Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The face of Carnival

Forty years ago, a child's costume became the icon of the whole carnival. In a moment, it spoke to the heart, illuminating this annual ritual, as a piece of music, a calypso, or a whole band might do in any given year. For some of us, the carnival magic comes in the elusive moment when the jouvay crush makes you whole and connected and human. For others, it is the spine tingle when your panside - All Stars or Phase 2, Birdsong or Despers - touches the soul with their music. The "yes!" that stirs in you when the fete is sublime.

But in 1974, the people were unanimous. Everyone saw the "spirit of the carnival" when a 13-year old girl wearing a shimmering blue-green gown into which she had been sewn, spun and twirled upon the stage, From the Land of the Hummingbird. The costume was designed by Peter Minshall who arrived after Christmas 1973 to his mother's house with a suitcase full of fabric, the making of which he supervised for days into weeks until the first appearance at the Red Cross Kiddies Carnival; and appearances in almost every venue after that, including Dimanche Gras and the Parade of Bands.
The year before, the small university in the the shadow of Tinker Mountain of the Blue Ridge in Virginia had graduated me "cum laude." And my barely 22-year  "fresh up" self ready to take on the world. Maybe I'd try to stay in Washington DC where Watergate sent many to the small recruiting and relocating firm where I answered the phone; but not enough to replace a US citizen. Besides, the northern range was calling me home. By the end of that year, I was teaching English at Bishop's Centenary College. Part-time. What might occupy the other part of my time? Fledgling magazines being produced by Key Caribbean Publications wanted an editorial assistant. Proof-reading, research, and running down contributors for Homemaker, Tempo and Trinidad Carnival. The mornings spent occupying precocious teenagers bored with the requirement to write and understand English better than they spoke. In the afternoons, easing into the periphery of productions that could do with, or without, this extra pair of hands. All while living on a chicken farm in a hidden valley.

In 1974, From the Land of the Hummingbird seemed to make some sense of this fragmented life in the islands that didn't need lengthy explaining.  The 13-year old girl - child really - at the centre of the performance, attended the school where I was teaching. She seemed bemused by the acclaim, was barely literate. But that was ok, she could play a mas! By the end of that year, the teaching job was gone, replaced by the full time position of editor-writer, researcher, dog's body to culture and the annual carnival magazine.

The next year, 1975, saw Shadow - the Bassman from Hell - become the face of Carnival.  Minshall might have been forgotten, might have continued to make sets and costumes for the London theatre had he not impressed bandleader Stephen Lee Heung who brought him back for the band that became the face of mas in 1976, Paradise Lost.

Peter Minshall presents Land of the Hummingbird in this Noel Norton photo

Sherry-Ann Guy animates the Hummingbird in this Noel Norton photo

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