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Just Limin’ in the Caribbean

by JT Talley

Note: This is the fourth in a series of blogs from students who participated in the BCC’s Fall 2014 Research Tour to Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 10-15.

Limin’: Trinidadian slang synonymous with resting, relaxing, hanging out, or just chillin’. It falls in line with a culture of knowing and enjoying what you are, who you are, and where you are in the moment. And we definitely enjoyed ourselves in Trinidad and Tobago. During the Purdue Black Cultural Center’s research tour to these Caribbean islands, we were tasked with unmasking blackness in a culture of celebration. And Trinidad is widely known to be the founding country of the largest celebration on Earth: Carnival.

We got a taste of this celebration on the very first day. The same night we arrived in Trinidad, the Carnival Institute of Trinidad and Tobago gave us quite a show. They had us parade with them around Queen Savannah Park and introduced us to some traditional characters of Carnival. There was loud music, fire blowers, whips cracking, weird costumes, and beautiful women. The whole experience was confusing, scary (I’ll mention why in a moment), and EXCITING! It was exciting because you could feel the spirit of celebration in the atmosphere. It was scary and confusing, though, because everything was so new and different.

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It was hard to see and understand the point of some of the characters at first. There were devils, people in skeleton costumes with a collection of skulls, masked giants on stilts, and women holding babies looking for the father in the crowd. Especially being a man of Christian faith, I was not sure how to interpret the presence of devils and men with skulls. After letting myself be open to the experience, however, it all became clear.

These characters were not just for some random method of celebration, but rather played a double role in life lessons for the future generations. All the characters and all the costumes had a purpose of showing and teaching on having pride in one’s heritage and warning them about things such as drug usage, alcoholism, and teenage pregnancy. Everything seemed to have a purpose, down to the tiniest detail. And the artists embraced this purpose to the fullest extent, tying everything they did back to the character they portrayed.

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I mean, it really only makes sense when you think about it. Carnival itself has a great underlying purpose that many outsiders don’t seem to recognize. The people who started Carnival weren’t celebrating for no reason. It wasn’t some period of overindulgence before Lent, like in the European version made in an attempt to copy the originators. It’s a celebration of resilience of a people to overcome adversity. It’s a celebration of survival and freedom from the injustices of the olden slave days. And you can see this very clearly in their pride, in their performance, and in their speech. Because if you try to ask them who they are, someone will answer, “You know who I am. My name’s survivor.”

Afro-Latin Experience in Puerto Rico (Keturah Nix blog post)

La Bomba de Loiza

Blog 1:

As the Research Tour trip began, I felt as though I had a good perspective on what to expect from the history of Puerto Rican culture based on our discussions in the Black Thought Collective. Taking this knowledge with me on the tour I was excited to gain a more modern view of the culture and society. With the progression of the trip, one of the most memorable moments for me that is a representation of Puerto Rican culture is our trip to Loiza. This was very enlightening to me because while the exterior of the city may not be an “ideal” living situation – the houses, building and overall physical appearance – the people possess an extreme amount of talent and passion for their culture and heritage. Artist Samuel Lind is a wonderful example of a person documenting and paying homage to one’s origins and culture. This trip to Loiza has helped my perspective on my purpose and place in African American culture in the United States. It is very important that we not only focus on where we are presently and hope to be in the future, we must also remember the rich heritage and origins from where we came. This is our duty as emerging leaders.

Blog 2:

Now that the Research Tour to Puerto Rico is coming to a close, I am so appreciative for this experience not only because this is my first trip outside the continental U.S., but also because it has taught me a lot about the expansion of the black community on a broader scale. I am currently taking an Early American and Colonial literature course where we have been discussing colonialism and European influence on indigenous people and, while being here in San Juan and Loiza, the various influences are very prevalent. The fusion of Spaniard influence, African influence, and Indian influence is demonstrated in the food, music, mannerisms, and architecture. The passion for Puerto Rican culture and society is a celebrated experience. I am glad to have had the opportunity to witness first hand for a few moments.