Camille Lowhar

Vaughnette Bigford wows the crowd at North Coast Jazz (Blanchisseuse) last May. Her album, Born to Shine is available at vaughnettebigford.com. Photo by Camille Lowhar


FRANKA & ARDENE: The Divali Nagar hosts events which takes place in the week before Divali; Tobago Heritage Festival; New Fire Festival; Bocas Literary Festival; T&T Film Festival; Ramleela; Hosay; Emancipation Village.

The drum circle at the NEW FIRE Festival. Photo by Jason Cazoe

The drum circle at the NEW FIRE Festival. Photo by Jason Cazoe


LAURA: Divali has always been my favourite festival because I grew up next to a Hindu family and one of my cherished childhood memories is going over to their house, eating what seemed like an unending supply of food on a soharee leaf and later helping to light deyas. My father would then take us driving through south and central Trinidad to see the display of lights. The twinkling lights in the dark is so pretty to see. I think everyone should also experience the spring festival of Holi, where people spray abir on each other.

Divali in Felicity, Trinidad. Photo: Ariann Thompson

Divali in Felicity, Trinidad. Photo: Ariann Thompson


About our Roundtable 

Photo courtesy Nigel Campbell

Photo courtesy Nigel Campbell

Nigel Campbell

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Endless Wuk — a Trinidad Carnival Guide

Nigel is a music businessman who writes for newspapers and magazines,  including Caribbean Beat (caribbean-beat.com), doing music reviews and covering the music business. He is a producer and promoter of Jazz Artists on the Greens (jaotg.com), publishes Jazz in the Islands magazine (jazz.tt), and co-hosts the Music Matters podcast (iradiott.wordpress.com), which looks at the music industry in the Caribbean.

Photo courtesy Laura Dowrich

Photo courtesy Laura Dowrich

Laura Dowrich-Phillips

Laura has been a journalist for over 20 years, and is currently the Regional Lifestyle Editor for Loop News, a regional digital news platform. She co-hosts the Music Matters podcast (iradiott.wordpress.com), which looks at the music industry in the Caribbean. She is passionate about positioning the Caribbean on the global stage and educating the world about the region she calls home.

Photo courtesy Maria Nunes

Photo courtesy Maria Nunes

Maria Nunes

Maria is a photographer who specialises in the documentation of cultural heritage. She’s deeply interested in our history, and uses her camera to have conversations about history — to meet people she might ordinarily not get to know, and to explore the diversity and complexity of who we are in T&T. Her book In a world of their own is available at bookshops, and at robertandchristopher.com. marianunes.com

Photo courtesy Frank Phillip and Ardene Sirjoo

Photo courtesy Frank Phillip and Ardene Sirjoo

Franka Philip and Ardene Sirjoo

Franka and Ardene both enjoy developing and executing interesting creative projects. Their backgrounds in media and general curiosity led them to co-found Trini Good Media, including the podcast Talk ‘Bout Us and OpedTT, which curates opinion writing. Franka is an experienced journalist who’s worked at the BBC World Service and Guardian Media, and writes the Cookup column for Caribbean Beat. Ardene co-hosts the popular radio programme The Mandate on i95.5FM, is a frequent event host and moderator, and works with the Bocas Literary Festival as the media and marketing coordinator. trinigoodmedia.com

Photo courtesy Penelope Spencer

Photo courtesy Penelope Spencer

Penelope Spencer

Pennie has worked in the entertainment industry for over 30 years as an actor, writer, director, teacher, producer, television host, and casting agent. She co-hosts OMG Live on Facebook and The Sisterhood on TV6; and is the artistic director of Necessary Arts School/Productions. She recently completed her first children’s book with Lylah Persad, Tales from the forest.


More about Trinidad’s festivals…

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Divali: the festival of lights

Posted by Caroline Taylor

writer & editor • actor, singer, producer & director • egalitarian • animal & nature lover • island girl • water baby • perennial discoverer

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