Photography by Maurice Giles
“More than a carnival, sweet fuh days.’’
That’s the promise of the Crop Over Festival, celebrated every year in Barbados since 1974, for approximately six to eight weeks, spanning the summer months of June, July and August.
Even if you have been to a carnival, you won’t forget this unadulterated salute to life under the sun, in an extravaganza of music and masquerade, history and art, culture and cuisine which was born centuries ago, out of the traditional celebration slaves were permitted to throw at the end of the long, hard days of harvesting sugar cane. This celebration marked the end of the sugar cane cutting season, and rum- and sun-drenched slaves took to the streets to mark the climax.
Crop Over is the biggest event on the cultural calendar of Barbados. It is the time to mix and mingle with family and friends as the national spirit soars to the sound of Caribbean rhythms. The senses are heightened during the intense competition of the calypsonians, the parties, and numerous activities organised by the National Cultural Foundation which lead up to the final or “las’ lap.”
In good old traditional Barbadian style, the festival starts with church services across the island, the ceremonial delivery of the last canes and the crowning of the King and Queen of the Crop. After these formal events are out of the way, the real fun begins, and lasts “fuh days”.
The excitement starts with the calypso tents, where calypsonians do their best to be selected for the semi-finals and then the Pic o’ De Crop Finals when the Calypso Monarch is crowned for the year. This is one of the key events of the season, and the calypsoes can be heard on every radio station, at every fete, in every household, and out of the mouths of babes. With clever lyrics and engaging rhythms, calypsonians show off their skills as composers, singers, entertainers and as political and social commentators. But it is impossible to imagine a Crop Over without the Party Monarch Finals on the popular East Coast, where thousands and thousands of Barbadians and visitors are caught up in a whirlwind of party calypsoes. The sun is at its hottest, occasionally capped by the trade winds, and the mighty waves of the East Coast roar, as if in laughter.
“Liming”, another word for socialising, the favourite past-time of every Bajan, can be found in every form and fashion, including the car park jam Pan Yard Lime, Pan Pun De Sand held at Brandon’s Beach, and Sweet Limes on Spring Garden Highway, where Barbadian culinary delights can be bought from street side vendors, big and small, simple and sophisticated, while the sweet rhythms of the steel pan ring through the air, tumbling everyone into a state of revelry. Only a few manage to ignore the rumbling Crop Over season, and only for a while, as everybody is sucked in, once the excitement of the season’s last days starts sending thrills down the spine.
Local artistes grab the opportunity at the Festival to show and sell their art and craft at numerous locations, including the Bridgetown Market, the Last Lap Craft Fair, and the art exhibition held at the Grand Salle in the Tom Adams Financial Centre, better known as the Central Bank.
The culmination of Crop Over takes place when partygoers start trekking down to Fore Day Morning Jam, all dressed down in little more than mud and paint, and “jam” their way up and down the streets of Bridgetown with not a care in the world. Can you imagine waking up at 1 a.m. to get ready for a party that starts at 3 a.m. and not just for any party, but for a street party where thousands of people fill the streets and let go of their inhibitions until the sun rises on the horizon? That is Fore Day Morning Jam.
Cohobblopot, a “boiling stew’’ of local talent, held on Sunday night is a show not to be missed. This show is, literally, the crowning event of the King and Queen of the Bands and has been a sold-out event since the start of the festival. The Kings and Queens, in their striking costumes, designed to symbolically translate some magic dream, dance across the stage, never ceasing to smile for the judges and the audience.
During this last weekend, it’s as if the heartbeat of the island is quickening with excitement. And before you know it, the Crop Over storm has swept you along.
The parade route is closed off to traffic from the early morning hours for the season’s finale, Grand Kadooment, on the first Monday in August. Amid the heat and applause, cheers and pounding music, thousands of revellers in spangled costumes, with lots of beauty and body on proud display, prance along the streets, making their way from the National Stadium to Spring Garden Highway.
This is a Caribbean festival where visitors are not merely sideliners; instead, they are drawn right in by the warm hospitality and friendliness of Barbadians, who are only too happy to introduce the newcomers to the festivities.
Crop Over presents visitors with a gift—that wonderful feeling of belonging. And fuh days, and days.M