In the 1970s I was able to spend 18 months in Port of Spain, Trinidad so that I could get to know my Trinidad relations. My family background had seen my paternal great great grandfather, Charles Horne, work in Kew Gardens until he, with his wife and children, was sent to be Head Gardener at the Port of Spain Botanical Gardens in 1858. My father’s mother’s parents were both mixed race and had been in Trinidad from at least the beginning of the 19th century. There are huge blanks in my family history and some of the known facts are complicated.
Port of Spain to Warwick
My father, Charles Eric Vernon Horne, was born in Port of Spain and came over to the UK to study medicine at Edinburgh University – he never went home due to a family rift. He came to Warwick to work at the Edward VII Sanitorium and later became a Warwick GP. I went to Trinidad because I wished to meet my father’s brother and sisters, and also my cousins, and find out what I could about my father’s family which, due to family circumstances, was not much. I am the only member of the family now living in Warwick. Apart from a few still in Trinidad, most of my cousins emigrated from there to Canada or the USA.
One of the highlights of my stay was to attend a Trinidad carnival. A friend and I decided that we would not join a costume band the first year but march along with one of the steel bands that accompany them.
We decided not to go to one of the many parties or “jump-ups” that took place the night before, but to join the crowds gathering by one of the steel bands at dawn. The steel band was already ensconced on the back of a lorry and were tuning up, our costume band gradually joining in behind. Everyone was in holiday mood, rum and snacks being passed round from time to time.
Eventually the signal to start was given and off we went, singing along to the various calypsos being belted out by the band, to travel along a route which would eventually lead to the Savannah, a large park in the centre of Port of Spain. Judging would take place there, later in the day, in front of large crowds. The children’s carnival was judged first and then the main costume bands would parade before the judges. I can’t remember what the theme of “our” band was, but some people were dressed as butterflies and others as birds. The king and queen of each band had the most amazing, expensive costumes which took most of the year to design and make. Costumes for the rest of the band varied from intricate to basic, with prices to match. Friends who took part decided to go for the cheapest!
The atmosphere was electric and everyone had a good time. After about six or seven hours, with aching feet, we collapsed into the nearest hotel where other friends were celebrating.
A contrast with Warwick
I don’t know when the Trinidad Carnival began but it is at least 200 years old and is a pre-Lent festival with Spanish, French and African influences. The Spanish were the first to settle in the island followed by the French, Africans (as slaves), English, Indian, Chinese, Syrians, etc., so there is a big mix of people, customs, food, etc. The Notting Hill Carnival is very similar, and came about because many people from the Caribbean missed Carnival when they arrived here. It has developed into the modern spectacle of costume bands accompanied by steel bands and is very colourful – bright colours are needed in the tropics!
Warwick used to have an annual summer carnival (in the 1990s, I think?). It started from the racecourse and ended in St Nicholas Park, but didn’t last long. It’s safe to say that Trinidad carnivals are more exuberant than those in the UK, apart from Notting Hill!