Totally unplanned by us, we happened upon Tobago at one of the most exciting times of the Tobagonian calendar. The Tobago Heritage Festival.
Charlotteville is where the festival begins and we just so happened to be staying in this picturesque fishing village to celebrate the festival with everyone. I say everyone because it sure felt like everyone. The tiny village swarmed with visitors, some from off shore boats and catamarans, others flown in from Trinidad, and others like us from further afield.
Preparations began the evening before, the whole village was out DIY-ing the sea front. Re-painting their huts and tiny businesses, carting coolers from here to there, large truck loads of chairs drove by on their way to the pavilion and aunties braided their daughter’s hair on door steps in their best ‘cane rows’. You could sense the excitement, as we greeted people in the shops they made certain that we were prepared for tomorrow’s celebrations.
The celebrations must start with the traditional coco tea, freshly made from the coco bean chocolate of Tobago. We then all walked up the steep hill following the sound of drumming that drifted across the bay, to where the festival officially began.
Along with their best hair styles, fantastic jewellery and colourful personalities, people were equipped with percussion instruments such as bamboo poles, shakers, graters, scrapers and someone even had a conch shell that made a loud sound when they blew it. Leading all of this was a float with enormous drums mounted upon it, which were played by some talented and very energetic young men.
As the irresistible rhythm played we all followed dancing down the hill in an enormous snake serenaded by the rich African voices of several young ladies singing traditional old time songs.
The procession took us to the river where we watched the reenactment of the old time ritual of washing of a dead person’s laundry. This is called ‘Washin d dead bed’ (Washing the dead bed) and is performed mainly by the big mamas of the village.
The photograph above shows the ritual procession returning back to the street after the washing is completed. However they walk backwards towards the street in order to avoid the spirit of the dead following them back to their houses.