Month-long Tobago Heritage Festival starts July 1

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Members of the Pembroke Folk Performers cook by the fireside during the Salaka Feast in Pembroke Village, as part of the village’s 2022 Tobago Heritage Festival presentation. – File photo by David Reid

THE return. This could have easily been the theme of the 2024 edition of the Tobago Heritage Festival, which, for the first time in its 37-year history, runs for a month as opposed to the usual two weeks.

A few of the popular villages, including Les Coteaux, Black Rock and Pembroke, have opted out of this year’s event, for various reasons.

But others have returned to the festival and are eager to educate and entertain audiences with their respective presentations.

One such community is Golden Lane, which has not participated in 21 years. This year, the village returns on July 13 with its signature presentation Courtship Codes.

President of the Mt Cullane Cultural Group Gracie Phillips told Sunday Newsday the presentation deals with the trials men had to undergo many years ago to get a wife.

She explained, “When people used to be courting long ago, the girl’s parents had to be satisfied that the suitor had something worthwhile to offer so that he could maintain their daughter.”

Phillips said if the man had a large garden or a fishing boat, he stood a good chance of marrying the woman he had his eyes on.

Members of the public participate in the traditional Dancing of De Cocoa in Charlotteville Natural Treasures Day as part of the Tobago Heritage Festival in 2023. – Photo by David Reid

But those were not the only criteria. He also had to split a chunk of mora wood in half as proof of his virility.

“So regardless of what assets the men had, they always tested them with a piece of wood. They had to be strong enough to be the woman’s husband.”

She said in many cases, a woman might have more than one suitor, “But is the one who split the wood will get the lady.”

This year, Phillips said, the group will be putting a twist on the same theme. The production, titled, Buss D Wood: Reminder From the Silk Cotton Tree, takes place at the Golden Lane Government Primary School, Cottage Trace, on July 13, from 7 pm.

Phillips said the Mt Cullane group started participating in the festival in 1989, two years after its inception. The area comprises three small villages: Golden Lane, Culloden and Mt Thomas.

“At the time, we were trying to come up with a name, and somebody said for us to use a piece from all of them. That is how we came up with the name Mt Cullane.”

Asked why the group had stayed away from the festival for so many years, she said, “That is a question for the heritage committee, who normally chooses the villages to do the productions. They just said that Golden Lane will get a break and we would not be in.

“It was just that all along, until we got fed up and stopped sending in proposals. You are sending in proposals every year and nothing wasn’t happening.

“Last year, we sent and we sent one this year and it just so happen that we selected to be one of the villages for this year.”

Phillips urged people to attend the presentation.

“Mt Cullane is back on the calendar, so we want people to come out and refresh their memory about what courtship codes is all about. Come to see which man will buss the wood.”

She said a variety of local foods will be on sale.

Roxborough, which has been away from the festival for more than a decade, returns with its re-enactment of the 1876 Belmanna Riots on July 29. The riots erupted on May 1 when immigrant labourers from Barbados set fire to the Roxborough estate to protest low pay, poor working conditions and inadequate time off.

Two days later, a policeman named Cpl Henry Belmanna tried to arrest the arsonists but the crowds resisted and attacked him. Belmanna fired his gun into the crowd, killing a Barbadian woman, Mary Jane Thomas. A major riot outside the Roxborough Court House ensued and Belmanna was beaten to death.

The village’s production is being presented by the Roxborough Police Youth Club.

Technical co-ordinator Aliyah Brooks said Roxborough has traditionally done a stage production, but this year it has chosen street theatre to better capture elements of the riot, more than a century ago. She said the production will be an immersive experience with over 400 participants, comprising rioters, dancers, drummers

“We are ready and excited,” Brooks said. “We are planning to bring the production to life as it was back in the day of the actual riot.”

Moriah’s Ole Time Wedding takes place on July 20. – Photo by David Reid

Brooks said the police station, which was a focal point of the event, still stands today on Police Station Street.

“So there is a bit of history here still.”

She said although the village had not had a stage performance for more than ten years, it has participated in the Miss Personality competition, another highlight of the festival.

Mt St George, which has produced late cultural activist and former Senate vice-president Rawle Titus, has also made its way back to the festival after a lengthy hiatus.

The village council’s presentation, We Tambrin Story, will be held at the Hope Community Centre on July 24 at 7 pm.

Production manager Asabi Caterson said the play centres on the “vibrant, thrilling, mysterious” history of the tambrin. It comprises two acts, each of which is estimated to run for 40 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

She added the play will be a unique blend of fact and fiction following a fictional love triangle of people who are called upon to perform at an important event in order to rebuild the tambrin culture on the island.

Caterson told Sunday Newsday, “The desires of the heart will take the main character through trials which show him that culture is more important than one’s personal gain, while intricately revealing some factual elements, such as the origins of the instrument and its varied, important uses.

“This provides the ability to take the audience on a journey filled with songs and dances associated with the beautiful instrument, which will be played live throughout the production. We hope this captivating story will help with the revitalisation of our once-beloved instrument.”

She said during the production, the village council also plans to pay tribute to some of the elders who played a key role in the development and preservation of the tambrin on the island.

Rehearsals are under way.

“Preparations are going well and while there is still much to do, under the guidance of the Tobago Festivals Commission Ltd, our consultants and the hard work of our dedicated committee, we are confident that we will put on a great show.”

She said the neighbouring villages of Hope, John Dial and Goodwood are also assisting.

Also returning to the festival on July 14 is Mason Hall, with Games We Used to Play, at the Elizabeth Dennis Recreation Ground.

Culture lovers can also look forward to some perennial favourites.

These include Charlotteville’s Natural Treasures Day (July 15); Moriah’s Ole Time Wedding (July 20); and Plymouth’s Ole Time Carnival (July 27);

The Miss Tobago Heritage Personality Show and the Tobago Heritage Calypso Monarch competition will be held on July 11 and 27 respectively, at the Shaw Park Cultural Complex. The theme of the latter is Mouth Open, Tory Jump Out.

Some nine presentations were removed from this year’s calendar.

The festival, titled We Come Back, begins on July 1 with a thanksgiving service at the Scarborough RC School and culminates on August 1 with an Emancipation Day parade in Crown Point.

Other events

July 2 – Heritage Film Symposium

July 3 – Children’s Heritage Extravaganza, Shaw Park Complex

July 6 – Tobago Fireside, Bethany

July 9 and 10 – Heritage Office Décor Competition (THA Divisions)

July 11 – Miss Tobago Heritage Personality Show, Shaw Park Complex

July 17 – Yesterday’s Children

July 19 – Bachelor Night (Pork Tea Lime), Moriah Community Centre

July 21 – Folk Fiesta, Shaw Park Complex

July 28 – Tobago Harvest, Speyside

July 31 – Food Fair, Shaw Park Food Hub