The Lost Jewels of the Carnival Treasure Chest; King & Queen of Carnival
In some families, favoritism is common. There is one sibling who is forever getting praised for their success while there is another who cannot escape even the most minor offense. One sibling is forever given opportunities to shine in front of all who would pay attention, while the other has to perpetually struggle for even a glimpse of the spotlight. This is the dynamic between the well- known Carnival parade on the streets and the often overlooked King and Queen competition.
The King & Queen competition is the sibling that everyone knows is around, but, very few pay attention too. When Carnival is being promoted on the world-wide stage, bikinis and beads always seem to be in the spotlight while the elaborate costumes of the Kings and Queens get a backhanded mention. This is despite the immense time and energy costume designers spent on building grand , eye-catching costumes most times on a very limited budget. Every once in a while, that sibling breaks through the clutter and barriers to the spotlight and gets some attention from the general public, as was in the case of Peter Minshall’s 2016 Carnival King offering entitled ‘The Dying Swan.’ But these occasions are rare and are often filled with equal amounts of praise and condemnation for daring to move from its carefully allotted space in the background of the Carnival experience.
In a world where Carnival chasing has become the latest fad, very few are stepping out of the mold of fetes, gyrating waistlines, drinking and bikini and beads to explore the historical context of Carnival and how that has impacted the delivery and creativity of our modern day costumes. For many, it’s a missed opportunity to witness some of the most elaborate pieces of art, intricate design detail, skilled craftsmanship, wire-bending expertise and some of the most engaging expressions of creativity.
The prettiest and most elaborate costumes in each mas band are those worn by the King and Queen. Costumes may extend far beyond the body of the person playing the King and Queen, sometimes measuring thirty feet in height and width. Various wires and support hold the costume together and some of it may rest on wheels in order to lessen the amount of dead weight carried by the person wearing the costume. In the past, King costumes may have weighed close to 200 pounds while Queen costumes have been known to exceed fifty pounds. New lightweight materials are helping costume designers take the burden off the Carnival Kings and Queens.
AND HOW DID THEY EVEN COME INTO EXISTENCE?:
The festival dates back to the 18th century, and the influx of French Catholic planters – both white and free coloured – their slaves, and free blacks in the 1780s. The white and free coloured both staged elaborate masquerade balls at Christmas and as a “farewell to the flesh” before the Catholic Lenten season, with each group mimicking the other in their masking and entertainment. The West African slaves of these planters as well as free coloureds had their own masking traditions, and held festivities around the burning and harvesting of the sugar cane (this was known as cannes bruleés, anglicised as Canboulay or Camboulay). For each group, masks and mimicry were an essential part of the ritual.
After the emancipation of slaves in 1838, Canboulay became a symbol of freedom and defiance. In response, the British colonial government outlawed drumming, stickfighting, masquerading, African-derived religions (like those of the Orisa faith and the Spiritual Shouter Baptists or Shango Baptists), and even tried to suppress the steelpan – but was never able to stamp out what has become a hallmark of Trinidadian identity.
(Source: The Birth & Evolution of Trinidad Carnival | Discover Trinidad & Tobago Travel Guide | Discover Trinidad & Tobago Travel Guide http://www.discovertnt.com/articles/Trinidad/The-Birth-Evolution-of-Trinidad-Carnival/109/3/32#ixzz4ifYXAoeG)
Try as we might, we could not find any detailed information on how the King & Queen competition actually evolved but we’re on a hunt. Stay tuned as we compete our research and find out why this completion even started and what can be done to ensure its future success.
SOUND OFF: DO YOU KNOW THE HISTORY OF THE CARNIVAL KING & QUEEN COMPETITION?
See Atlanta competition results here: ACBC King & Queen of Carnival Results
IMAGES FROM THE ACBC KING & QUEEN COMPETITION IN ATLANTA, GA
Photos Courtesy: Bronson Blair and Alan Simpson
MISSION: To elevate the brand of Caribbean culture in the fields of MUSIC, BUSINESS and the ARTS by celebrating the work of cultural ambassadors while advocating for upcoming Caribbean talent1.