Round Table with Oscar
July 15, 2014

Imagining Christian Carnivals

As she spoke at the conference opening, Carnival bandleader Pastor Quamina stated “Carnival season is every day in heaven, so what are we afraid of as believers who are heading there?” This gathering is a deadly serious conference, taking place in August 2017. The document that announced the assembly claimed the meeting’s purpose as “Placing Caribbean Carnival in its position as a Caribbean Salvation document.” One of the expected results was both vague and unexceptional, as well as cryptic.{{more}} It stated “a projected outcome of this conference will be a teaching and learning curriculum for evangelism and mission to baptize and culture the Caribbean with authority, in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Reign of God throughout the cosmos.”

Long before the conference date approached, people were hissing and hurling taunts as well as heaping praise on the conference organisms. The truth that we know is that it was the carnival band named “Pentecostal chaos” that brought things to a head. In both Surinam and St Christopher and Nevis, a band named “Pentecostal Chaos” took part in Carnival and turned heads, raised new questions, warmed hearts and moved lives. Christian discussion would never be the same again. The church had to react and so this conference “Imagining Christian Carnivals” was organized to examine Caribbean carnival from a Christian point of view, whether as message, mischief or missionary.


But what was the carnival band Pentecostal Chaos all about? It was a Mardi Gras presentation or rather proclamation, based on an experience outlined in the New Testament book Acts Chapter 2. Perhaps I should just tell you about some of the sections of the band. “Miriam’s Bacchanal” was an astonishing choreographed women’s section about women’s liberation/ liberating movement. There you saw how slavery made women the target of bondage and extortion in Pharaoh’s Egypt, Europe’s colonial slavery here, and in today’s church and society. You also saw a wild, wily, wanton and 100 worshipping resistance and revelry in this section. Some women spectators wept, others caught the spirit of the presentation as they shared in Miriam’s Bacchanal. The music for that section was a Soca arrangement of “The Right Hand of God” to a new tune by Patrick Prescod; “Drunken Apostles” was a mixed male and female section of the band. Wealthy televangelists, barefooted prophets and Mandela type mobilizers whirled and wailed around and about a cross and stone on stage, while attentive but passive masqueraders of every nation stood quietly. It was only when the “Welcome Holy Spirit” song struck up that the unmoving mas players came alive, encircled cross and stone and danced offstage with the drunken apostles. Pentecostal Chaos was another tasteful and imaginative section like “Rebuilding Babel, “Tongues of Fire” and a section for the very young called “Makarior. Baptised and Blessed.” One report had it to say that when the band left the Savannah, about 3,000 Mardi Gras spectators left with them. The band won no other prize in that competition that day. A few commentators raise the idea that the carnival band treated the New Testament Pentecostal story as a significant transition model event, an emancipation movement of the spirit and the flesh. At the same time, they say, the band was calling for Pentecost to become a continuing year round movement/experience/ inspiration.


Now the New Testament Pentecost fell into a schedule, coinciding with the Hebrew religious Pentecost festival of weeks. The timing was not accidental, but with all due respect, the Christian festival was quite distinct. Caribbean carnivals too bear likeness to and influence from other festivals, but our own discerning eyes recognize a profound history of difference which we neglect, to our peril. Ours is a memorial celebration of African-Caribbean eruption from the bondage of European chattel slavery. Our carnival is, however, more than a memory recycled a document that registers our freedom. It is also and more so a projection or project of our own continuing work for further emancipation. We must do carnival spontaneously and consciously aware of where God has brought us from and where, with mothering insistence, God wants us to travel to. Carnival as a historical document and a salvation road map – that is the Quamina view of carnival.

You should have heard some of the songs from the Gospelypso tent 2017. Especially noted were “Lord coming soon”, “‘nointing Girl” and “Slave I”. Strongholds trembled in church and society. Downtrodden, and “Decent” people took over the stage when “Slave I” sang his chorus to “Don’t Burn Them, Baptise Them.”

After Pastor Quamina has led off the reflections on the opening day at the conference, the one-week consultation will hear from Archbishop Aaron Dickson of the Spiritual Baptist Shaker movement, on the second day. For the gospel in the Caribbean, this is a spiritual relational, emancipation challenge. A conference in the New Testament did face a similar call to emancipation in the first generation of the Jesus movement (See Acts Chap 15 and Galatians Chap 2). Why not make our own emancipation festival this year, 2014, take the shape and program of Christian repentance and thanksgiving for (belittling) what God has done for us and with us?