Strumming his guitar, veteran calypsonian/University of T&T professor Hollis Liverpool sang snatches of his comrade Slinger Francisco's classic Congo Man. The setting was a canefield. It was captured in black and white film during a presentation by retired Alaskan judge and honorary distinguished fellow Ray Funk at the launch of Liverpool's Rituals of Power and Rebellion The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962). It took place at John S Donaldson, UTT Port-of-Spain Campus, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday.
A blurb in the UTT pamphlet said Liverpool had successfully managed to put into context the political, economic and cultural forces which inadvertently come together to create Carnival. It also noted that what appeared to be simply a musical bacchanal was in fact the struggle of the oppressed people to maintain their cultural identity in a land of foreign domination and class struggle.During the author's oral abstract, Liverpool lamented he had to go to Michigan, USA, to do his PhD, owing to the paucity of research material on Carnival locally.
Asked about his magnum opus, Liverpool said, "Besides historical sources I used oral sources. I depended on calypsonians, masmen, writers, masqueraders and boismen. The people whom I interviewed the majority have gone to the great beyond."Zeroing on the themes of Rituals and Rebellion, Liverpool added, "To a large extent many of the songs, events and masquerades in Carnival are rituals of rebellion. The kalinda and calypso are rituals. We show our resistance at Dimanche Gras. It is a ritual of rebellion. Even the steelband. The Chinese man who was beating pan to attract people to his church. It was the first time we saw pan being played. It is in the newspapers. J'Ouvert represents the real African traditions of the Carnival. It is what Dr Kim Johnson (senior research fellow) called the African impulse. The soucouyant, La Diablesse and cow horns, bats and devils are in J'Ouvert."
Asked if he felt there was an improvement in the corpus of Carnival literature, Liverpool said, "I don't know. But the book is going to be an addition to the archives. The book captures all the documentation and historical development of Carnival over time."It is intended to impart knowledge on the complex nature of Carnival and the different people who have contributed to its development. To a large extent the Carnival defines our personality and our cultural identity."
Tributes to Liverpool
While preparing to vie for the C2k13 calypso monarch crown Liverpool heard superlatives about his scholarship. His songs were Prodigal Son and Virginia's Alzheimer. In the background, traditional mas characters like a moko jumbie and midnight robber milled around. Playing Midnight Robber was Damien Whiskey, a student in Liverpool's MA in Carnival Arts class. Liverpool had pioneered it.Apart from being an academic, Liverpool has clinched the coveted crown eight times with gems like The Bandit Factory and The Mailman. Programme administrator Lana Allard chaired the proceedings in which each speaker wished him a ninth victory.
But the focus was on Liverpool's book. Among those paying tribute to him were Funk; deputy chairman board of governors Kwais Mutema; Dr Ajamu Nymoba; Dr Fazal Ali, provost and president (acting); senior research fellow Dr Kim Johnson; and Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training Fazal Karim.Johnson made the salient point that while everyone celebrated US president Barack Obama's victory in 2008, Trinidadians had written history by electing its first black Prime Minister, the late historian Dr Eric Williams in 1962. "It was the end of colonial T&T. Chalkie's book was about the elements and one crucial element was the voice of the people. The voice of the people was not heard," said Johnson.
Mutema described Liverpool as a cultural icon and said we are fortunate to have him at the helm of the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs."With a PhD in history and ethnomusicology and as the recipient of the prestigious Nicolas Guillen Life-Time Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature, Liverpool stands well qualified both academically as well as practically, to inform us all," said Mutema.
Karim noted Liverpool's study of Carnival is a "continuation of the work of academics who are now deceased like Tobago's Dr JD Elder and Prof Errol Hill, as well as those who are still with us, like Prof Gordon Rohlehr and Dr Jeff Henry."Apart from Karim, Liverpool made a special presentation to his friend/chairman of committee US Virgin Islands (St Thomas) Kenneth Blake.
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