West Indian Carnival is a colorful, creative, infectious and scintillating feature of Caribbean culture, which in the early days was celebrated as the last opportunity for the release of all the expressive and joyful emotions, before the beginning of the forty penitential days of Lent. In the seventies, French settlers brought this annual celebration to the Caribbean.
However, it was not until the abolition of slavery in 1839 that the freed slaves were allowed to participate in the celebration which gradually became an expression of French, Spanish, English and African cultures.
With the migration of Caribbeans to North America and especially to New York in the nineties, they brought with them that feature of their culture, true to the axiom, that you can take people out of their country but you cannot take the country out of them.
Thus was begun in New York the annual carnival celebration, the week end preceding Lent, in the form of costumed balls and masks, in the dance halls in Harlem - The Renaissance and the Savoy. This time of the year, being winter, there could be no outdoor festivity and revelry as is enjoyed in the Caribbean, therefore an enterprising, visionary but practical Trinidadian woman, Jessie Wardell, obtained the first street permit to celebrate carnival outdoors on Lenox Avenue on Labor Day.
As the demographics changed with the migration of Caribbean Americans and African Americans from Harlem to Brooklyn, another Trinidadian, Rufus Gorin, took carnival across the river to Brooklyn where, with the help of a Venezuelan Trinidadian, Carlos Lezama, an organization was formed, the West Indian American Day carnival Association (WIADCA), which over the years brought about the growth and development of West Indian carnival thirty years later, to become the largest cultural festival in city, state and nation, attracting annually to the environs of Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway, millions of people.
And here we must emphasize, lest we forget, that West Indian carnival, exciting and popular though it be, is only one aspect of Caribbean life. Culture being the way of life of a people or a period, includes Caribbean art and crafts, drama and literature, history and politics, song, dance and music, architecture and commerce, religion and even superstition, cuisine, etc., etc.
After thirty years of this exploding cultural and artistic celebration in Brooklyn, which has been referred to as the largest Caribbean island outside of the Caribbean, there is need to take a fresh look at its furniture.
With diminishing funding and some rivalry for control of the festival, which can be characterized as a short step which has grown into a long distance, thanks to the WIADCA Inc. and its Chairman Mr. Carlos Lezama, it has become necessary for the Caribbean community to come together in order to preserve and promote this dynamic and creative art form.
As far as funding goes, there is a great harvest based upon the numbers just waiting to be reaped. A limited effort that started in 1993 by the Caribbean American Community Comprehensive Center Inc. (CACCC) to solicit one dollar ($1.00) from the Labor Day weekend crowds, has demonstrated the possibilities that exist.
From the 1993 carnival collection, an amount of $2500.00 was sent through the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) to the suffering children in Rwanda (Africa). In 1994 a similar contribution was made to children in Haiti. In 1995 the collection of $3,000.00 went to children of Antigua and Barbuda. Last year 1996, $2,500.00 was sent to children in Jamaica and $2,500.00 to children in Grenada. It is hoped that this year's collection, earmarked for Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia and Dominica will yield a hundred fold with the help of a committed cadre of volunteers collecting $1.00 each from the massive crowd assembled to enjoy the panorama of pure, pristine pleasure and pageantry that is the essence of carnival. For information please call (718) 282-9150 or (718) 495-4977.
Dr. Lamuel Stanislaus is a treasure trove of Caribbean Cultural history. He is perhaps the only person who is able to speak extemporaneously on the evolution of the Caribbean/West Indian experience in the US particularly the New York Metropolitan area.
Dr. Stanislaus is the former UN Ambassador for Grenada, a close advisor to the President of WIADCA and a most beloved stalwart of the Caribbean community. Retired from a distinguished dental practice, the Doctor is a writer, historian, community activist, eloquent speaker, husband, father and grandfather.