On Saturday, the Alexandria Black History Museum presented “The Devils of Paramin, Trinidad: Manifestation of Social Values.” The two-hour program was the first in a series of symposia exploring critical African Diaspora cultural issues, including the Caribbean Carnival masquerades. Caribbean Carnivals are becoming the largest cultural events in the world.
The program opened with a “Devils of Paramin” photo art display and a short documentary film. Artist Rudy Ferreira, a native of Port of Spain, Trinidad, spent two decades studying the Blue Devils of Paramin, and provided an overview of the masquerade tradition.
“Long before its importation to the Americas European Carnival had firmly established itself as a powerful popular counter cultural critique of prevailing norms,” said Ferreira. “Rising out of its’ European pre-Christian traditions, long before the arrival of the Europeans in the Americas, demons prowled the canals of Venice, women pursued men and servants were crowned kings and queens.”
The annual Trinidad Carnival, tracing its origins to the 19th century, has evolved into a hybrid celebration that merges the Catholic pre-Lenten tradition with an African emancipation festival. Although it is Afro-based, the Trinidad Carnival’s inclusivity reflects the island’s multi-ethnic inhabitants. Among the various costumes and characters featured are the “Blue Devil” masqueraders, the main feature of this symposium and a very popular element of the Caribbean Carnivals. The individual devil masqueraders portray the balance between good and evil as manifested in the spiritual beliefs of the people of the African Diaspora.
A panel discussion explored the historical and contemporary aspects of the Caribbean Carnival masquerades. Panelists included Port of Spain native Von Martin, who now hosts WPFW’s “Caribbeana” and serves as CEO of Caribbeana Communications. He spoke on the development of Caribbean Carnivals in the United States and was joined by Dr. Akinsola Akiwowo, a leading authority on indigenous sociology of Africa.
“Carnival briefly realizes its full humanity as it embraces the temptations of the carnal world and celebrates itself,” Ferreira said. “At the beginning of Lent it stages a final moment of self-abandonment and revelry in the carnal world. In a fleeting moment humanity is celebrated in all its contradictions and the world is turned upside down, rulers are mocked, black becomes white, perhaps black and slave becomes master and the ‘Devils’ become carnate.”