Review: Yardwé: an authentic slice of Tobagonian Carnival

In the temporal, magical world that was created among the remnants of Fort King George , Jab Molassies perched atop the ruins of the 18th century colonial stronghold, like gargoyles ready to lunge. The undulating speech of Midnight Robbers reverberated across the barrack yard, each word piercing the silence in their battle for linguistic dominance. Contorting black capes, glimpses of skeletal faces and shrill whistles delighted the senses. Masked Baby Dolls solicited money from unsuspecting men for their newborns as Moko Jumbies towered, watching over the yards. Bubbling Dame Lorraines boisterously bounced across their ‘ballroom,’ in their disproportionate display. A Chantuelle’s “No bois man, no cry” electrified the Gayelle as masculinity was on full display. The Kaiso Tent came alive with squeals of delight as social commentary and melodic jabs bombarded to gyrating rhythms. This was Yardwé – Tobago’s living traditional Carnival museum.

Jab Molassies perched atop the ruins of the 18th century colonial stronghold | Photo credit: Anil Singh

On February 15th, the Tobago Performing Arts Company (TPAC) hosted Yardwé, an event that sought to expose audiences to traditional Carnival characters in an effort to promote and preserve culture, traditions and Tobagonian old time mas. In an interview with the T&T Performing Arts Network, Assistant Production Manager – Tyler Graham stated that the name and event drew inspiration from the old yard and lavway concept. For context, in the days leading up the Carnival, it is common practice to visit the ‘yards’ showcasing the various artforms and its elements such as the panyard, and “Lavway” refers to the call and response type chants and songs often used by stick-fighters as a means encouragement, bonding and even provocation.

In an ode to the Mighty Sparrow, obnoxiously clad Jammettes: Jean, Dinah, Rosita and Clementina, served as narrators. Their banter with each other, the audience and cast was a crucial element of Yardwé that was both educational and entertaining. Performing characters that are deemed traditionally as socially unacceptable, they were capable of providing a perspective and delivery that captivated and added comic relief. Through an almost gossip like discourse, the plot was propelled.

Top left - bottom right: Jamettes, Midnight Robber, Baby Doll, Moko Jumbie, Drummers | Photo credit: Anil Singh

One could not help but draw similarities between Yardwé and UWI’s Old Yard, as in essence, the focal point remained the same. Graham shared that inspiration was in fact drawn from Old Yard, with one of its core organizers being invited to ensure that Yardwé was a success. Although for the most part the elements remained the same, TPAC opted to change the format. Yardwé was presented as a 90 minute walking tour whereby the audience would visit the various ‘yards’, and immerse themselves in the worlds of the traditional Carnival characters. While Old Yard was also interactive, from my perspective as the viewer/audience, I appreciated Yardwé’s approach to a greater extent; Yardwé truly embodied the aspect of immersive theatre that is traditional mas. The fourth wall did not exist and the audience became part of the performance in a manner that is not only physical, but also felt more personal. In doing so, one becomes fully invested and steeped in the rich traditions Tobago has to offer.

l-r: Dame Lorraine and Gwa Lolo, Stick Fighters, Jamette | Photo Credit: Anil Singh

However, like every aspect of culture between the sister isles, there were elements that differed – one being Tobago’s Speech Band characters that were present at Yardwé. Donned in almost jester-like, colorful, satin co-ords, they were one of the defining features of the culture of Tobago. The Tobago Speech Band are a band of musicians that utilize the traditional oral culture, speechifying in rhyme to deliver social commentary, ending each verse in their trademark “Drag yuh bow, Mr. Fiddler!” The practice was influenced by the Scottish brogue, the land overseers and church missionaries in Tobago. They delivered daily social and political news, in over the top English and Scottish accents, in dramatic songful rhythm and comic rhyme. The Speech Band also draws inspiration from the West African oral tradition, often used as a means of helping those enslaved come to terms with their harsh reality. Designed to provoke a response and invoke laughter, theatre is at the center of their performance. Props are also a key aspect as they usually brandish swords, short sticks, instruments and hats resembling ships. The Speech Band is an experience that truly encompasses and highlights distinct aspects of Tobagonian culture and tradition.

"Drag yuh bow, Mr. Fiddler!" | Photo credit: Anil Singh

Hosting Yardwé at the Fort King George in Scarborough was one of the strongest choices for this production because, whether intentional or not, it embodied the defiant revolutionary essence from which Carnival was birthed. The Fort was built after the French captured Tobago from the British in 1781 as a military stronghold to maintain colonial rule. In 1793, they were overthrown by the British and the site was named to honor of King George III. It is one of the many sites that speak to the turbulent and violent history subjected to its inhabitants and the island. Hosting Yardwé at the Fort in some ways, was a reclaiming of space and identity, unwaveringly affirming that despite the trials and tribulations, we have persevered. Our culture, traditions, song, dance not only lives on in the descendants, but are celebrated and revered. It is the continuation of a centuries long revolution.

Furthermore, it was refreshing to experience characters that are integral to the fabric of Trinidad and Tobago in an authentic manner. While many of the traditional Carnival characters have lived on, they have in part fallen victim to commercialization for mass consumption. Often times we see Devils and Robbers as merely decorative or tokenistic in an event. Few have had the pleasure of being engrossed in a captivating Robber Talk that focuses on ideals of freedom and justice. Or be entranced in the drum thumping, exhilarating lavway. Yardwé focuses on quality and consumer experience that adds to the authenticity of the characters and how they are received. The costumes and script fits each character in a manner that was not only historically accurate, but was also relevant to present day experiences and events. It was clear that immense preparation was done prior to undertaking this event. Preparation that paid off.

l-r: Midnight Robber, Baby Doll, Dame Lorraines | Photo credit: Anil Singh

TPAC’s Yardwé was a resounding success and the phrase “if yuh dont know where yuh come from, yuh dont know where yuh going” comes to mind. It is an example that the wheel does not need to be reinvented. Our culture and traditions are abundantly rich and the material is present. I foresee a bright future not only for this event in the years to come but also for the company. So, the next time there is a call, will you answer?


CaribbeanLab, •. “Tobago Speech Band.” Caribbean Lab, 9 Nov. 2014,

“Fort King George.” National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago,

“Speech Band.” TOBAGO RITUALS, 24 Apr. 2014,


Hi! I’m Anil and I wear many hats: entrepreneur, digital story-teller, content creator and Casting Executive with the T&T Performing Arts Network to name a few. My fascination with written text and it’s evocative nature began as a teen, and eventually led me to pursue a B.A in Literature and Linguistics with a minor in Education at The University of the West Indies.

While I am a full time Cake Artist, the Arts will always be my first passion. I’ve been fortunate enough recently to delve into the magical realm of theatre and share my experiences with others. When I’m not grinding I’m often found on some adventure near or far, or tucked away in a cozy coffeeshop buried in a book, updating my blog – Knock About Trini, or trying to become a self taught badass polyglot.

More from Anil Singh

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