Traditionally, Carnival is the last burst of celebration before Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent; a timeframe that shifts according to the Christian calendar but generally falls in early February – this year Ash Wednesday is February 10.
This purist philosophy still holds at the University of the West Indies, though in Jamaica, home to the founding Mona campus, more people now think of Carnival as a post-Lenten, Eastertime activity! It was at Mona that Carnival first took hold in Jamaica, brought in by the students from across the Caribbean region who came north to attend the regional university in the 1950s and early 1960s. (The UWI would spread, geographically, to establish itself in Trinidad and Barbados during the 1960s).
Dr Archie Hudson Philips, who came from Trinidad & Tobago as a medical student in 1951, recalls that Carnival started around the early to mid-1950s. This jibes with the recollection of another early student, Corrine Ford McLarty, that carnival was just getting started around the time that she and friend Dahlia Patterson Riedel were leaving, having completed their three-year degrees in the Faculty of Arts.
Dr Hudson Philips recalled, during a recent visit to the Museum, that this wasn’t a formal beginning: “It was coming up to Lent and we say: ‘Let we play mas!’ Dress in all kind a ole ting. If playing Zulu, we bought mops for hair.”
Soon, a steelband would become part of the campus landscape, after one Trinidadian student, Arden Enrique Williams, brought up a pan with him and others became involved in manufacturing their own pans in hall of residence back yards. Trinidadian and Grenadan students were among the leaders of this activity, Hudson Philips remembers.
In the early 1960s, medical student and musician Orrin Barrow of British Guiana (now Guyana) was a leader of the steel band that played its part at Carnival.
Audrey Roberts, who came on campus in 1971, recalls that “Carnival was already an established activity in which many resident students participated in one form or other including playing pan. Many spaces were utilised e.g. Warden’s houses and grounds and sub-warden’s cottages etc for construction of costumes and floats.”
Another alumna, Sandra Myers, recalled: “Carnival was a big event involving all halls of residence and drew in outsiders for the fetes and main events. The social culture of the campus at the time was very Trinidadian in terms of language, fete, carnival, pan music but not so that the Jamaican culture was lost. With Rocksteady arising at that time the music was very mixed at fetes. Road march was a lot of fun…”
Perhaps UWI Carnival is most widely known through the band Fab Five’s 1986 release: Ring Road Jam.
Thanks to all contributors. To UWI alumni of all generations, please share your recollections and memorabilia so that we have a more complete history.