“A thong or panty? They’re both basically the same anyway” I was asked when narrowing my costume choices down to a top five for this year’s Trinidad Carnival. Equally excited and horrified, I picked the panty, in an attempt to cover as much of my ass as possible. This was my first year ‘playing mas’ and where better to do it than Trinidad, where the weather is warm and, more importantly, no one knows me. ‘Playing mas’ comes from the term ‘masquerade’ and refers to the traditional costume and being part of a band during Carnival.
Trinidad Carnival originated in 1838, with the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean. It started as a way for African slaves to make fun of their French and English slave masters, who typically held their own Carnivals every year between Christmas and Lent in the form of over-the-top masquerade balls. The slaves were always banned from these celebrations and so decided to mimic them, while adding their own spin on it. As each new generation of immigrants arrived in Trinidad, the carnival grew bigger and more diverse every year.
After months of preparation and surprise costs, I finally arrived in Trinidad earlier this month. I was instantly struck by the big highways, skyscrapers, drive thru restaurants and malls, was I really in the Caribbean? The sun was hot, the architecture was beautiful and the food was out of this world good. (Side note: discovering yellow pastry has now made me reluctant to eat anything else at home, sigh). Every day in Trinidad leading up to Carnival is party central, with fetes running through the day and night. The Frontline fete we went to was like a Diddy pool party, I kid you not.
Finally distribution day arrived and we got to go pick up our costumes. I didn’t realize how excited I was until I was handed my duffle bag. My costume had me feeling somewhere between a Barbie doll and Xena the Warrior Princess. Pink feathers and golden beads galore, I subsequently started jumping up and down like a toddler playing dress up. The duffle bag was full of goodies; everything from razors to condoms (to which one guy near me actually requested more, cringe).
This played out over a few days, with me getting equally excited every time I got to see one of my girls try on their costumes. There’s something about costumes and pretending to be a character for the day that boosts your self-confidence into the stratosphere. No matter how body conscious the girls were and how naked they were in their costumes, they always had a big smile on their faces once it was all on. Then J’Ouvert happened.
J’Ouvert is the French term for “day opened” and it marks the start of the two-day Carnival. J’Ouvert is traditionally supposed to be the darker underside to Carnival and certain countries really go ham with the devilish costumes and references. It starts at 4am and revelers take to the streets with music and alcohol to literally tear sh*t up. Each band has a different form of rebellion and everyone gets covered in everything from paint, powder, oil and clay to melted chocolate as the night goes on. White car owners beware, your paint job WILL get F’d up. It was exhilarating and, despite my top sticking to me like a wet T-shirt contest, I was not self-conscious at all about parading in the streets in basically nothing.
Carnival Monday came around and people get all dolled up in anything colorful and bejeweled they can find. You see beautiful women of all shapes, sizes and colors come together in their bands and dance until the trucks stop. There’s no room for body shaming, bitching or being shy. Straight guys run around dancing with everyone and the gay men stole the show in every way. By the time the break rolled around, you could do nothing but lie down, eat and reserve every morsel of energy before the big finale, Carnival Tuesday.
Tuesday was bananas. I’ve never seen so many gorgeous colors, beads, hairstyles and body types in my life. We were all royalty that day and were treated accordingly, from the limitless food and alcohol to the free massages and beauty touch ups. Fretting over the thong vs panty decision was a distant memory, you wanted to have as little on as possible, the sun was taking no prisoners. You danced until you couldn’t any more, you talked with people from all over the world and even when Amber Rose and Blac Chyna floated past in their amazing costumes, you never, ever felt inferior.
Trinidad Carnival 2016 was one of the best days of my life. It was the day I felt like a complete queen, even when my costume steadily fell apart. We are all beautiful as women in our own special ways. Never let anyone make you forget that.