when you're watching the caribana parade snake its way along the Lakeshore, don't look at it as just an eye-candy-filled pleasure fest. So says Hollis Liverpool in his groundbreaking study, Rituals Of Power And Rebellion. Liverpool puts carnival in its proper place in history and, concentrating on Trinidad and Tobago, smashes both popular and scholarly assumptions.
He starts with carnival's origins, arguing that although the word is French, the traditions are distinctly African.
He then traces the complex social dynamics between slaveholders and slaves in the Caribbean and how they affected the energy behind carnival.
While the slave trade flourished, paternalistic French, English and Spanish slave owners allowed carnival free rein and even participated in the events themselves.
But when slavery was abolished and the black population was integrated into communities in new ways, carnival became so politically loaded that whites boycotted the festivals, sought to control them and even made mask-wearing a criminal act.
Ruling whites could sense that beyond the big, sexy celebration, elements of carnival served as an intense expression of despair and rage over living conditions on the islands.
What makes Rituals unique is Hollis's special expertise: he is an accomplished calypsonian. His research uncovers song lyrics, for example, and he analyzes rhythmic patterns, complete with musical notations, to support his arguments. You can feel the author's passion for his subject and his profound involvement in it.
Bear in mind, though, that Rituals is a PhD thesis, so it's more scholarly than literary, and crammed with footnotes. There are also excellent archival photos of some of the musicians and activists who sparked the movement.
A must for aficionados of breakthrough radical writing.