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Notting Hill Carnival – Back to the roots

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Every year, the last weekend of August, Notting Hill – an upmarket neighbourhood of London – becomes alive with the Carnival organized by the Caribbean community. For two days, floats parade through the streets, while revellers can sing, dance, and eat traditional food. The carnival is rooted in the presence of a large Caribbean community, the first to live in the area even before it was swallowed by an ever enlarging London. The carnival is not only a festive moment. There are many cultural workshops and religious events. Father Gregory Augustine is a Holy Ghost priest from Trinidad and Tobago, where is head teacher of the Fatima College of Port of Spain. He was present at this year carnival to lead the Mass opening the carnival for the Catholic community. We asked him a few question.

Do you still have a feel of Caribbean culture in London?
Yes, and this is why we can celebrate. We shall start the Carnival with the celebration of the Mass. The readings we have chosen for this celebration speak about who we are as people. The Mass will be an expression of Caribbean-ness that cannot be lost, regardless of where one lives. In the past days I have met many Caribbean people living here in London, and I am pleased to say that they kept a flavour of their culture even though the live abroad.

Caribbean people are a composite group – black white, Indians – is there a common culture summing up the input of these groups?
You are right; the Caribbean culture is a mix of many cultures. I can speak mainly of the former British colonies. There is a common feeling, in spite of the fact that we are a multi-cultural society. Most probably, Trinidad and Tobago and the Guyana are the most heterogeneous nations in the area. We are a mix of Asians, Europeans, Afro-Americans and Amerindians. Yet, even with that, there is a common sense of who we are. And that is expressed here in the carnival.

Which cultural values do you see predominant?
Caribbean people are vibrant, there are not easily suppressed. That vibrancy has found its way in our faith, in the way we express it. Our songs, our dancing, our way of participating in liturgical events shows that we have a thirst for life, that we like to share our joy.  We also have a sense of family which seems to be lost in other culture. We celebrate this year Notting Hill Carnival after the riots (which hit England in August, including part of Notting Hill, editor’s note). I hear many people pointing out that one of the causes of the riots is the loss of cultural values, the loss of a sense of community, of the family. The people of the Caribbean have those values and we can offer them to this society. We are not immune to external influences, yet we remain rooted in the family, in the local community.

Do Black Caribbean claim a specific culture?
This is an ongoing debate. We are very proud of our places of origin, and there are many ‘pilgrimages’ of people going to see the motherland. This is true for all the peoples making up our society. This is very true for us Black people. We of course do not know for sure where we came from. However, as a personal experience, when I went to Africa I immediately felt a sense of homecoming. It is also true that our culture has evolved and we can now claim the originality of our being Black Caribbean.

What about this Carnival?
This Carnival is a wonderful expression of our identity. This year’s riots have shed a dark light on this event. As usual, many shops have boarded up their premises, and this year even some private people boarded up their houses. It is understandable; people are worried of destruction and loss. However, I believe this carnival is not about violence. It is about creativity, it is about splendour. There is no reason this should be postponed or cancel. They will know us from our behaviour, and our behaviour will be one of values. I have confidence that the carnival will be one more sign that this society is ready to go ahead. The carnival will boast the spirit, not only of our people, but of all those who will take part in it.

J.C.

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